Part of a screen capture from english.aljazeera.net, last Saturday
"This tragedy marks the end of Norway's innocence"
These words are the title of a thoughtful article by Anthony Browne in the Telegraph. This theme of Norway's "loss of innocence" was all over the media in the hours and days following last Friday's tragic events in Oslo and Utøya. (Example one. Example two. Example three.) For several reasons, this line makes me uneasy.
First of all, Norway is not an isolated land of noble primitives. For over a century, Norway has had one of the world's largest privately-owned merchant navies (presently ranking number 6). The German conquest of Norway in World War II led to armed resistance and Nazi reprisals. The treasonous Quisling was a Norwegian, and the Nobel-prize-winning novelist and national treasure Knut Hamsun refused, even at war's end, to renounce his admiration for Adolf Hitler. After the war, Norway joined NATO. Norwegian forces have fought in Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Norwegian politicians know how to play hardball with each other, as in the recent case of the nasty fight over choosing a new fighter plane for the air force.
Murders are rare, but not nonexistent. Ditto for domestic violence, public alcoholism, suicide, hate crimes and (as I've seen myself) racist and neo-Nazi vandalism. There is no aristocracy in Norway, and many Norwegians share an aversion to immodest displays of wealth, but class tensions do exist.
I'm presenting this very miscellaneous bag of behaviors simply to say that Norwegians are neither ethereal angels nor completely unacquainted with violence.
Maybe some refer to Norway's "innocence" as a sly commentary on the country's famed prudence and idealism. Surely these values amount to national naivete, detached from the realities of this world. But what if this so-called "innocence" is not innocent at all, but rather a deliberately chosen and logically defensible way of life? Most Norwegian political parties, left and right, share a basic assumption that the national economy can and must balance private enterprise and social justice. Norwegian forces seem ready to join U.N. peacekeeping missions at the drop of a hat. Alfred Nobel assigned Norway the privilege of awarding his Peace Prize. As a source of public and private development aid, Norway is often the world's per capita champion donor. Even as a petro-power, Norway displays exemplary behavior--depositing huge amounts of oil and gas earnings into a sovereign welfare fund advised by a Sunday school teacher. As for kings and politicians, their roles may reflect the functional chieftains of Viking days--not expecting exaltation and well-guarded Olympian isolation, but simply expecting to do their jobs just like everyone else.
These features are not proof of innocence or naivete; they reflect a long series of national bargains, worked out over years of debate and many election cycles. They reflect a pragmatic understanding that a good life for me is most easily achieved and maintained if a good life is within reasonable reach of all. Would such a pragmatic and functional national covenent survive a new regime of highly-armed separation of government offices and politicians from their people--or a defensive and reactionary attitude toward foreign ideas and people?
Some of the commentators citing Norway's innocence and its loss are themselves Norwegian--for example, this much-discussed column by crime novelist Jo Nesbø. But I can't help wonder whether others simply don't want to believe in Norway's achievements. Surely such national sanity and quality of life must come at some awful price, and--aha--now we see what it is! But in the aftermath of the July 22 tragedies, it's important for Norway to remember the long and deliberate history of its national consensus that freedom is better than fear.
To sum up: don't confuse the July 22 attacks as a question of some fatal Norwegian flaw to be labeled "innocence." That's a diversion; these attacks clearly revealed some real flaws to consider urgently. It's not as if Norway is too innocent to have police forces--why did it take them so long to respond to Breivik's attacks on the youth camp? There is nothing about Norway's national idealism that requires helicopters and boats to be unavailable when an emergency happens, or to avoid connecting the dots when a self-proclaimed extremist buys materials that can become explosives. The more we believe in nonviolence and trust, the more vigilant we have to be to confront evil on our own terms.
More Norway-related links: Meeting for Grief and Hope (this Saturday, Seattle, USA). The power of truth, love and nonviolence (Fellowship of Reconciliation), "Breivik and his enablers" (New York Times), "Some Terrorists Are Blonde" (Foreign Policy Association). And a moving song that became an anthem for those grieving July 22 and committing themselves to the nation's young people. (Thanks to Barbara Berntsen for the reference.) Click on "show more" to see the words.
Friday PS: "Norway's atrocity: the mental tunnel" (OpenDemocracy).
Pastor and evangelist to the whole planet: John Stott dies at age 90. New York Times. Christianity Today. John Stott Ministries.
|Becky Ankeny in Elektrostal|
Two items from Russia Religion News: "A New Russian Bible" and "Russian Supreme Court tries to limit use of 'extremism' cases against believers."
Norway's Knut Reiersrud, "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired"