July 22, six months to the day / News / The Foreigner

July 22, six months to the day. All Norwegians above a certain age will remember precisely what they were doing, and what they were planning on doing, the weekend that started on July 22nd, 2011. And as time goes by, their recollection will be infused with new hues and contrasts in the historical light that posterity will shine on the infamy of that particular date. In time, we will remember that day as if we understood its significance all along. We are not there yet, and it is hard to know whether the discourse in the immediate wake of the mass murder should encourage or discourage our aspirations as a free society. Most encouraging was the massive outpouring of grief and compassion expressed by a broad front of Norwegians. City squares all across the country gathered thousands of people in silent vigils and seas of roses. National political leaders made local appearances, and local politicians got national attention. On street corners in Oslo and parking lots near Utøya, we saw how all politics truly and ultimately are local.

andersbehringbreivik, utoeya, norwaygovernmentbuildings



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July 22, six months to the day

Published on Sunday, 22nd January, 2012 at 10:08 under the news category, by Leif Knutsen.
Last Updated on 22nd January 2012 at 13:32.

All Norwegians above a certain age will remember precisely what they were doing, and what they were planning on doing, the weekend that started on July 22nd, 2011. And as time goes by, their recollection will be infused with new hues and contrasts in the historical light that posterity will shine on the infamy of that particular date. In time, we will remember that day as if we understood its significance all along.

Memorial on Utøya
Memorial on Utøya
Photo: Henrik Lied, NRK/Flickr


We are not there yet, and it is hard to know whether the discourse in the immediate wake of the mass murder should encourage or discourage our aspirations as a free society.

Most encouraging was the massive outpouring of grief and compassion expressed by a broad front of Norwegians. City squares all across the country gathered thousands of people in silent vigils and seas of roses. National political leaders made local appearances, and local politicians got national attention. On street corners in Oslo and parking lots near Utøya, we saw how all politics truly and ultimately are local.

It also became apparent that the national Norwegian identity is shifting. We were inclusive in our grief, projecting a wider circle of solidarity. Clergy were given a voice, church services were broadcast live. State leaders cleared their calendars to attend funerals and memorial services. The public tears and hugs were sincere, and we can only imagine the tender private moments among leaders and victims.

The most prominent politicians showed admirable decency. At a moment when their political future had been savagely attacked, Labour politicians committed themselves to the importance of political dissent and a lively political debate. It was certainly the saddest moment in their political careers, but it may also have been their finest.

The campers who put their boats to water under fire, and the police officers who (finally) went ashore displayed the kind of courage the rest of us can only hope we have but also hope is never put to the test.

But there were also troubling moments.

There were more or less blatant attempts to conflate all "rightist" political convictions with those of the murderer. Some tried to make the killings seem like an inevitable outcome of "unacceptable" political speech. Serious effort was put into blurring the distinction between eccentric/fringe/radical views such as those of Fjordman´s and the actions of the deranged murderer. Much of the debate on bigotry and racism in Norway was polluted by shrill accusations directed at certain political camps.

Clearly, something went wrong in the emergency response to the attacks. It took much too long to secure vital government offices, and the murderer had all the time he needed to be thorough. The victims must have felt profoundly abandoned. We have not yet covered all the reasons why our readiness was so poor. Instead, we have quibbled over what threat should frighten us more.

There were incidents of insufferable self-righteousness. Ignoring the similarities between president Bush´s rhetoric following September 11, 2001 and Stoltenberg´s, some proclaimed that Norwegians got it better than Americans. The Norwegian ambassador to Israel implied that Israelis, unliked Norwegians, deserved the terrorism they got. Outsiders who pointed out what they saw as irony in the situation, were not just criticized for bad taste, they were categorically denounced.

The experts who assessed whether the murderer was psychotic followed a method that raised many questions about their conclusion. It is also clear that the Norwegian criteria for an insanity defense is both unusual and unclear to many. It shouldn´t reassure our confidence in the criminal justice system when experts say that he won´t be released for a long time.

Ultimately, I think July 22nd 2011 will be a historical landmark not because of the actions of a deranged man but because of the way our society reacted to the event.

It will be years before we can fully comprehend what it all means.

Meanwhile:

The surviving victims and the friends, colleagues, the close political allies and adversaries of those who were murdered will always recollect the day as an abyss of shock, disbelief, despair and bottomless sorrow. For most of us, July 22nd is an abstraction for which we seek symbols. For them it is real as the darkest night.

Leif Knutson is editor of the normakor mini blog.



Published on Sunday, 22nd January, 2012 at 10:08 under the news category, by Leif Knutsen.
Last updated on 22nd January 2012 at 13:32.

This post has the following tags: andersbehringbreivik, utoeya, norwaygovernmentbuildings.





  
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