Malika Bayan and Merete Hodne. Photos: Carina Johansen, / NTB Scanpix
The Jæren District Court ruled on Monday that Merete Hodne, a hairdresser in the small southwestern Norwegian town of Byrne, “deliberately discriminated” against Malika Bayan when she denied her service last year.
The 47-year-old hairdresser intends to appeal the decision, which has generated strong reactions in Norway.
The nation’s equality and anti-discrimination ombudsman called the verdict an important victory for religious freedom.
“The important thing is that you've got a decision and a conviction that states that it is not acceptable to refuse service to someone because of the person's religion or believes. The verdict upholds the freedom of religion in Norway,” ombudsman Hanne Bjurstrøm told NTB.
Hodne had defended turning Bayan away by saying that she views the the headscarf as a political symbol representing an ideology that frightens her, rather than as a religious symbol. She said she “completely freaked out” when Bayan and her friend entered the hair salon wearing hijabs last October.
“To me, the hijab is an extreme political symbol. I don’t feel good when I see people wearing a hijab. They came in and asked what it would cost to get hair highlights and I said that I do not accept people like them and that they should go to another stylist and then they left again,” Hodne said.
Ahead of the trial, Hodne told TV2 news channel that the headscarf was a symbol of “Islamic ideology” — which she called “evil” — just like “the swastika is that of Nazism”.
The Nazi analogy came up again after the verdict, this time from former MP Peter Myhre of the anti-immigration Progress Party.
Myhre wrote a post on Facebook equating the hijab with a Nazi uniform.
“If a man wearing a Nazi uniform enters a hair salon, the stylist must politely say ‘Welcome, sit right here Herr Obersturmbannführer [a Nazi paramilitary rank, ed.], how would you like it today?’,” he wrote, adding that he was “astonished” by the court’s decision.
“Miscarriage of justice”
Equally astonished by the verdict was 65-year-old Jan Skoland who confronted Bayan outside of the courtroom in front of TV networks’ rolling cameras. He told TV2 that the verdict was a “miscarriage of justice” and suggested that it was a form of “revenge” against Hodne, who has been described by Norwegian media as a former activist in anti-Islamist movements such as Pegida.
“The attack was revenge against Merete Hodne because she has publicly criticised Islam. The intention was to create an example of what Norwegians have in store if they criticise Islam,” Skoland said.
He alleged that the whole thing “was staged by [Prime Minister] Erna Solberg and the government” as part of “a campaign the authorities are waging to brainwash people”.
“The prime minister has said herself that that if we are kind toward Islam it will be as civilized as all other religions have become,” Skoland said.
“Politicians can not possibly understand what is happening among the Norwegian people. Everyone knows that it is a hopeless political dream that Islam should be a kind and good religion in Norway. I call it the Islamic utopian dream,” he added.
For Bayan’s part, she said she was just happy that the court agreed that she had faced discrimination.
“I'm very relieved. The size of the fine does not matter because this isn’t personal at all. I wish her [Hodne] all the best, but it is important to establish that it is not okay to discriminate,” she said after the verdict.
Bayan converted to Islam in 2011 and began wearing the hijab in 2014. She says she does not take it off in front of men, but that she wouldn’t have had a problem if men had entered the salon while Hodne was doing her hair.