Feature

Norway: Refusing to give in to hatred

Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians streamed to Oslo to hold hands and place flowers in commemoration of the people killed by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik.

In our national grief, we Norwegians are reaffirming our core values, said the Oslo Dagbladet in an editorial. Hundreds of thousands of us have streamed to Oslo to hold hands and place flowers in commemoration of the eight people killed in the bombing of government buildings and the 68 gunned down on Utoya Island in the merciless massacre by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. So many people turned out that a planned march could not take place; we were simply a mass of humanity, mourning together. All of our leaders spoke the same message: Norwegians believe in tolerance. “Tonight, the streets are filled with love,” said the crown prince, whose wife lost her stepbrother in the massacre. “We have chosen to meet hatred with unity.” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was cheered when he said, “With candles and roses, we send the world a message that we do not let fear break us.” But most inspiring was Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang. “We will come together to punish the killer,” he said. “Our punishment will be more generosity, more tolerance, and more democracy.”

And so Norway robs Breivik of his victory, said Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad in the London Times. His attack struck at the very cradle of Norwegian politics. The island of Utoya was a gift from the unions to the Labor Party youth, and for 60 years it has been the site of camps and retreats for budding politicians. “This is where our socialist ministers got their first kisses” and had their first “stay-up-all-night-and-save-humanity” discussions. These young leftists believe in “multiculturalism, and a more liberal and open policy toward immigration.” But if killing them “has done anything for the immigration debate, it must be that it will be harder to raise violent opinions and easier for others to challenge them.”

Let’s hope so, said Jahn Otto Johansen in the Oslo Dagsavisen. Having written a book on neo-Nazis, I can tell you that Norway has long “underestimated the threat from the extreme Right.” Here the leadership of the Labor Party has been “demonized by Christian extremists inspired by the Christian Right in the United States.” Vicious personal attacks on Labor figures are common on the extremist websites. We can only hope that “what happened on Bloody Friday will lead to a self-examination” of our blindness to the terrorists who look like us.

We must also rethink our ideas of punishment, said Einar Duenger Bohn in the Oslo Aftenposten. Norway’s harshest sentence is 21 years in prison. Since Breivik is only 32, he could theoretically be out on probation while still in his 40s, despite having admitted to killing 76 people. In practice, of course, Breivik probably would not be released, since the law provides for the continued detention of any inmate deemed a risk to the public. Still, “morally and symbolically,” his monstrous and exceptional crime deserves an exceptional sentence. Not the death penalty, of course—“we should be better people than that.” But it may be time for Norway to consider a true life sentence, served, of course, “in a humane prison.”

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