Life begins again as Breivik goes down

Germany’s foreign minister lays a wreath at Oslo cathedral to remember the 77 people murdered by Anders Behring Breivik.

There is an expression in Norwegian that has always intrigued me.

It’s interjected into sentences, much the same way as Londoners use “innit” or Dubliners “you know what I mean.”

In Norwegian, it’s “ikke sant?”

Literally translated, it means “not true,” but Norwegians use it as a conversational question with the tone rising on the last syllable.

It’s a clever, almost passive-aggressive way of getting people to agree with you.

It is, it seems, a much more effective method of doing so than, say, terrorism.

It wasn’t needed yesterday though, as almost everyone was delighted that Anders Behring Breivik was found to be sane and criminally liable for the deaths of 77 innocent people – many of them children in the eyes of the law – and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

For the record, the chances of him ever coming out of prison are up there with Elvis returning to play 18 holes on the moon.

In their verdict, the five judges sentenced him to 21 years “preventative detention” and said that there was a very strong possibility that he would remain a threat to society even after his tariff is served; if he is, his detention can be extended for five years at a time.

He will never walk the streets of Oslo as a free man again.

The reaction on the streets was a mixture of fatigue and relief.

People are sick of being asked about him. Sick of hearing about him, and what he did. Sick of trying to work out what his actions say about Norway, and themselves.

But the relief now outweighs that. That Anders Behring Breivik wasn’t shot dead in the dirt of Utoya – like so many of his victims – is a good thing for the healing process in Norway.

If he had been, he would have been martyred for the cause of extreme nationalism, and we would never have understood what made him carry out such unspeakable acts.

But over the ten weeks of his trial we have come to understand him better – his callousness, his twisted logic, his hatred.

We have seen a vanity in him that would make Narcissus blush. And we have seen a total lack of empathy with his victims.

At times we have seen behind the facade – the obsessive organising of ¬†paper and pens before he answered the judge’s question about whether or not he accepted the verdict, quickly followed by the flash of darkness as he attempted to apologise to fellow extreme nationalists for not killing even more innocent children.

Most of all, we saw the smile as the verdict was announced. Breivik welcomed the verdict with something between a grimace and a smirk.

In his own mind, he was victorious yesterday in Court 250 of Oslo’s Tinghus, but it was the people of Norway that won.

And over the next 21 years, Breivik will have plenty of time to reflect over why his actions haven’t launched the war on immigrants he so longed for, and why the people of the blood he was so intent of protecting have rejected him, and all he stands for.

Oslo is a small city, and in the early afternoon I left the courthouse are to walk to the cathedral.

I watched as the German foreign minister laid a wreath at the large red heart that stands in memories of those killed by the hateful, pudgy, vain Breivik.

He, like the rest of the civilised world, rejected Breivik.

And on the way back to the courthouse the ordinary people of Norway spoke of how they wanted to put this behind them and start rebuilding the safe, harmonious society that was blown away by Breivik’s bombs and bullets.

And that is something we can all support them in, ikke sant?

So Anders Behring Breivik is sane, according to Norwegian psychologists. Now we – and he – will get what we wanted.

A trial to determine his guilt for the bomb blast at government buildings and the massacre at Utoya.

Whatever happens there, Breivik will surely – hopefully – grow old under lock and key, either in a mental institution or in prison.

In allowing him to do so, rather than exact the kind of revenge that society sometimes feels entitled to, he will prove invaluable.

His would be no good to us at the end of a rope.

Instead, Breivik’s trial will drag his warped ideology out into the light and show it up for what it is.

The result will be that many of those who propagate the same hateful nonsense – the likes of the BNP and the Sweden Democrats – will be shown up for what they are.

Of all modern mass murderers, Breivik is perhaps the one we can learn most from.

Once the judgement falls and he is condemned to incarceration for a considerable period of time, we can go back to studying what made him carry out these appalling attacks. He has already told us much, and there is a lot more to learn.

He detailed his plans meticulously. His logic, his politics and his methods were recorded in minute detail.

In doing so, not only will they be used as evidence to stop him from ever committing such deeds again, they will hopefully ensure that we see the warning signs the next time someone starts down his path.

He will no doubt try – as he has already promised – to use his trial to ignite hatred and mistrust against muslims and foreigners. There is little evidence that he will succeed; in the months since his attacks, few voices have been raised in support.

