Terror Attacks in Norway on 22 July 2011

Streets of Oslo following 22 July 2015. Photo: Jørgen Carling, PRIO

A lot has already been written about the the events of 22 July 2011 their consequences. For me, the first weeks have been filled with emotionally draining experiences, coupled with debates that I haven’t felt prepared to engage in. Trying to see it all from a bit of distance, beyond the grief of those who were directly affected, these are the main thoughts I have:

First, what happened needs to be called what it was: a terrorist attack. It is sad to see how the events were re-labelled and dismissed by much of the international media as soon at is was clear that it wasn’t the work of radical islamists. The attacks might have been carried out by an individual, but they were inspired by a strong political and religious conviction, drew upon extensive support networks, and were meticulously planned over a number of years. In fact, Norway’s leading expert on violent Islamism has argued convincingly in the NY Times that this is the closest ting yet to a Christian version of Al Qaida.

Second, it has made a great impression to see the counter-reaction of the Norwegian people and the national leadership. There have been virtually no resort to divisive politics in the aftermath of what happened, but rather a unanimous call for an even more inclusive and compassionate society. It remains to be seen how we live up to that intention. In the hours after the bomb, when most people believed it was an islamist attack, we saw the contours of what might have happened if that had been the case: muslims were harassed on the street and anti-muslim hatred flourished on the web.

Third, we are faced with difficult dilemmas in the time ahead, including this: should we try to silence expressions of hatred, or should we, on the contrary, encourage everyone to voice their opinions in public to prevent pressure building up in extremist circles. The climate has certainly shifted in public debate over the past years, in the sense that what would have been considered racist ten years ago, is now commonplace to say (in much of Europe, not just Norway). Some people would say that this shift contributed to what happened on 22 July, others would argue that the expression of even more extreme views must be tolerated.

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