Almost ritually, the UN’s Development Program ranks Norway as nothing less than the best country in the world to live in. Still, one man found life in our country so unbearable he chose to stage one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in modern history. A week into Anders Behring Breivik’s trial, this paradox is continuing to baffle not only Norwegians, but the world.
(Publisert i The Huffington Post, 24/4/2012)
His court statements have only confirmed what those who stomached leafing through his manifesto already knew. He fears immigration and blames media, politicians and bureaucracy. The conscious planning and gruesome actions aside, he seems to be your everyday racist.
Breivik is no visionary that has dissected Norwegian society in evil, but original, ways. His so-called ideology is nothing but Internet cut-and-paste. His logic as simplistic and flawed as any brash xenophobe you’re bound to encounter in the comment field of an internet newspaper on integration.
«What if a Muslim had done it?» A question most Norwegians have been afraid even to pose, scared the answer may diminish the pride in the calm and collected manner our society dealt with the atrocity. Because honestly, would Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg have stated the now internationally acclaimed mantra of «More democracy, more openness»? Would the immigrant-sceptical far-right party, Fremskrittspartiet, ruled out any political implications regarding the terror? Most probably not.
However, having followed the full media coverage of the trial against Breivik through its first week, I’m no longer comforted by the notion that Norway avoided the racial clashes a Muslim terrorist might have caused. Because at least then, the perpetrator’s motivation could have been comprehendible. But the terrorist wasn’t an immigrant, hardened by a war-torn upbringing, socially confronted by liberal modernity.
Rather the opposite, on the surface he was ‘one of us’. Born and raised in a wealthy, well-educated neighbourhood of Oslo. Son of a diplomat. Chillingly, Norwegians realise that he could have been a classmate or a neighbour. And still not gather any suspicion. Thus, his standard Norwegian upbringing only adds to the paradox.
The prosecutors already have him cornered. Making him say, «We wish to create a European version of al-Qaida for Christian nationalists.» Proving that fundamentalism is fundamentalism, whichever camp it keeps. The final verdict seems to already have been written.
The greatest interest derives from the two diverting psychiatric reports. The first stating that the accused is insane, the next that he is sane. Although Norway has a maximum 21-year prison sentence, an alternate custody arrangement would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society. Found insane, he will serve his sentence in a hospital, not a prison.
Although Norwegians seem divided on this issue, the one issue they are decided on, is not calling for the introduction of death penalty. Gun laws remain unchanged. The word revenge has not been heard.
«Why didn’t they just shoot the guy?» The question has been posed to me by several foreign journalists. In Norway, police only carry guns in extreme situations. And Norway is not a country where extreme situations typically arise. Since 2002, only two people have been killed by Norwegian police.
French police shot their guy. Judging the necessity of such an action may be a split-second police evaluation. The consequences of catching the perpetrator alive can continue to torment a nation for the unseen future.
Moving 9/11 mastermind Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed’s case to Guantanamo removed his propaganda platform, but also public insight into the criminal process. Outside of a few personal details, the Norwegian terror case is broadcast in its entirety. The toxic testimony of Breivik will the coming week be replaced by the survivors’ horror stories.
Breivik has showed emotion only once, weeping for ten seconds, at his own narcissistic imagery. The Norwegian people will continue to weep through the 10 weeks his case lasts. Comforted only by the inevitable, but painstakingly theoretical lessons of liberal democracy. Not losing sight of the words of Magnus the law-mender, the Viking king who created the first Norwegian law: «On the rule of law, this country shall be built».