Instead, the opposite has happened. Scandinavian parties of the far right are so scared of being identified with him that they have seemingly abandoned their arguments against multiculturalism, for the time being at least. They do not mention him by name, but nor do they mention radical Islam or muslims.

Breivik’s bomb and bullets have closed off that particular populist avenue to them, and it is now only in the darkest corners of internet message boards that they dare discuss it.

But were Norway’s laws otherwise, Breivik might have been condemned to die for his actions, and given the far right a richly-undeserved martyr to their cause.

The show trial of Saddam Hussein and his subsequent grisly execution might have been improved upon in Breivik’s case, but the end result would have been the same- the permanent removal of the one person who holds the answers to the questions civilised society now asks itself.

Instead, it looks like he will, in his arrogance, explain his reasoning entirely. It will make for hard listening for the families of the dead, and for the Norwegian people, but ultimately it will be a lesson for all of us about what happens when hate is allowed to go unchallenged and unchecked.


Ten years after, still light years apart

Apologies for the recent bout of radio silence – suffice to say that having my first book published has proved to be more work than I expected.

For me, being a writer and working in communications is the best job imaginable, but like most people in my situation, I have to keep producing in order to survive.

Thankfully, this work takes my to the heart of the things and places and ideas that appeal to me.

Ten days ago, my work brought me back to Oslo for the first time since Anders Behring Breivik shattered the peace with his bomb and his guns.

What I saw surprised and comforted me in equal measure.

No lockdown at the airport.

No armed police on every street corner.

No security guards in the lobby of the hotel by the central station.

No sense of fear and foreboding.

Whereas terrorist attacks in New York and London provoked fear and loathing and a lust for revenge, the Norwegian people have heeded the call of prime minister Jens Stoltenberg.

More democracy.

In short, in the aftermath of Breivik’s attacks, little has changed.

Long after the flowers left in memory of those who died have wilted, those feelings inspired by Stoltenberg’s reaction to the horror remain strong.

More dialogue. More understanding. More compromise.

There is still, of course, opposition to immigration in some quarters. These things don’t disappear overnight.

The difference is that that debate is now stripped of the dangerous provocative rhetoric that is still on the rise in other European countries.

Whereas the rest of Europe engages in megaphone diplomacy, shouting from its entrenched positions on left and right, Norway is in reasoned conversation with itself.

The very fact that a country that had the heart ripped out of it only a few short weeks ago can do so is proof that Behring Breivik and his extremist counterparts have lost the ideological battle he claimed to be waging; they have been shown up for the irrational, illogical, selfish demagogues they are.

His manifesto, the much-hyped handbook of the hard right, has proved not to be the new European testament; instead, it is the narcissistic ravings of a thankfully small minority.

The silence from the Sweden Democrats is perhaps the greatest symbol of all; for such parties, there is nothing left to say that hasn’t been drowned out by Breivik’s bombs and bullets.

In his fury, Breivik has killed the thing he loved the most; his vision of the re-establishment of an ethnically pure Scandinavia died along with his victims.

The calm that quickly returned to the Oslo streets is in sharp contrast to yesterday’s scenes in New York. Ten years ago, America’s answer to a similar attack was the “war on terror”.

Yesterday, they gathered at Ground Zero to remember- “never forget” was the mantra.

For the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives since that awful day – British and American servicemen and women among them – “never forgive” may have been more appropriate.

SInce 9/11 the discourse in the US has hardened considerably, and political positions remain as entrenched as ever.

Domestically at least, peace is till a long way off.

What tends to get forgotten is that after 9/11 America started a war on terror, and wound up at a war with itself.

The fear, distrust and loathing aimed at the likes of Mohammed Atta and Bin Laden and selfishly nurtured by both sides are now directed at the other side of the House. Ten years on, democracy is still held hostage by their legacy.

In Oslo, peace has already returned. In the face of a similar unspeakable evil, common sense prevailed.

The reason? More democracy.

Those few short hours in Oslo were enough to convince me that if something as precious as democracy is worth fighting for, fighting for it should be our very last last resort.

The beginning or the end?

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Having spent most of the night reading Anders Behring Breivik’s monocultural manifesto, everything is much clearer.

And much as 9/11 was a defining moment for radical Islam, this is a defining moment for what Breivik calls “cultural conservatism” and the far right in Europe.

