Norway, a country comparatively unknown to most Guyanese, has in the past couple of years become relatively more familiar because of its interest in the preservation of our rainforest. Last Friday, however, for totally unrelated and unwanted reasons and in the most tragic of circumstances, Norway forced itself unto the consciousness of many of us, as we contemplated the horrific events in Oslo and Utøya Island, in which at least 76 people, most of them youths, aged 15-25, were brutally and senselessly murdered.
Norway is a big country (148,747 square miles), with a relatively small population (4.9 million) and the lowest population density in continental Europe. It is rich in natural resources and, according to Wikipedia, ranks as the second wealthiest country in the world in monetary value, with the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation.
Norwegians enjoy the second highest GDP per capita in the world and Norway commands first place in the UNDP Human Development Index. In socio-political terms, Norway is a liberal democracy embracing egalitarian values and a strong social welfare system. Additionally, Norway is a generous donor to the developing world and one of the few countries to exceed the United Nations target of 0.7% of Gross National Income for development assistance. In other words, Norway, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a rich country with a culture of tolerance and openness, endowed with a strong social conscience, both at the national and international levels.
However, the far right has been on the rise in Norway in recent years due to increasing tensions over race and immigration. And now, all our impressions of Norway and Norwegians’ own sense of well-being have been thrown into tumult by the heinous deeds of the right-wing extremist and self-confessed killer, Anders Behring Breivik, who on Friday set off a massive car bomb near the office of Norway’s prime minister and then calmly made his way to Utøya Island where, dressed as a policeman, he embarked on an even more abominable killing spree, laughing as he gunned down participants in a summer camp of the youth arm of the ruling Labour Party.
Even as gut-wrenching stories continue to emerge of the horror unleashed on the youngsters, children really, on Utøya, by this mad parody of a laughing policeman, people’s hearts reach out to the families torn apart by this massacre of innocents and to a traumatised nation. And people everywhere are struggling to comprehend, along with Norway, how a single human being could conceive of and carry out such appalling acts, with no sign of remorse, and only the simple, chilling explanation that they were “necessary.” Apparently, in Mr Breivik’s view, Norway and Western Europe are being Islamised and the Norwegian government is to blame for allowing it to happen. Moreover, although Mr Breivik has confessed to the killings, he has denied criminal responsibility for them and it appears that his lawyer might be preparing a defence based on a plea of insanity.
The world, of course, has always been a crazy, cruel place and man’s inhumanity to man has been well chronicled over the centuries. But it may not be sufficient to label Europe’s worst peacetime mass murderer a mad psychopath. Indeed, his assault on his own government, his own nation and his own people carried all the hallmarks of meticulous planning, and eyewitnesses have also spoken of the deliberate, calculated way he went about his bloodthirsty mission on Utøya Island. As unfathomable as his foul deeds may be to most people, they need to be understood if the civilised world is to guard against similar atrocities being committed again. In this respect, the commission of inquiry announced by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is to be welcomed.
Norway is beginning to pull itself together even as the national mourning continues. In the midst of all the grief, all the pain, all the incomprehension, and notwithstanding the primeval human desire for the punishment to match the evil committed, the most compelling response so far – typical of what we would expect of a liberal, progressive Scandinavian society – would seem to have come from the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, who has stated: “Together, we will punish the murderer. The punishment will be more openness, more tolerance, and more democracy.”