When injustice is done, when the innocent are threatened, a common expression of sympathy is “I am one of you”.
So, as the famous movie line goes, “I am Spartacus,” or a little more recently, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” After 9/11, for a moment, we were all New Yorkers; after 7/7, Londoners; after the atrocious terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya, we are all Norwegians.
If only this were true.
The reaction from the Norwegian public and from its politicians alike has been nothing short of exemplary in its intelligence and even-handedness.
No Kevin Andrews in the Norwegian government sought feeble excuses to round up the usual “ethnic” suspects in some sort of echo of the Mohamed Haneef affair.
Nobody there even seemed to engage in gratuitous speculation about the motives of the attacks before the first facts emerged.
Instead, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg showed extraordinary principle and resolve, saying in his speech on Sunday, “We are a small nation, but a proud people. We will never abandon our values. Our reply is: more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.”
Such humanity makes for a stark contrast with the frenzied, sometimes rabid, response of the global media.
Talking heads all over the world had a field day when news of the attacks broke, attempting to out-do one another in their knee-jerk, inherently racist conclusions that undoubtedly, these attacks bore all the hallmarks of islamist terrorism.
Absent any evidence, a commentator on BBC World’s live broadcast identified the attackers as “Islamist extremists linked to extremist Islamic groups.” The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wasted no time in unscrupulously exploiting the tragedy to attack “those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists”. She fails to show any remorse for such blatant misleading of her audience in a follow-up post that continues to trot out tired old lines about an “ideological war with the West,” – and no, she doesn’t mean the ideological war which Anders Behring Breivik and fellow Christian fundamentalists have declared.
News International’s remaining tabloid The Sun ran a cover that read “‘Al-Qaeda’ Massacre: Norway’s 9/11”.
The list goes on; in the UK, the US, and many other nations, for a few hours after the events, a conga-line of “terror experts” and “homeland security” pundits was given free rein to speculate and scare.
Their collective failure to exercise even a skerrick of scruple or introspection before blathering on about “the Muslim threat to our democracies” exposes a deeper truth: scaring is good business.
They’re paid to convince us that there is a need for more tasers, more private prisons; to frighten us into buying those fearmongering newspapers, into believing that “it could happen here”, and that we must change our lifestyles in order to protect them.
But as the pompous and self-assured lined up to have their fifteen minutes of fear broadcast on 24-hour news channels, an alternative story also began to gather pace – slowly, at first, but ever more visibly. Criticism of the pundits’ knee-jerk Islamophobia made their voices heard where they could, especially online, to debunk what they could of this nonsense.
Twitter was abuzz with news that the attacker turned out to be white, blond, Norwegian; with links to far right politics in his home country and connections to fellow extremist travellers like the English Defence League.
Not an image which fit the media narrative, and even ignored for a while by some of the stations covering the event – but eventually, no longer deniable.
The Guardian’s live blog on the Norway attacks has collected some of the least conscionable punditry in their aftermath, as well as some of the responses to it; they make for chilling reading.
By now, many critics of the self-proclaimed “experts” have noted that of the 294 terrorist attacks reported in Europe in 2009, only one was linked to Islamists – and yet, many journalists seem to reserve the term “terrorist” purely for Islamist attackers.
By contrast, people like Breivik are described as “lone madmen”, in an obvious distortion of the facts. Whatever else we might learn about the horrific events which took place in Oslo and Utøya, then, and whatever other terrorist attacks the world will be forced to endure in the future, we can only hope that our response can be as measured and as human as that which we are witnessing in Norway.
May the Norwegians continue to follow their own instincts, rather than listen to the rantings emanating from the political churn cycles in Washington and London.
May they resist the temptation to turn Oslo into the capital of a police state, as other countries have done, and thereby to betray the social-democratic values of openness and democracy which Breivik evidently hated so much.
Perhaps they may even manage to resist an all-too-human desire for revenge, and sentence even Breivik in a way that maintains a hope for rehabilitation, rather than merely satisfying hunger for punishment.
And as we are confronted with terror – whether by Christian fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalists, or anyone else – may we all be a little more Norwegian in our response.