After Norway massacre: Will this country ever be the same?

A view from the secretary general of the Council of Europe, a former prime minister of Norway: I am often asked what will happen in Norway now. At first, I answered that it will stay an open society. But we need to become more aware of what terrorism is, where it comes from, and how we speak about it.

Since the July 22 terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utoya island by confessed perpetrator Anders Behring Breivik, countless foreign media have sought my opinion. They all ask the same questions: What will happen in Norway now? Will we be able to recognize Norway after this? Could something similar happen in other countries?

At first, I answered that Norway will continue to be an open society characterized by tolerance and the fight for human rights and peace. I still believe this.

But as I learned more about the terrorist, I began to add that I also hoped Norway would not be recognizable in quite the same way.

We need to become more aware of what terrorism is, where it comes from, and not least, how we speak about it.

It should be possible, for example, to no longer refer to terrorism committed by Muslims as “Islamic terrorism.” No one would dream of calling Mr. Breivik a “Christian terrorist,” just because he has described himself as Christian. We have never called the terrorism of the IRA in Northern Ireland “Christian.”

When it comes to Muslims, however, their actions are immediately associated with Islam as a religion. The term radical Islam has flourished in Norwegian debate. Does Breivik represent radical Christianity?

No. There is nothing in either Christianity or Islam that can justify terrorism.

When, through our choice of words, we link Islam to terrorism, we polarize the debate. The fear of Muslims and Islamization currently rampant in Europe is, in my opinion, the greatest internal threat we face.

Political leaders talk of multiculturalism having failed. Needless to say, the consequences of such a view must surely be that Muslims and all others who do not fit in are expected to leave. One French minister has even said that it has become difficult to take the bus, because of all the Muslims. What exactly did he hope to achieve by this? In the minds of fanatics like Breivik, it invites the answer he has given. Breivik sees himself as an idealistic savior. He takes life to save all of us from the Muslim threat.

Breivik’s terrorism and Al Qaeda’s terrorism come from the same thing: the desire to rid one’s environment of intruders.

The methods are the same, too: the ruthless violence, even against one’s own – the traitors; terror directed at one’s own ranks, against those who work with foreigners. Breivik did not direct his attack against Muslims, but against those who want them here.

Let's not link the crusaders to religions through our use of language. All religious leaders working for reconciliation between religions must support and encourage one another.

And political leaders must assume much greater responsibility. This was the reason why, as secretary general of the Council of Europe, I appointed a “group of wise persons” last summer to analyse and advise on what can be done to help us live together in a multicultural world. (The council’s 47 member countries promote democractic principles based on the European Human Rights Convention.)

On my visits to European capitals presenting the report, it struck me how much weight everyone gave to the responsibility of political leaders and the media. They complained of opportunism among political leaders and a media bias toward conflict.

They underlined the responsibility one has to explain to people the real situation. Namely, that multiculturalism is here to stay. Europe has always been a continent of many religions and ethnic groups. Whenever we have not been able to live with that, the worst disasters have ensued.

We must not only accept the multicultural, we must take advantage of it. We need to change our mindset, our mentality, and we must value the advantages we can draw from our diversity.

I have advocated expanding the European security concept beyond its focus on military matters. I call it “deep security.” It has to do with how we can live together without escalating conflicts: security deep down within the society.

The values that bind us together are the basis for this deep security. They are enshrined in the European Human Rights Convention. It contains the rights of individuals, and their obligations. You have no obligation to give up your religious or ethnic identity. But you have an obligation to respect common European values.

Europe has received a clear warning from Norway. Perhaps Breivik operated alone. But I am afraid he has started a new trend. A new form of nationalism emerges, but the old adage applies: All nationalism comes from something bad, and leads to something bad.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, hatred of foreigners is a European challenge.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg gave an opposite signal to that given by the American president after Sept. 11, 2001: “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” It divided the whole world. President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, among other things, because he immediately started to build bridges.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg has set a course that Europe should now follow. It aims to build bridges within societies, helped by democratic institutions. We cannot change Breivik. Our safety lies in the human relationships we are able to build.

Thorbjorn Jagland is the secretary general of the Council of Europe. He is also chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and was the former prime minister of Norway from 1996-97. A version of this article appeared July 29 in the Aftenpost, a daily Norwegian newspaper.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.