Yesterday was day nine in the trial of Anders Breivik, the man behind the events in Oslo and Utøya last July. And in keeping with the thoughts expressed by their Prime Minister, over 40,000 citizens expressed themselves outside the court in a way that would chill every would-be terrorist – by not being afraid.
Fear makes people do strange things. When the US was attacked in 2001, fear made people act like lemmings, jumping off the self-interest cliff for some perceived notion of ‘safety’. When London was bombed in 2005, it was used as an excuse to ramp up the already excessive surveillance culture, giving even more powers to the police, despite the attack not being worse than Irish terrorist attacks of the previous decades.
So, when bombs go off in downtown Oslo, followed by an automatic weapon-fueled slaughter in Utøya, in a country with little history of terrorist actions, there’s going to be a massive backlash, right? FEar, panic, people demanding the government do something, ANYTHING to stop these attacks from happening again.
Absolutely not. As I noted last July, the reaction of Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway was promising; “We are still shaken by what hit us, but we never give up our values. Our answer is more democracy, more openness and more humanity, but never naivete.”, but was that typical of the typical Norwegian citizen? It would appear so. One girl interviewed on CNN reportedly said “If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together.” A week later 200,000 people participated in a flower march.
Sure, emotions were running high at the time, so what about later? It’s been a little over 9 months since the incident, and the outpouring of grief and forgiveness has been washed away over time, surely, leaving vengeance and wrath in its place? Apparently not.
Despite provocations, including fist-salutes on entering the court for the first few days, tempers were remarkably even. There has been no anger, rage, irrational calls for violence, or need for special procedures. It’s all been very… CIVILISED.
Nothing has demonstrated this more than the events of yesterday (April 26, 2012) when a crowd of 40,000 gathered outside the courthouse. It wasn’t there to protest, to shout slogans, or make demands, as you would expect in the US or UK. Instead, they sang a song, Barn av Regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow), which Breivik had claimed was used to brainwash children. It was a moving, and poignant insult of Breivik, while showing immeasurable class.
Compare that with the US. Almost 11 years after 9/11, the self-declaired mastermind of that attack – Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – has still yet to be put on trial. Despite being in a military prison for over 5 years, and being charged 3 years ago, he’s still to have any sort of trial. There was a plan to hold the case in a New York courtroom, back in 2009, but then Politics got involved, the Politics of Fear.
A domino effect of people preaching fear and ‘safety concerns’ led to the President deciding that instead of a court case, in front of a judge, he would be tried in a military tribunal – a system setup after 9/11 in some twisted desire for vengeance – in Cuba. The ‘trial’ is due to start in two weeks.
For a country that prides itself as being the land of the free and home of the brave, whose founding document speaks strongly of Justice, and a speedy trial by one’s peers (6th Amendment) by due process (5th amendment) under equal protection of the law (14th), they’ve certainly lost the plot.
The US needs to take a hard look at itself, and perhaps take a lesson or two from Norway where, despite the greater impact of the attack there (1 in 4 (norwegian) in Norway know someone directly affected by the attack), especially with politicians as the main target; things have gone on pretty much unchanged. 11 Men used boxcutters, and billions have been spent in ‘security’, one man used bombs and automatic weapons and there have been no knee jerk reactions.
Norway shows that the effective way to deal with terrorism is not through abandoning privacy, spying on citizens, or turning to naked barbarism. As the UK did in the 80’s and 90’s, it should be dealt with as a crime, without the special venom which only serves to feed more violence and hatred. It takes a strong person to react with intelligence, but only a thuggish fool to react with fear and anger. Alas, things are not going to get better in the US until politics there grows up, and that could be a long time indeed, as the Republican party campaigns on platforms similar to Breivik’s. It’s enough to make you weep.