glory of god

glory of god

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Finding Hope in Norway

With people the world over, I have watched the news coming out of Norway with horror. Friday's bomb attack on the government's buildings was terrible and surprising enough in a country as peaceful and progressive as Norway. But the calculated, cowardly, and simply inhuman slaughter of more than 80 youth simply leaves one without words. These youth, members of the Labour Party (equivalent to the Social Democrats in other European countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Germany) were Norway's future leaders, gathering for inspiration, skill development, and camaraderie. Their loss is a senseless tragedy for their families and friends, and also for the whole nation for generations to come. To put this situation into some perspective, Friday's death toll is in fact a higher percentage of the Norwegian population than the September 11 terrorists attacks in the United States.

Since Friday a picture of the terrorist has emerged. Not Islamic, a foreigner or anything of the like, Anders Behring Breivik is a 32 year old blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian. And yet in a way, he seems to be the Norwegian mirror image of the terrorists who have become all too well known in recent years, embracing an anti-immigrant and fundamentalist world-view, willing to kill indiscriminately in support of their twisted outlook; although, in this case Breivik's fundamentalism is Christian not Muslim. It can be just as dangerous.

In particular, Breivik seems to have been concerned that in opening its borders to those seeking a better life, Norway was losing its cultural identity. Thus he sought to silence voices of tolerance and progress, not only for today but for tomorrow as well. His ultimate goal was to incite a Norwegian revolution, to make Norway truly Norwegian again. Like the murderous fanatics in previous generations, he looked to the day when Europe would be cleansed of its ethnic and cultural diversity.

In a 1500-page manifesto recently posted on-line Breivik wrote: "Multiculturalism is a tool of Islam; it is a disastrous ideology of false 'nice' that is used to stifle critical thought and open debate. Multiculturalism is a complete failure as it is used by our enemies to destroy us. Multiculturalism must be destroyed." Despite his apparent hatred of Islam, he ironically identifies with al Qaeda elsewhere in his "manifesto" when he writes, "Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of the Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity."

While Anders Behring Breivik has taken matters to a horrific, deadly extreme, his views regarding immigration and multiculturalism are becoming increasingly common throughout Europe. In 2010 the Sweden Democrats, a right-wing anti-immigrant party, were elected to the Swedish Riksdag for the first time ever. While still a very minor party, they hold more seats than the Christian Democrats and the Left Party. In Denmark, the Danish People's Party (likewise a right-wing, anti-immigrant party) has enjoyed a much closer association with the ruling coalition and has steadily increased its vote share to become the third largest party in the Folketing. The Finnish True Finns Party has likewise risen to prominence. In 2011 the party won over 19% of the vote (up from just 4% four years earlier) and earned 39 seats to become the third largest party in the Finnish parliament. The True Finns differ somewhat from their anti-multicultural Scandinavian counterparts in that they embrace a leftist economic policy, while still strongly conservative on social issues.

Thus it is that under the progressive, social democratic surface, the Scandinavian/Nordic countries are struggling with what it means to be increasingly diverse, multicultural and multi-ethnic societies. Observers of Scandinavia know that this has been true for some time, since at least the 1960s; however, the tempo has heightened in recent years with the rise of the internet and concern that welfare states do not have the economic strength to adequately support new immigrants as well as "ethnic" Scandinavians. Of course the vast majority of Scandinavians engage this struggle in the public sphere through respectful conversation and debate, abiding by the democratic process. However, combined with religious fundamentalism, and no doubt mental instability, the same struggle over what it means to be Scandinavian in the twenty-first century has led to deadly consequences beyond human imagining or comprehension.

The goal of a terrorist like Breivik is to generate such great fear that an open society like Norway closes itself off. This was the tactic employed by Hitler as well in his attempt to create a pure Europe, and thus far less successfully by right-wing extremists in the United States. But just as it ultimately didn't work for Hitler, it won't work for modern-day thugs like Breivik, either. Because for all of Breivik's apparent respect for Norwegian culture and Christian belief, he doesn't seem to understand that at the heart of the Norwegian (and Scandinavian) society and Christian theology is a profound respect for others, care for those who are less fortunate, and dedication to building a peaceable society in which there is room enough for all.

Alfred Nobel, the nineteenth century Swedish chemist who invited dynamite, was distressed when he realized that he would be remembered for discovering a faster way to kill. Thus in his 1895 will he established the various Nobel Prizes to celebrate and honor positive human accomplishments, and to be awarded without regard to nationality in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace.

Nobel was especially impressed by those who worked against militarism and war, and looked to make a contribution for the peaceful solution to international conflicts. Thus, he stipulated that the prize for peace should be awarded in Norway (at the time in political union with Sweden) because its history was decidedly less militaristic and more peaceful than Sweden's. In particular, at the end of the nineteenth century Norway's Storting (Parliament) was involved in efforts to resolve conflicts through careful mediation and arbitration. Nobel was impressed by this commitment and left a lasting legacy for the Norwegian people to honor and support it.

Speaking at the Oslo Cathedral on Sunday morning, Jens Stoltenberg, Norway's Prime Minister said:

"In the middle of all these tragic events, I am proud to live in a country that has stood firm at a critical time. I am deeply impressed by how much dignity and compassion I have seen. We are a small nation, but a proud people. We will never abandon our values. Our reply is: more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivity. No one has said it better than the AUF [Labour youth league] girl who was interviewed by CNN: 'If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together'."

It is this legacy and commitment to peace, and not fear-mongering murderous attempts to terrorize, that will give hope to the grieving people of Norway and the world in the days, months, and years to come.

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