Right-Wing Terror - Reflections on Oslo and Utøya 5 Years Later
Five years ago today, on a cloudy and rainy afternoon in the streets of Oslo, when a Volkswagen Crafter fitted with a 900kg bomb parked outside in an area with a number of government buildings and exploded. The explosion left massive destruction, killing 8 people and wounding countless others, in addition to causing confusion and disbelief by Norwegians. It crippled the Norwegian government and contributed to a weakening of the command structure. The worst atrocity to hit the country since World War II. While the authorities were clearing up the damage inflicted by the bomb-equpped Crafter in central Oslo and speculating if Norway was the victim of an Islamic terrorist attack, the man drove up to the island of Utøya, where a camp for the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party was being hosted, as it is every year. His original target? The first female Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, whom he hated so vehemently he aspired to capture and murder her in the most barbaric ways possible. When he realized she left before he arrived, he turned his attention to the innocent, the vulnerable, the precious, and the impressionable: politically-savvy teenagers who only wanted to make a better Norway.
Dressed as a police officer, he managed to lure all of the teenagers towards him to inform them about the bombing, only to unleash a torrent of horror and bloodshed that no one could have imagined would occur. This man showed absolutely no mercy to his victims, slaughtering them in his path. For the teens unaware of what was occurring, he lured them in even more, falsely reassuring them it was okay and that he was police come to help…only to gun them down again.
Terrified teens ran for their lives, and sought to find refuge from the terrorist by hiding in the bushes, rocks, or caves. Many of them sent terrified texts or calls to their parents while the carnage was ongoing. Brave souls like the Chechen teenagers who risked their lives throwing rocks at the terrorist in a bid to save the lives of their friends. Their heroism saved lives of 28 teens. Others were too scared to stay on the island and jumped in the water, swimming the long way to the mainland. Some with gunshot wounds. Some who attempted to swim the cold waters did not ultimately make it.
Many of them who managed to survive were so deathly afraid to accept help from local police or volunteers. They thought they were also part of the attack.
Those who didn’t make it from the wanton slaughter were lying dead on the beach.
The victims were all diverse, a testimony to the strength of Norwegian society. One of the victims, Bano Rashid, was an 18 year old Iraqi-Kurdish girl whose family fled Saddam’s genocidal attempts to wipe their Kurdish people off the map, to a safe haven they found in Norway. What cruel irony is it, that she would end up dying at the hands of not one of Saddam’s henchmen, but a fellow Norwegian?
When the police arrived, the suspect ultimately surrenders without a fight. It turns out that the man was not an Islamic terrorist, but an anti-Muslim fascist, a denier of the Bosnian Genocide, a self-described “Crusader for Christendom”: a Norwegian Christian by the name of Anders Behring Breivik. Inspired by the rants of American and European right-wing bloggers, drunk on the rage against immigration and multiculturalism, he would not be out of place in a Trump rally since there are many who share his same views and implicit calls for action against those they deem to be the enemy. Someone who thought he was standing up for Western civilization and the “Muslim invasion of Europe”, by going after those whom he deemed as traitors. One of us, they squirmed, at how one of their own could commit such a horrific atrocity, and on kids.
The aftermath wasn’t over. Unlike the victims of Da’esh in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, and Nice, there were no world landmarks projecting the Norwegian flag in solidarity with the victims, no trendy hashtag of “Jeg er Norsk” akin to JeSuisCharlie, no flag filters (wonder if those who were sporting the French flag filters knew about this horrific attack to begin with?), no world leaders coming over and marching in the streets of Oslo in support of democracy and openness, and very few worldwide vigils in solidarity (only ones I can think of off the top of my head was in London outside the Norwegian Embassy and in Toronto at Little Norway Park), and of course no American flags at half-staff on our own turf in solidarity with the Norwegians. Instead, they had to suffer through some of the most vile smears and rationalization of the mass murderer that no one else should have to endure. From Glenn Beck equating the victims to a fucking Hitler Youth camp to that piece of shit Pat Buchanan’s provocative Op-Ed title “What if Breivik was right?” (PS Terrorists are NEVER right) and to Pamela Geller (who was cited favorably by him in his manifesto) smearing the victims as future rapists, to far-right parties (including the hypocritical France’s National Front) throughout Europe praising Breivik’s ideas…and all this before the victims were even buried. Even celebrated intellectuals weren’t immune, as prominent French author Richard Millet remarked that the victims were “mixed-raced, globalized, uncultivated, social-democrat petit bourgeois” and stated “Breivik is what Norway deserved” for embracing multiculturalism and a supposed “weakening” of its racial identity. Some right-wing bloggers quoted in his manifesto even had the nerve to say they were the real “victims”. To that, they can get fucked. It’s the Norwegian people who had to deal with this sort of hate and extremism in their midst. It’s not a bunch of self-important bloggers safely ranting and inciting hatred of Muslims and immigrants from their cushy homes and apartments. Only self-righteous fuckwits worry more about their reputations than the families of those whose children were gunned down at a summer camp. They should face the fact that he was a byproduct of the toxic hatred they continued to spew all this time until it manifested itself into something horrendous.
In spite of that, there was much good to come out of the aftermath. After the horrendous attacks, a beautiful sight to behold when 150,000 Norwegians, of all types, came out in the streets of Oslo to make a stand. Armed with roses, they came out in the streets to prove they will not be cowed into fear, that they will not march into cowardice, and will continue to give the middle finger to Breivik and his future disciples. Unlike France and America, the response by the then-Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg did not bow down to terror. Instead, he proclaimed that “..we will not give up our values.” and that “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivety.” If they had gone down the path of France and the U.S., they would have let fear reign. No, Norway showed the world what a strong and mighty nation they were, by holding steadfast to its values that makes the nation so great. I have nothing but admiration for Stoltenberg for his commitment to democratic values.
Here we are 5 years later, and the lessons from this atrocity have yet to be heeded for the rest of the Western world. If anything, Breivik’s dreams have come true with a resurgent far-right that continues to capitalize on the fears of their constituents from the recent horror inflicted by Islamic extremists in the past year and a half. However, Breivik had ultimately failed in Norway as they have passed the test of preserving its values since then. Let us hope something like this is never repeated anywhere on this planet. Being a liberal should never be a fucking death sentence, and neither should the embrace of democracy, openness, and multiculturalism be grounds for accusations of treason either.
I leave with a quote from a survivor who exemplifies the strength and dedication that the rest of the world can hopefully adhere to:
“If one man alone can show so much hate, imagine all the love and humanity a whole nation can give.” ~ Stine Renate Håheim, member of Norwegian Labour Party
Let us never forget the martyrs of democracy and freedom that perished in Utøya and Oslo on that fateful Friday afternoon on the 22nd of July, 2011.
Jeg er Norsk