Following the terrible shootings at Utøya and the bomb in Oslo, our thoughts must be with the friends and relatives of the dead and wounded and with the survivors, who presumably will forever be marked by what happened. However, also the Norwegian society will be marked by this tragedy for a long time to come, as will Denmark and other open societies.
Barely had the dust settled after the bomb in Oslo before the so-called terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish Defence College said that it “probably” was Al-Qaeda who was responsible. At that time, all we knew was basically that a bomb had been detonated. But that was enough for the expert: a big bomb went off; ergo Islamists must have done it.
At the time of writing we know with certainty that it was a Norwegian with a strong right-wing and nationalist conviction, who carried out the massacre at Utøya. The Norwegian police also suspect him of being behind the bombing in Oslo. The man has taken part in various nationalist and xenophobic forums on the net. Evidence suggests that he is a lone, politically motivated madman, but it may not yet be ruled out that there was a coordinated action with several accomplices.
When “experts” and media (with Norwegian NRK as a positive exception) threw themselves into speculations on Islamic terror before anybody knew what really had happened, it says something about the present level of public debate. In fact, the terror carried out in Europe has many sources and motives. According to Europol less than one percent of terrorist episodes in the EU can be described as Islamist. It is true, that among the most spectacular and deadly attacks, we find the Islamist bombings in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005. But all in all, non-Islamist terrorists have probably claimed more European lives than Islamists.
Part of what characterizes terrorists, regardless of ideological leanings, is according to research, a sense of being the chosen one: one who has realized the injustice others has not yet seen, and who – not the least – are willing to take the consequences of this insight. Judging from the little we know, this was apparently true of the offender in Norway too. On the Internet, he has stated that Norway was under siege by multiculturalism and cultural Marxism, and that a politician like former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was “a murderer of the nation”. According to the press rumour he started shooting at Utøya by declaring that “now began the purge”.
Looking closer at the statements which the offender has made, one will unfortunately recognize a great part from the Danish public debate. Not only from obscure web-sites of the extreme right, but also from mainstream media and even from the debate in Parliament. It should be a wakeup call for those politicians and others who have led the way in creating an “us-against-them” atmosphere in the debate. Of course there must be room for a free and open debate, including topics such as integration and immigration. But if you are touting an entire ethnic group as the nation’s enemies and political opponents as traitors, then you must realise that you are contributing to create a climate debate, confirming more extreme types in their twisted ideas.
Danish media and politicians should also consider whether their current view of radicalism and extremism may have been rightly focused. In 2009 the government launched an action plan to combat radicalization. It was quite broad in its analysis, and suggested a number of positive initiatives. But characteristically, the realisation was placed under the auspices of the Ministry of Integration and in the public debate it was clearly seen as an initiative directed specifically against Islamist radicalism and young people with immigrant backgrounds. Since yesterday, there is reason to put much more focus on fighting right wing and nationalist extremism, also in Denmark.
The tragedy in Norway has shown us that even in Scandinavia, we can breed terrorism from our own midst. Paradoxically, however, with his choice of target the perpetrator has also pointed us to the absolute contrast to terrorism and the best weapon against it: young people, engaged in an open and free debate about politics and their country’s development. The more open and inclusive the political system, the more enlightened and tolerant the public debate, the less breeding ground for terrorism. The best way to commemorate the victims in Norway will be to work for this.