In a Norwegian wood.
What happened on Friday, July 22, in central Oslo, close to the office of Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and other ministries, and, just over an hour later, on the little island of Utøya – the property of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth league – in the Tyrifjorden lake, less than a 40-kilometre drive from the capital’s city centre, left a total of 76 dead and many questions.
You will recall how early reports on certain global news networks were strongly skewed towards an al-Qaeda-linked operation. Blaming militant Islamic fundamentalism has become a knee-jerk reaction. Just as striking the tendon below the patella does not require you to think before your leg suddenly extends itself, linking events such as these to Islamic terrorism is an equally reflex action that requires no thinking. Indeed, if you did think, you would probably decide to wait until you had some facts.
Anyway, it then turned out that it was the work of one Anders Behring Breivik, alias Andrew Berwick, 32 years old, described by the Norwegian police as a right-wing “fundamentalist Christian”. A misogynist who believes that feminism has softened Europe, he loves firearms and is obsessed with what, in his view, is the threat posed by Muslim immigration in Europe.
Author of an online manifesto, Mr Breivik advocates (and forecasts) a protracted European civil war that will end in 2083 – 400 years after the great Ottoman siege of Vienna of 1683 – with the expulsion of all Muslims from Europe, the stamping out of multiculturalism and the liquidation of what he calls “cultural Marxism”.
Intelligent debate on what we ought to make of (not of what we ought to do with) the man and his ideas, have swung between two apparent extremes. At one end, there are those that hold that Mr Breivik is completely deranged and we should not attribute any importance to his reasons. Simon Jenkins, for example, writes: “The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science but not to politics” (The Guardian, July 27).
Observing that terrorism is “a specific and rational political form: the use of violence to achieve a multiplier of fear through a civilian population to a particular end”, Mr Jenkins concludes that inasmuch as Mr Breivik’s actions are mad and irrational, then we could not possibly refer to them as terrorism. It was tragic, he remarks, but it was neither political and it wasn’t terrorism. Terrorism is a political strategy with its own rationality. Mr Breivik’s bombing and his murderous rampage through the woods of Utøya have no political rationality. His own lawyer, by the way, argues that his client is insane.
At the other end, there are those, like Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, who argue that Mr Breivik “cannot be dismissed simply as a ‘madman’, he is something more.” Mr Mankell – creator of the well-known Inspector Wallander stories – claims that this follows from the consideration that “the man who committed this hideous crime developed a political agenda to defend his actions” (The Guardian, July 26).
For Mr Mankell, unlike Mr Jenkins, what happened in central Oslo and in that Norwegian wood was terrorism. Indeed, he argues, this tragedy shows how wrong are those who claim that terrorism today is exclusively the modus operandi of those who claim to act in the name of Islam. “One could say,” he writes, “that what happened in Norway is a ghastly return of the Übermensch mentality that was the mark of Hitler’s Nazism, which occupied and tortured Norway during World War II”.
Mr Mankell and Mr Jenkins, however, agree that Norway’s Labour government did right in not falling into the temptation of following the example of governments that react to terrorism or to its threat by curtailing democracy and civil rights in the name of national security or, more generically, by appealing to the reason of state, to an overriding and practically not appealable state power.
The Norwegian Prime Minister, in fact, speaking on July 22, said: “It’s absolutely possible to have an open, democratic, inclusive society and at the same time have security measures and not be naïve.” Distinguishing between a “before” and “after” Norway, a pre-July 22 and a post-July 22 one, Mr Stoltenberg told the media: “I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”
It is, of course, true that in our time – and this is especially true of our own region – national security is a very real issue concerning which we cannot be naïve. I must say that I would be more concerned about acts of terrorism on the ground than about ballistic missiles falling on our heads.
If anything, the Norwegian case has shown that soft-target countries are more likely to be caught unawares than others. If they are easier targets than countries with a higher security and military profile and yet hitting them would, nevertheless, achieve a multiplier of fear throughout the countries with which they are associated (in this case Europe), then countries like ours become more attractive targets.