Norwegian Journalist's 'Joke' Made The Absurdity Of Islamophobia Facebook Official

"The comments went on for two days, and despite people telling the commenters that it was just some empty bus seats."

Norwegian journalist Johan Slattavik was "bored one night" when he decided to share of six Muslim women wearing burkas on a public bus in a Facebook group called "Fedrelandet viktigst" — which is Norwegian for "Fatherland first" — and ask for people's thoughts.

Fedrelandet viktigst is a invite-only nationalist group that claims to be "for anyone who loves Norway, and appreciates what our ancestors have been fighting for."

In sharing the photo, Slattavik tells A Plus he had an inkling members would be outraged, but it turns out the joke was actually on them. A closer look at the picture reveals those "Muslim women in burkas" are actually just empty seats on a bus.

The "social experiment," as Slattavik calls it, has since gone viral thanks to many of the Islamophobic and xenophobic responses it has received even after duped social media users realized there were no Muslim women to be found in the photo.

"What surprised me most is the effects of group polarization, and how people just follow the stream. Do as others do, react as others react," Slattavik explains. "The comments went on for two days, and despite people telling the commenters that it was just some empty bus seats, the comments continued to pour in."

In fact Slattavik tells us "very few" people even expressed regret or remorse upon realizing that the photo that had gotten them so angry was just of an empty bus. "It seemed like people really wanted to believe that the seats were Muslim women," he says. "[It was] both funny and scary to observe this blatant denial."

Though the group is private, a Facebook user named Sindre Beyer — who per HuffPost is a political adviser for the Norwegian Labour Party — shared what appears to be several hate-filled responses to Slattavik's image.

According to the publication, users labeled the photo "tragic," "disgusting," and said it's proof of Norway's "Islamization." 

For Slattavik, the intense reaction illustrated just how deep-seated some people's hatred for others is, because even a photo of empty seats had the power to elicit an incredibly powerful response. And even though he knows this "joke" isn't likely to change hearts and minds, he wants people to have learned an important lesson, explaining, "I hope people learn that there are important differences between legitimate criticism of immigration and other things — and blind racism and prejudice." 

"I also hope people learned something about group mentality and group thinking," he adds.

As the 2016 European Islamophobia Report revealed, hatred toward and fear of those who practice Islam is growing in Europe, and according to The Washington Post, Norway has previously considered legislation that would prevent women from wearing burqas, although the proposal was met with criticism.

As for how we can fight xenophobia going forward as a society? Slattavik's answer should come as no surprise given the nature of his "experiment." "I believe humor is the best weapon. Nothing good ever comes from hating haters," he concludes. "That just creates more hate, like a hate-spiral."

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.