Norway: Terrorism Fought With Song, Not Surveillance

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.


  1. Fredrik

    The song is a translation of a song by Pete Seeger, the legendary american folksinger. So there is definitely a connection to America, in several ways.

  2. Tor

    A great post. Thanks! It’s not all bright (look for example at the norweigian attitude to data retention), but overall there is a huge difference in the reaction.

    Btw. maybe this would be a good opportunity to quote Bruce Schneier:
    “The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.”

  3. Cesar

    “despite the greater impact of the attack there (1 in 4 (norwegian) in Norway know someone directly affected by the attack)”

    Perhaps that explains the less extreme reaction. Since it was so near to everyone there, they are reacting to the reality, instead of reacting to a bogeyman.

    In the reality they are seeing, it was only a single man. They are not reacting to an imagined group of enemies who hate everybody and can attack anywhere. They are reacting to a single man who has been arrested and cannot attack anyone anymore.

    1. Andrew Norton

      Well, at times he’s said there was an accomplice. But 9/11 used ordinary everyday things, and only worked because people on scene let it. Here, offensive weapons were used – bombs and automatic weapons. The apparant ease by which he obtained that is of more cause for concern, surely.
      The immediacy of it also tends to make things MORE emotional, not less, since it’s a direct impact. The difference is, I believe, that Norwegians don’t have this paranoia about not being ‘number one’. When your country routinely starts it’s schoolday, meetings and events reciting a pledge of allegiance to the Government (seriously, at the start of my son’s chorus concert last night, they started off by having everyone stand up and recite it, EVERYONE), then have to worry about things….

      Perhaps the real impact of 9/11 was not that of aircraft on buildings, but of reality on an institutionalised arrogance. I’ll have to think more on this.

  4. TTime

    I get a feeling that the author of this article actually have looked into the myriad of absurdities surrounding the 911 attacks, instead of just repeating the sound bites we all have been fed.

    Generally speaking, there are two ways to make people do as you wish – Hard Power and Soft Power. You can either force them, or influence them into wanting, to do what you wish them to do.

    Around 1970, when USSR used both Hard and Soft Power in Czechoslovakia, the Czech novelist Zdenek Urbánek said:

    “In one respect, we are more fortunate than you in the west. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and watch on television, nothing of the official truth. Unlike you, we have learned to read between the lines, because real truth is always subversive.”

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has admitted to something like 30 other attacks, besides 911, that he supposedly planned, including the WTC bombings 1993 and Bali nightclub bombs 2002. He claims to have tried to kill international leaders such as Pope John Paul II, President Clinton and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

    That is a lot.

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded by the CIA 183 times.

    I have lately seen a couple of movies and TV series showing a certain scene. The scenario has taken place in different ages and forms, medieval and present time, even futuristic SciFi, using knife, arrow or electricity, but the scene remains the same; The Rightful Torture Scene – The “good guys” uses physical torture to get information from “the bad guy” to save other people.

    And that my friends is the face of Propaganda, and the tools of Soft Power.

  5. Jack

    As an American, I have lost faith in my political system after decades of corruption and debauchery have left our leaders impotent husks of their former selves. There seems no end in sight until the people at large wake up and realize that things are not as they should be, that we have a responsibility to future generations not to patch things up, but rebuild things better. We can no longer be content with things as they are, or have always been. A little pressure from the outside wouldn’t hurt, though. Basically every outlet of televised media we have access to is bought and paid for by people who don’t want the public to understand what’s happening. It’s a sad situation.

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