For Norway, the July 22 bombing in its capital, Oslo, and the subsequent mass murder of young Labor Party activists at a nearby island retreat, Utoya, is an event on a scale that is hard to imagine.
Norway is a small country of 4.7 million. In the U.S., think of a huge explosion in Washington that destroys several blocks of government buildings, including the Supreme Court and a third of the Cabinet departments, followed by the shooting deaths of many thousands of politicians and their families assembled at a summer convention. That is the magnitude of what Norwegian citizens faced as they woke up the day after Anders Behring Breivik carried out his crazed mission to save Christian Europe from the invading Muslim hordes that he sees as a threat to Western civilization.
Norway has played a special role in world affairs. It was a strong partner against the Soviet Union in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Its diplomats have helped make peace by sponsoring the secret talks that led to the Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians in 1993. And it has inspired millions by hosting the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Norwegians take pride in their country’s tolerance. They will now be tested. Breivik’s family, friends and those who share his worldview will soon be subject to intense scrutiny. Some will want to close the criminal proceedings against Breivik, lest he gain the publicity he craves for his brand of right-wing extremism. That would be a mistake.
Europeans who belong to the growing movement of anti-Islamists but who reject violence may be tarred unfairly by the victims’ families, who may hold them responsible for an event they had nothing to do with. That should be avoided. Politicians will be tempted to exploit the rampage to further their agendas. They should restrain themselves.
For now, the evidence suggests that Breivik acted alone. There is no terrorist group to target in response; no state sponsor to blame. The most painful aspect of this tragedy may be the absence of a larger meaning. Whether a gunman believes himself to be acting on behalf of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or nihilism, one well-armed sociopath clearly has the power to kill some of Norway’s people. We can only hope he doesn’t have the power to change Norway’s values.
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