It is both easy and lazy to dismiss his actions of those of a madman – and many media outlets have already done so – but this only serves to further his cause.

Breivik’s actions in Oslo and Utoeya may be those of a madman, but they also amount to a bold play for dominance of the doctrine and dogma of the European far right.

In doing so, he is sending two messages – one to the vast majority of us, and the other to those who share his beliefs.

For those of us that recoil in horror from his actions, his racism, his fascist tendencies and his violence, his message is fear. He wants us to be afraid of the consequences of not following his path.

For those who agree with him, his message is inspiration and hope – he hopes that they will see his example and note that it can be done, if they follow his 1500-page manifesto that was nine years in the making.

But like Bin Laden, that is where he is wrong.

9/11 may have been the greatest “victory” in the history of radical Islam, but it also marked the beginning of the end.

For in poking the hornets’ nest, Al Quaeda provoked a retaliation that has been both comprehensive and brutal. Radical Islam as envisioned by Bin Laden is all but over.

So too with Breivik. What he hopes will be the first shots in the final battle with multiculturalism could well prove to be the first nail in the coffin of the hard-right ideology embodied by the likes of the Progress Party, the True Finns and the Sweden Democrats.

Whether he meant to or not, he has now become the focus point for Scandinavia’s hard right, and his actions will poison the waters for those who share some, if not all, of his ideas.

His writings betray his madness, his vanity and arrogance, but also an immense intelligence.

He has clearly thought about and planned this for a very long time, and the courage of his convictions is not in doubt.

But as with those he seeks to inspire, his problem is a democratic one. We do not recognise the picture of “Muslim occupation in Europe” that they try to paint, and we simply do not agree with what it is that they want to achieve.

After the massacre there is no doubt we are afraid. But we are not cowed. We will not be silenced.

We should not try to surpress his ideas or his writings, just as we have not banned “Mein Kampf” and other radical anti-democratic texts.

The only way to stop ideologies like the hatred preached by Breivik is to bring them out into the light, analyse them and try to understand where they come from. Only then can we show them up for what they are.

Only then can we begin to meet their baseless arguments and groundless fears head-on.

Only then can we teach our children that history’s biggest lesson for mankind is that hatred never produced anything worth having.

Despite the horrors of the last few days the Nobel Peace Price should be staying in Norway this year, and it should be given to prime minister Jens Stoltenberg.

For it was he that, amidst the sobs at the memorial service in Oslo’s Domkyrke this morning, showed us a glimpse of the future as he echoed the words of one of the survivors of Breivik’s massacre at Utoeya.

“If one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we can show together”.


This is not 9/11- this is Norway’s Omagh

The tweet to the right was posted 15 hours ago.

I’ve never been more disappointed to be proved right.

But as the story of the bomb and gun attacks in Norway continues to unfold, it is important to maintain a sense of calm in the eye of the storm, because some of the comparisons being made by the talking TV heads are fundamentally wrong.

This is not Norway’s 9/11.

That particular atrocity was perpetrated by fundamentalists who wished to strike fear into the hearts of Americans and take their revenge for perceived wrongs in the Middle East and Asia.

What has happened in Norway appears to be the polar opposite.

The seven people in Oslo and the (to date) 84 victims at Utoeya were killed by one of their own – a 32-year-old “ethnic Norwegian” (to borrow the casually racist phrase being bandied about last night by the media) with strong nationalist opinions.

This was not Norway’s 9/11.

This was Norway’s Omagh.

Reading the political musings of Anders Behring Breivik, it’s clear what he thought about multiculturalism, Marxism and what he ironically calls “hate ideologies”.

He is not a right-wing extremist in the traditional Scandinavian sense of the “white power” movement, and I’d say even the Sweden Democrats will find it hard to find any positives in his actions.

But this is a young man whose intellectual convictions are well thought-out – and like the Real IRA, they are utterly out of step with the rest of Norwegian society.

Like the Real IRA, he found it impossible to accept the democratically-expressed will of his countrymen, who have repeatedly voted for a peaceful, open, democratic society.

And like the Real IRA, his frustration boiled over into violence of the most shocking and barbaric kind.

One can only hope that, like the Real IRA, his actions force the rest of the Norwegian people, even those of like mind, to recoil in horror – and to redouble their democratic efforts for a better, more open society.