The Norwegian Island of Calm
A year ago, Norway suffered a mass spree killing at the hands of a sociopath with firearms. Seventy-seven people, many of them teenagers, were shot to death and the killer remains chillingly unapologetic.
The Norwegian people underwent a massive national outpouring of grief, one shared around world for a time. They were stunned, then angry, then simply saddened. But Norway is not the United States.
There were no sudden or immediate calls to change Norway’s gun laws. There were no sudden or immediate calls to blame people whose politics superficially resembled the garbled soup of the killer’s bizarre screeds.
There was no Norwegian PATRIOT Act, no calls for fear or caution or apprehension about public gatherings. No one discussed enhancing criminal penalties for gun crimes, or politically motivated crimes, or streamlining the ability of the police to monitor e-mails or other private activity, or raised serious debate about when it would be appropriate to torture someone.
None of this, not even with the ostensible goal of preventing future crimes like the Utøya island massacre or the car bombings in Oslo.
In other words, there was no political panic.
Instead, there were roses to commemorate the dead. There were police who gathered evidence, the lawyers and the courts who did their work, and the killer is never going to be a free man again. The killer got a public trial and used his soapbox as much as he could — until his audience simply lost interest in his twisted rants. The sunshine of having its views represented by a madman with blood on his hands did more to harm the rise of right-wing extremism in Norway than could have anything else.
Norway’s Prime Minister stated not long after these horrible events, “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” and that has come true. As the BBC reports, “…the gate leading to the parliament building in the heart of Oslo remains open and unguarded.” The Norwegian people kept their collective wits about them, mourned and worked through their grief, and went on about their business of being a liberal democracy even as their political factions continued disagreeing with one another; the massive national tragedy was collectively understood to be off limits as fodder for politics. The event was treated like what it was: an isolated crime.
Would that my own countrymen could behave similarly.