Monday, 25 July 2011

Norway, a nation of naïve hippies?

Tonight I was in Oslo for the first time after the bomb. The first thing that struck me was the number of people in the streets. Most of them had come to partake in the grassrot-organized memorial, but I couldn't help thinking about the safety-aspect -- after all, only four days ago, Norway was hit by a gruesome act of terror. It didn't take me long before I abandoned my anxieties. It felt safe, or rather, I chose to feel safe.

Does that make me naïve? No one else looked afraid either, does that make all of us naïve?

I spoke to a police-man -- four days after the worst attacks on Norway in peace-time, he was unarmed -- and he told me that in his thirty years on the job, he'd never seen as many people in the streets. He was calm, and he took the time to talk to anyone who came up to him. Later I saw more police around the city, and although there were a lot of them in the streets, few of them carried guns.

The memorial was supposed to be a march, but so many had met up that we couldn't walk. In a city of about 600.000, 150.000 had come to pay their respects, and to let the world know that we refuse to let terrorists dictate how we lead our lives. We are not naïve, we are stubborn. The mass-murderer has stated that he wanted to force us to wake up. He wanted us to be afraid. He failed. Instead of pushing us towards his own twisted world-view, he pushed us further away from it. Those in Norway who share some of his thoughts, even if they would never commit such terrible deeds, will find it hard to find accept in the weeks and months to come.

While I stood there, in the sea of people, each carrying a rose, I kept thinking about the first speeches George W. Bush made in the days after 9/11, and about our own Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. The difference between their rhetorics could hardly have been greater. I kept thinking about the spiral of hatred the world has been trapped in since that gruesome day in 2001. There are enough people in the world who believe that we cannot live together, on both sides. I struck me how different my own nation may have been had the terrorist been a Muslim, not a blond Christian from Østlandet. But it wasn't. I believe that should we become a target again, 22 July will have made us uniquely capable of dealing with it without hatred and intolerance. We have now become painfully aware that race, colour, and creed does not matter to the victims.

No, we are not naïve, we are stubborn. Historically we've seen that though we are a small nation, we will not let fear dictate our lives. Those who try will be met with fierce resistance. Growth comes from adversity, and I believe that not only did the terrorist not achieve his goals, he failed spectacularly. He will spend the rest of his life alone, and outside the walls of his cell we have been brought closer together.

I hope we can all avoid hating him, for hatred is just as strong an emotion as love. Do not waste such energy on him. Instead he is to be pitied, for his life is dictated by fear. He is alone, and he will remain alone for the rest of his life. I also hope that we will all have the courage to confront our colleagues, our neighbours, our friends, when they express such opinions, whether it be anti-Semitism, racism, or Islamophobia. Do not stand idly by while ignorance and intolerance is spread, but let them know that we have seen the fruits of such thought, and we do not accept it.

See also:
Norway is Passing the Test of Terror

P.S.: I have been using my Facebook, G+, and my blog as my soapboxes for a few days now. I have felt a burning need to raise my voice, and these platforms have enabled me to reach as many as possible. For that matter, if you have any Norwegians in your feed, odds are you've noticed our outrage and grief. We will all return to normal soon. My next post will be on a game-related topic, I promise.

[Picture source: own]


  1. Thank you for using your soap box and explaining to the world that which is so hard to explain - how a tragedy of this magnitude can bring hope and unity to a nation, instead of fear and hatred.

  2. Like you, I keep thinking about the reaction of Bush vs Stoltenberg and I wonder how Germany would deal with such a thing. Less inspiring than Norway, I'm afraid. There's a trend to use the climate of fear to restrict the freedom people have here. I'm very happy to see that Norway gracefully avoids any such hysteria.

  3. @ Mear:
    Thanks, I do my best :)

    @ Jed:
    I think the silver lining in all this is the ethnicity and religious beliefs of the asshole. Had we gotten our cherry popped by a more "traditional" terrorist, I do not know where we'd be today. I'm pretty sure we would not have been as unified though. But the thing about cherries is that they cannot be unpopped. This was how we woke up to terror in our Norway, and regardless of what happens next, we have been changed by it.

  4. There's nothing naive about carrying on regardless in the face of terrorism. I grew up in a country where terrorism was something I lived with since I was old enough to understand what it was. Terrorists score points where their activities make you change your national life-style. Carrying on regardless is like spitting in their sick little eyes.

    I'm proud to say that, after half-a-century of on-again off-again spates of terrorist violence directed against the UK, police in mainland Britain still do no routuinly carry (or even train to use) guns. People still use subways and other public transport without fear and they still gather to drink beer in their local pub without worrying whether every stranger they see is a psycho with a pipe-bomb.

    It seems to me that Norway is doing everything right in the face of this national tradgedy.

  5. We will see, but so far I am very proud of my fellow countrymen.

    I agree that if we let the terrorists dictate our way of life, we let them win. The Asshole misunderstood a few fundamental aspects of this country, and our culture, and the result has been to push us further away from him. That's a victory in the War on Terror.

  6. @Harald

    I was a first responder to the WTC on 9-11, and the most heartwarming thing was seeing a city like NYC come together. I saw a businessman in a suit and a homeless man with his shopping cart directing traffic to get emergency vehicles downtown. Store owners emptying their shelves to feed us and give us water those first few days. Volunteers from across the country arriving within hours Utterly amazing.

    Sometimes tragedy brings strength where one doesn't expect to see it.

    My heart and prayers go out to you and your countrymen.

  7. Norway's response to this tragedy truly has been inspiring.

  8. @ Tenkar:
    It is sad that it takes such a tragedy to make us see each other, and to make us put aside our disagreements. I hope we can remember these hard won insights.

    @ Akrasia:
    We owe a lot to our PM. He managed to lead us through the grief and the shock in a way that will be remembered for generations.