As Westerners, we often feel a certain level of invulnerability in our lives and beliefs. When that sense, that shield, is shattered, as it was so dramatically this week in Norway, we instinctively retreat, shocked, and contemplate the changed state of things. Of course, since 2001, terrorism as a concept has grown beyond an abstraction plaguing far-flung societies in war-torn developing countries. It is now real and all too common, happening in the major metropolises of the world. The physical damage that has been inflicted on New York, London and now Oslo can all be fixed, of course. Towers, bridges and trains can always be rebuilt—it is the terrible psychological damage that endures. Norway is wounded now, and still will be long after the rubble is cleared away.
It is a sickening irony that despite the knee-jerk responses of blaming Muslims or “fundamentalist Islam” that have become common over the past decade, exactly the same kind of stereotyping, bigotry and racism led to the atrocious events in the first place. The suspect belonged to a small but dangerous fringe element of Norwegian society, homegrown but deeply xenophobic and opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, particularly in regards to Islam and its culture. These repulsive ideas are, unfortunately, very real in the world and obviously very able to incite violence.
We cannot hope to understand what goes through the psychotic mind of someone who commits such crimes. The inability to comprehend how anyone can resolve to commit a terrorist act is part of what makes such acts so deeply upsetting. The worst thing we can do afterwards, however, is to recoil away from each other and allow suspicion and fear to override the fundamental ideals of an open and free society. We naturally want to protect ourselves through avoidance—this is an understandable reflex. Nonetheless, it is worrying that the bombing, followed by the senseless murder of so many innocent teenagers at a political event, may reinforce the trend of young people avoiding involvement in politics and government. After all, it’s among young people that openness and tolerance must be fostered first, for they will be the foundation of tomorrow’s society. Peace and unity can only be bred through education, not reactive fear. Even in the face of grief and danger, our humanity and compassion must be preserved.
We must reach out to each other more now, not less. These people, these vibrant young adults targeted so mercilessly, cannot have died in vain. We must still dare to express our beliefs and opinions, our politics and arguments. We must disagree with and engage one another, for that is how we come to understand and care for each other. Norway has always been a prosperous and resilient nation, the world’s peace bearer, and it is encouraging to hear its leaders stand up and openly defy such terrorism with calls for more openness, more democracy, more understanding. They are afraid too, of course, but they understand that from the ruins of this disaster there are things, ideals, worth salvaging. The cost of not speaking out is too great to risk.
I hope the world draws lessons from these attacks, particularly the young and idealistic. We mourn the losses, of course, but we must stand together in defiance of such hatred. We must encourage our children to live and act with humanity, compassion and acceptance every day. Norway, like all free nations, should continue to strive for a harmonious and diverse democracy based on an open and honest dialogue to solve its problems. To allow the sentiments, the violence and vitriol behind these attacks, to spread would only be another terrible wound. The lives lost, cruelly cut short, must be honoured with a strengthened earnestness to bring people together. Our hearts are with Norway, and with all people attacked for their beliefs, as they pick up the pieces and put themselves back together.