Will Breivik attack change Norway?
Norway's leaders and the public say they are committed to protecting their vaunted 'open society.' But even though attacker Anders Breivik was Norwegian, the immigration issue could heat up.
At about 3:30 p.m. on July 22, a car bomb blew out the windows in government buildings, rattling the offices of Norway's prime minister. Small fires burned inside buildings and injured employees stumbled into the debris-speckled streets of downtown Oslo.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Then, news spread of a shooting on Utoya, an island northwest of the capital. Early reports described a tall, blond man spraying the island with gunfire as hundreds of young campers scattered in terror.
Police scrambled to cope with the attacks, both of which are unprecedented in a country known as one of the world's safest places, and early suspicion turned to jihadists. The media, including this paper, suggested the blast could be the work of Islamic extremists. After all, Norway was involved in Afghanistan and hosts a sizable and growing Muslim community.
What came next turned everyone's best guess on its head and left Norwegians, who boast of their tolerant, open, and peaceful society, in a state of shock. The man admitting to the crimes was no Al Qaeda operative. Oslo resident Anders Behring Breivik is just the opposite.
A strike at the heart of society?
An ethnic Norwegian with an expressed hatred of Islam and Muslim immigrants and an affinity for far-right politics, Mr. Breivik stunned a nation by admitting to twin attacks that killed 77 Norwegians. Likening himself to a modern-day Crusader, Breivik claimed the attacks served as a wake-up call to Norwegians and the ruling Labour Party over his fears of Europe's "Islamization."
But many Norwegians say Breivik's attack was no wake-up call at all but a strike at the heart of their society and national psyche. "He attacked everything this country stands for to the last detail," says Alexander Roine, a 20-something Oslo resident.
In the wake of the assault, a new resolve has emerged. While the attacks will undoubtedly be a defining moment for Norway, much like 9/11 was for the United States, the sentiment so far is that it will be remembered for Norway staying true to its ideals and resisting the urge to retreat under a blanket of tighter security and bigger barriers.
Norway has distinguished itself as an international peace broker, aid donor, and giver of the Nobel Peace Prize, and will seek to retain that image. For example, officials have routinely stated they would not crack down on civil liberties, stifle opposing viewpoints, or break from longstanding legal procedures to safeguard the country.
"We will go on; take care of each other; and protect our democracy, our open society, human rights, and the hopes of young people for a better world," the foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, said in a speech after the attacks.
But the killings have triggered a reassessment of Norway's readiness to deal with terrorism. Criticized in the media for their slow response time to the island of Utoya, police have been on the defensive.
The one helicopter owned by Oslo police sat unused as police drove to the camp while a Norwegian news crew was filming the massacre from their chartered helicopter. Once at the lake, officers commandeered boats to get to the island. In total, it took authorities more than an hour to arrest Breivik after receiving the first emergency call.
The terror attacks did heighten security in the capital, but Norwegian officials have sought to allay fears over more attacks or any longer-term clampdown. Some change, however, may be forthcoming.