Until July 22, any mention of the Norwegian capital of Oslo evoked images not of terror, but of peace – the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize (a fact my Swedish friends never let me forget), the hosting of diplomatic talks, the use of soldiers for only peacekeeping purposes. But now this bloodied city has joined the depressingly long list of others – New York, Madrid, London, Beirut, Mumbai, Jakarta, and many more – struck by terror.
In a matter of hours, eight people were killed in an explosion that tore through several government buildings, and at least 69 teenagers were gunned down at a youth camp on the nearby island of Utoya. The attacks amount to the deadliest day of terror in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the deadliest day in Scandinavia since World War II. In fact, the shooting, allegedly carried out by 32-year-old ethnic Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, is among the deadliest rampages in history.
While it will take Norway a long time to move on, many around the world seem to have already done so. More specifically, some didn’t even seem to care in the first place. And still others used the tragedy as an opportunity for derision.
Take Portland, Ore.-based radio talk show host Victoria Taft. In discussing the massacre on her syndicated program, Taft stated that Norway “had it coming.” She went further by explaining “this is what happens when you have a see no evil, let’s just be nice to everyone policy.”
In ultra-tolerant Scandinavia, Taft’s comments would ring hollow. And while her comments may be disgusting, sadly she’s not alone.
Even my parents seem to have reacted to the tragedy with shrugged shoulders. While discussing with my father what Norway’s response might be – and whether something will be done about the right-wing extremist movement that it appears Breivik was a product of – he simply said “Who cares? That’s Norway’s problem.”
What if the shoe were on the other foot? It may sound cliché, but think about it: almost every American remembers the pain, anguish, fear, and anger they felt on September 11, 2001. How would they feel if someone came up to them and said that America “had it coming?” Right now, many Norwegians are experiencing the same feelings.
Simply because this tragedy happened somewhere other than Your Town, Anywhere does not make it unimportant. Rather, with Sweden neighboring Norway, it becomes even more important. Nordic solidarity is needed — regardless of where one originally came from.
And unfortunately, by Saturday much of the coverage of the massacre was overshadowed by the death of Amy Winehouse, a 27-year-old pop diva who died of a drug overdose that many said they saw coming. In the minds of some, this was bigger news than the murder of 77 innocent people.
To fully grasp just how tragic the Oslo and Utoya events are, one must put it in perspective. Compare it with the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, a U.S. college campus shooting that left more than 30 people dead, including the shooter. The bombing and shootings in Norway claimed almost three times as many victims.
Still others remarked “that’s sad,” or “I feel bad for the Norwegians,” without truly understanding the scope of the horror. While Oslo will undoubtedly rebuild and campers may return one day to Utoya, the scars will remain. Many will require years of expensive therapy to get past the trauma, and Muslims will have to deal with the sting of being blamed yet again for an event they had nothing to do with (in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, attention turned to Al-Qaeda and an obscure Kurdish militant group called Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami that falsely claimed responsibility for the attack).
I can be honest and say that my connection to the Oslo bombing and the massacre on Utoya is closer than most. Having spent a year studying and living in neighboring Sweden, I had the opportunity to visit Oslo with some friends in November 2010. While the temperatures were nothing short of bone-chilling, I was amazed at how warm, open, and friendly the people were, and how incredibly safe the city felt. On more than one occasion I saw babies left alone in strollers tied to light poles while mothers and fathers went indoors to grab a coffee or bun. To see images of the city I considered the safest on earth thrown into chaos has shaken my very core.
The world has poured its heart out for grieving nations before. It happened after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 claimed over 125,000 lives, and again when devastating earthquakes struck Japan and Haiti. People were concerned when several Madrid commuter trains were bombed in 2004, and also when London’s public transportation system was targeted by Al-Qaeda in 2005. And people worldwide even expressed alarm when a suicide blew himself up in central Stockholm last December.
So why not now, when Norway needs support more than ever?
While Oslo will undoubtedly rebuild and campers may return one day to Utoya, the scars will remain. Many will require years of therapy to get past the trauma, and some may never recover. Muslims will have to deal with the sting of being blamed yet again for an event they had nothing to do with (in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, attention turned to Al-Qaeda and an obscure Kurdish militant group called Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami that falsely claimed responsibility for the attack).
A tragedy is a tragedy, no matter where it happens. What Norway needs right now is solidarity.
Perhaps Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said it best. As quoted in the The Local, “Today, we are all Norwegians.”