Not many months ago I watched the movie 9/11 with my students and this statement, from a firefighter, is what most of my students remembered when discussing the incident afterwards. Little did we know that we would see the same evil in our own country. Norway’s democratic values were targeted as a Norwegian citizen attacked both our governing institution and a summer camp for politically active young Labour party members. The horror, when the sadistic methods used by targeting innocent children captured on an isolated island using special bullets that created horrific internal injuries, were slowly revealed to us, is unbearable. Due to the isolation of the location the killer had ample time to methodically butcher as many as 68 people, leaving the survivors struggling with the aftermath in years to come.
Naturally, newspapers from all over the world are writing about the incident and everybody’s trying to understand how this could happen in Norway, the country that each year prides itself with peace loving people who award the Nobel Peace Prize to worthy candidates. The revelation that the killer is a Norwegian born, privileged person with all the opportunities to succeed in life, makes it even harder to comprehend. The alternative, that it might be a group from outside our country, was always equally bad. I choose to agree with the characteristics given by Hajo Funke, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin who stated; “this may be the act of a lone, mad, paranoid individual”. But also as a caution, the far right milieu created an atmosphere that can lead such people down that path of violence.
Hate cannot triumph over love, says the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Norwegian people follow suit by organizing peaceful parades in silence, 200.000 people each with a symbolic rose to show sympathy with the victims and the survivors. Facebook and Twitter are used to share stories and information. On Friday you could see the Twitter messages from the young people on the island desperately asking for help, sending messages to loved ones and trying to locate missing friends. Later on, messages on Twitter encouraged Norwegians to meet up at local hospitals to donate blood, and also not to use the mobile phones unless in emergencies or when trying to contact missing relatives. A site on Facebook called: “Oslo god behold” was also launched shortly after the incident, making it possible for people to quickly locate relatives and friends in Oslo.
Social media is also used to share songs of comfort. A playing list is made on Spotify for all to share. Music can be therapy for many and some of the girls who swam from the island were singing songs they knew and cherished to encourage each other to go on and to mask the sounds of bullets as the killer tried to shoot those whose escaped the island. The days after the incident we are able to read the stories written by those who survived. And relatives are asking us to read and comment by giving hugs. I would like to ask my friends in other countries to do the same. Read the stories by using Google translator and share with students and friends, let these individual stories be shared with the world and let it not be forgotten. Let us meet evil with warmth, compassion and tolerance. The evil person who did this wants to share his story and his manifest. Our attention should be with those who died, those who survived and all those who have lost loved ones. I know Norway will find a way to move forward, but things will never be the same. I choose to focus my attention towards good in a time with so much despair. Stoltenberg our prime minister, when asked by international journalists if he had given much thought to the killer answered; I will not mention his name but I think about what he did how horrendous it is, and I focus my attention on the victims and their families. They need our comfort and support. I think this is the correct way to react. Now we know not only what evil looks like, but how humanity, kindness, courage, sacrifice and love looks like. Hate will divide, let’s not give into hate but more openness and democracy. That is the Norwegian way.
I recently learned that a 16 year old girl in our neighborhood who was going to be a student at our school was one of the victims. Is saddens my heart to know there will be an empty space in our classroom when school starts. Read about her here.