How to react to Norway shootings

Friday's political massacre of Norway's youth could easily focus attention on Europe's immigration debate. But it should first lead to a renewal of basic civic values, such as reverence for life.

The mass killing of 76 people Friday by a young man in Norway deserves more sorrow than meaning. Yet Norwegians will no doubt try to draw lessons in coming days and avoid overreacting out of fear even as they grieve.

Most of the killings were at an island camp for young people sponsored by the ruling Labor Party. That makes it both particularly tragic and highly political. The confessed killer, Anders Behring Breivik, had posted convoluted reasons online to justify this mass murder, including his naive hope that such an act would spark a revolution against Norway’s liberal policy toward immigration, especially of Muslims.

A democratic nation’s practices on immigration and assimilation can certainly be controversial and worthy of debate. But Mr. Breivik’s frustration and impatience at not getting his way in normal politics – perhaps driven by emotional problems – was no excuse for him to step outside the bounds of the law.

If he truly believes the ruling party is “importing voters” to stay in power, he should have simply rallied Norwegians to his counterview, not killed the next generation of his political opposition.

Persuasion by words and by elections must remain the tools to alter a nation’s course. Using murder to change politics is inherently contradictory – there is no politics if anyone can decide to use murder.

This tragedy could easily be used in much of Europe to force the debate on immigration, such as the apparent clash of civic values between orthodox Muslim communities and traditional European society. In recent months, the leaders of Germany, Britain, and France have all declared “multiculturalism” to have failed.

The emotional state of this killer is still not clear, but even so, these murders deserve a rational response. The immediate challenge is to reinforce the universal value of a reverence for life – something Breivik seems to have ignored in his quest to save “Christian” Europe.

In recent years, America’s own experience with political violence has led to a renewed emphasis on peaceful means by political groups.

Most environmentalists denounce the tactics of “ecoterrorists” who take life for their cause. Antiabortion groups abhor those who murder abortion doctors. Political groups in favor of limited government decried the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by Timothy McVeigh.

Breivik’s confusion over his means (murder) and his ends (a harmonious Norway) is a reminder for any democracy to continually educate everyone about the basic principles for public discourse and resolving disputes.

One of those principles is a love of one’s fellow citizens. Or as one of the girls from Norway’s Youth Labor Movement wrote in a memorial message after the killings:

“With so much hate embodied in one individual, think about how much love we all have inside us.”

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial had a higher number for those killed, based on official information. The official number was was lowered late Monday.]

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