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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway vows not to buckle under terror

Norway vows not to buckle under terror

Norwegians are determined not to buckle under the unspeakable terror of Friday's attacks, says Norwegian journalist Lars Bevanger. The country hopes it can respond to the terror with more democracy and openness.

The gruesome attacks on Oslo and hundreds of young people at a political summer camp have left us Norwegians reeling and struggling to comprehend what happened, why it happened and how a fellow Norwegian could commit such an atrocity targeting our children.

We like to think of Norway as a peaceful country, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize and a force for good in the world. We like to think Norway is an open democracy embracing all, no matter their backgrounds or beliefs.

We pride ourselves on our freedom of expression. This means we sometimes must accept what for many are unpalatable opinions from individuals who do not share these values, and who argue Norway should not be a place for people of other cultures and backgrounds.

Europe under attack?

As details of the suspected perpetrator of the attacks in Oslo and on Utoeya emerged, it seemed he was one of those individuals. He had been actively spouting his twisted rhetoric in online debates where he argued that Norway and the rest of Western Europe was somehow under attack from multiculturalism. We let him carry on because that is what Norway's open society does.

Others also use online forums to argue against the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Norwegian society because they see so-called foreign cultures as some sort of threat. But we let them carry on, because to silence them would be to abandon our own cherished ideas of freedom.

Anders Behring B., the 32-year-old arrested among the bodies of 85 people at Utoeya, has told police it was he who committed the atrocity and that he also set off the massive bomb that killed at least seven people in central Oslo.

He told his defense lawyer his acts were gruesome but necessary. He says he was behind a 1,500-page publication he called his manifesto, in which he portrayed himself as a crusader leading a revolution which will purge Western Europe of multiculturalism.

To many in Norway it is becoming clear this is not simply a person with extreme right-wing views, or a Christian fundamentalist. In some way he seems as incomprehensible as the heinous acts he says he committed. He portrays himself as being on the outside of our society, and his alleged acts most certainly were not something our society accepts.

Responding with more democracy

Just hours after the attacks, our prime minister told the world not that we will hunt those responsible down and punish them, but that our answer to this unspeakable crime would be more democracy.

As the nation has been counting the dead and communities up and down the country have been coming to terms with their losses, the prime minister's sentiment has been borne out. Where you might expect immense anger, there is very little to be found.

People have gathered together to mourn, to talk and to try to understand. But most of all people have been telling each other again and again what has happened must not be allowed to change our society. No matter who was behind it and what their so-called motives were, it will not shift our cherished fundamental freedoms. No doubt there will be anger, no doubt there will be people feeling the need for revenge. But I and many with me hope these will remain private feelings that will not be allowed to take root in society as a whole.

It has been reassuring too to see political parties from all sides unite behind these same ideas of freedom in the wake of what happened. No one has tried to make political capital on this, and no one seems to be developing an appetite to do so.

In his unfathomable mind, the perpetrator might have wanted to divide Norwegians. He has achieved the opposite; a nation united. In recent days our war time poet Nordahl Grieg has been quoted again and again - his words from World War II echoing with increased resonance: "We are so few in our country. Each fallen a brother and friend."

Author: Lars Bevanger
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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