A minute’s silence not enough for some

Norwegian emergency services interrupt their work to honour the dead, 1200, July 25 2011.

At 1200 today Scandinavia stood still.

A minute’s silence was observed, to honour those that fell in Oslo and Utoeya, victims of the bombs and bullets of Anders Behring Breivik.

But some have been silent an awful lot longer than that.

While Siv Jensen, leader of Fremsrkittspartiet (the Progress Party, Norway’s right-wing anti-immigration party) was quick to distance herself and her party from their former party colleague’s actions, others barely put their head above the parapet.

Take Jimmie Åkesson for instance.

One might expect the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats – the Swedish answer to Fremskrittspartiet – to try to distance himself and his party from Breivik’s actions.

Their reaction so far has been one press release, one tweet to publicise said press release, and after that – nothing.

Total silence.

Nowhere on the party’s website does Jimmie or the party encourage the membership or supporters to take part in the minute’s silence.

Indeed, the only mention of the tragedy on the Twitter feeds I’ve seen is in reaction to those who try to shine a light on them.

Uniformly, their response is to accuse those who disagree with them of being “tasteless” – a very interesting choice of words from the people who made this election ad for TV (article continues below):


One would think that, as leader of a far-right party that undeniably shares many of Breivik’s views, Åkesson might take the opportunity to express his condolences and try to put some daylight between his party and the hateful, illogical philosophy of Islamophobia that drove the gunman to such deeds.

Instead, nothing.

The vacuum of Åkesson’s silence allows plenty of room for speculation as to why he and his party have chosen to remain silent.

The reason is not hard to work out – Breivik’s actions have presumably not affected him or the party’s policies in the slightest.

His far-right convictions and his Islamophobia – the irrational fear of Muslims – remain untouched by what has happened in Norway.

If the reactions of some of his supporters to a blog post on the Moderate party website are anything to go by, this is in fact a validation of what they believe. Muslims are, as always, to blame.

It’s not so long ago that Åkesson was writing in Aftonbladet about how Islam was the greatest threat to Swedish and European civilisation.

He trotted out the same tired lies about how Sweden was the rape capital of the world, and that Muslims were over-represented in crime statistics.

That the Swedish police make or keep no record of a criminal’s religion or ethnicity was ignored. He was making it up.

His words about “Sweden’s multicultural elite” are echoed in the madman’s manifesto, released by Breivik moments before he changed Norway forever.

Those frightened by Åkesson’s words ran to the ballot box and put an X beside his name.

The rest of us opened our windows and looked outside; not seeing hordes of Mohammedan rapists pillaging their way through our communities, we voted for someone else.

If Jimmie and the rest are serious about being democrats, they and anyone who has or would consider voting for them have a responsiblity to take an honest look back over their public pronouncements and their policies.

The time has come for everyone in politics to abandon the extremist rhetoric, to stop the hunt for the paper tigers and instead focus on what brings us together, rather than what sets us apart.

For just as Anders Behring Breivik is not representative of Norway, of her people, of Christianity or of conservative politics, nor can it be said that any one individual is representative of Islam, or any other religion, or anything else for that matter.

But as their elected leader, Jimmie does represent the Sweden Democrats, and at the moment his silence his saying more than he thinks.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”- Edmund Burke. 

The longest night

For some, it won’t start until after the last of the funerals are over.

For others, it will start when they close their eyes and try to sleep.

Tonight, many of the survivors will have returned to their homes, spread all over Norway and separated from many of their comrades.

No longer will they be in the company of those with whom they shared the nightmare.

They have come back to a world that does not – and cannot – understand.

They will feel the joy and relief of having made it back to their families alive, of seeing loved ones that, for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon, they thought they would never see again.

But when the lights go out, many of them will see the faces of those who didn’t make it.

The desperate faces of their friends who fell all around them as they tried to escape the madman’s bullets.

The anguish and the fear and the helplessness they felt on the island will return with full force.

Why did they survive, when so many others fell?

Why did he not single them out for execution?

Is it even worth going on when so many they knew and loved are now gone forever?

For some, there will be shame.

Did I push someone out of the way as I scrambled for survival?

Did I slow someone down?

Is there an empty bed in an empty room in some other family’s house tonight because of what I did to survive?

Others will lie in hospital beds, recovering from their wounds and thinking of how close they came to losing the most precious thing they have.

They will remember lying still with the dead all around them, desperately trying not to breathe as he walked among them.

Flinching as the phone rang in their pocket, longing to answer it but knowing that if they were to pick it up, it could be the last thing they ever did.

For many, this will be the first night of many where such thoughts steal their way in through the darkness.

Some will soon get over it. Many will carry it forever.

For this is what terrorism does.

And this is why it cannot be allowed to win.