A photo of women wearing burkas on a public bus posted with the comment "What do people think of this?" recently made waves on a private Norwegian anti-immigration Facebook page. A recent Washington Post article shows that it's caught the attention of others as well, but not for the same reasons.
"It looks really scary, should be banned. You can never know who is under there. Could be terrorists with weapons," wrote one user, according to a translation by The Local.
"Get them out of our country, those who look like collapsed umbrellas," reads another comment. "Frightening times we are living in."
Blinded by bigotry, none of over 100 responders seemed to realize that they were actually looking at a photograph of rows of bus seats — not burkas.
The group "Fedrelandet viktigst," or "Fatherland first," had fallen victim to a practical joke and social experiment by Johan Slattavik. He explained to The Washington Post that he had seen the resemblance in the photo and posted it just to "see how people would react."
"I ended up having a good laugh," he said.
When Norwegian politician Sindre Beyer posted images of the responses to the photo on his own Facebook page, Slattavik's joke quickly went viral in the country.
"What happens when a photo of some empty bus seats is posted to a disgusting Facebook group and nearly everyone thinks they see a bunch of burkas?” Beyer teased.
Norway is the only Scandinavian country to have proposed a law banning certain facial coverings worn by Muslim women from public schools and universities. It's a reaction spawned from the contentious debate throughout Europe over immigration and how governments and communities should adapt to the influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa and the new cultures they bring with them.
The lower house of German parliament passed a draft of its own partial ban on face coverings this year, the first step toward prohibiting the wearing of the niqab or burka by government officials and other civil servants.
What constitutes tolerance is debated as heatedly among Europe's lawmakers as it is among activist groups on Facebook.
“I would say that has also been educational,” Slattavik told The Washington Post of his joke. “I have thought about the differences between legitimate criticism of immigration to Europe and blind racism and xenophobia.”
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Flickr, Ryan Summers