Mayhem In Norway
It seems indecent to analyze mass murder, and all the more so when perpetrated against young people. There are lessons to be learned from a national tragedy, a personal disaster. But an endless minute of silence runs like an undertow through all the words that follow.
Because this story unfolded over a weekend in July, reports were sketchier than usual. This is why I choose to present my observations as they took shape, day by day. An update will be published next week.
25 July 2011: The media break big stories with a narrative framework that usually comes from one source and fans out across the globe. Once the initial impression that Norway, too, was hit by Islamic terrorists had been contradicted, the new narrative clicked into place. The perpetrator is a conservative Christian ethnic Norwegian Islamophobe; Norwegians are shocked; they don't understand...they don't understand how anyone could do such a thing...kill young people in cold blood...how this could happen in Norway, a peaceful country that awards the Nobel peace prize, where people of all origins and beliefs live together peacefully?
The young people were gathered for their party's summer camp, to discuss, like young people everywhere, what's wrong with the world and how to set it right. We know that they enjoined their government to support the creation of a Palestinian state via a UN resolution this September. They were gathered -- about 600 of them -- on an island described as idyllic though currently cringing under an incessant chilly drizzle. On this island in the middle of a lake 35 kilometers from Oslo, a "Christian fundamentalist Islamophobe" proceeded, as if he were a real-life character in a 3-dimensional video game, to kill over 86 young people, perhaps more. Some are still missing.
Blanket press coverage of the tragedy temporarily wiped out the Murdoch NewsCorp scandal, impasse in Libya, daily murder in Syria, drought and famine (and shababs) in Somalia, and DSK awaiting his next hearing. A skimpy stock of endlessly repeated images reinforced the sense of unreality. There were tearful scenes, interviews with one or two survivors, press conferences, memorial ceremonies, and the constant repetition of blond-haired Norwegians saying they don't understand.
What I don't understand is how the man was able to shoot and kill to his heart's content for close to two hours. I was far less interested in his alleged political convictions than I was disturbed by the fact that close to 600 people with cell phones had not been able to get help. And I am even more disturbed by the fact that no one was asking that question. All the cockeyed ideas in the world don't explain why no one stopped the killer. He couldn't have 600 people in his sights at one time.
I'm looking at this from a distance...why aren't any of the reporters who cover the story interested in this extraordinary element? They spoke to survivors, described the horror, the terror, the anguish. I don't expect them to pepper these grieving young people with sharp questions. But I can't be the only person who is thinking, "Why didn't you do something to save yourselves...something besides running? Why did you swim out into the open even when you saw that he was shooting at swimmers? When did you call for help? Did you ask your parents to call the police?"
26 July 2011: Further information reveals that the young people on Utoya Island had been playing the new version of cops and robbers, with some cast as innocent Palestinians blocked at checkpoints, blockaded in Gaza, languishing in the world's biggest open-air prison, and others playing wicked Israeli soldiers. We have a photo of some campers proudly displaying a handmade "Boycott Israel" banner.
What happened, then, was a fatal clash between two fantasy worlds. The juvenile Socialists lived in an idyllic world where everyone gets along fine except for the big bad nasty Israelis. Anders Breivik lived in a fantasy world built on the writings of past and current freedom-loving thinkers that he piled one on top of the other like a child's building blocks and then brought crashing down with a furious kick. He thought he was so bright, reading anti-jihad authors, jabbering comments on websites, and constructing his evil project as if it were the logical extension of the works of my friends and colleagues.
When, in fact, he was sucking up jihad-style murderous hatred and shaping himself into a Nordic shahid.
The UK Telegraph has been forthcoming with interesting details on the killer's family life. A mother's boy, lived at home, no known girlfriends. He often visited his diplomat father -- who left the mother when Anders was a year old -- in Paris and London, but the father terminated this relationship when Anders was 15, because he was so unruly. His father belongs to the socialist party that owns the idyllic island where youths in their late teens were gathered to fight racism, reaffirm their legendary tolerance, and, lest we forget, vilify Israel.
The fact that an evil man dressed his deep-seated anger and resentment in this or that package of ideas does not in any way reflect on the ideas. The stampede to prove the link is laughable. The same commentators who are scolding the authors of books read by Breivik would logically now demand that the Koran be banned throughout the Western world. They would call for the mosques to be closed. In short, they would become, in their own terms, Islamophobes. But don't expect logic from that direction. There will be endless clutter about how the extreme right is just as if not more dangerous than al Qaeda.
On the other hand, there is no reason for anti-jihadists to find the slightest justification for the brutal mass murder of young Norwegian socialists. The idea that the Islamization of Europe is so oppressive that citizens have lost hope of influencing their governments and some, albeit fragile and deranged, turn to this type of violence is no less of a fantasy than the socialist's idyllic Norway and the killer's imagined Templars.
There is no chemical purity of ideas or schools of thought. Any individual can take any idea and turn it into something totally alien. So, look at the individual, not at the ideas.
And put the spotlight back on the essential question: where were the police? Where weren't the young people trained in self-defense? Where were the heroes that would tackle the killer and save their comrades? Anders Breivik committed mass murder because no one and nothing stopped him. Where were the police? An article in le Parisien sums it up with unconscious irony. Under the headline "The police explain...," we are told that the call for help came in at 17:30 -- one half-hour after the shooting began -- and the police arrived one hour later at 18:30 (approximate figures).
Bruce Bawer has provided vital background information on the understaffed, underappreciated, sometimes bungling Norwegian police. We are not forgetting the IED attack against government buildings in the center of Oslo set off by the killer to give himself time to get to the island. But do we expect the police department of a modern European city to be able to handle only one incident at a time?
The murderous impulse belongs to the killer alone. He is entirely responsible for his thoughts and acts. But the death toll must be shared out among all those who misconstrued the realities. Norwegian society seems determined to cling to illusions that left its youth like defenseless pawns before a killer. Or is it just the media that finds nothing but tolerance, pacifism, and upheld roses as signs of determination to remain standing in the face of terrible tragedy?
This Norway that outlawed kosher slaughter is a victim of mass slaughter. Perpetrated by one of their own. The lessons that can be drawn from this outrageous attack are far too painful to push in the face of our Norwegian neighbors today. But someday I hope they will understand that these children of the Western world who were pointing the arrows of their indignation at Israel were in fact aiming at themselves.