Oslo, Norway, has long been a symbol of peace, culturally and officially. Homicides and other violent crime are uncommon; security around government buildings is low, compared to other countries. And, notably, Oslo is home to the Nobel Peace Prize.
That image was tragically shattered when a crazed gunman with apparent racist and anti-immigrant leanings launched what police believe was a dual attack, bombing a building in the city and shooting scores of young people who were at a Labour Party camp on an island. Initial worries were that the attacker was a member of al Qaeda or another terrorist group with Islamic connections. In fact, the accused mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, said he was on a crusade against multiculturalism and Islam. In a 1,500-page manifesto identified with Breivik, he decries "Islamic colonisation and Islamisation of Western Europe" and the "rise of cultural Marxism/multi-culturalism."
As horrific as the assaults were, the reaction of Norwegians in and out of government were impressive. It would be easy—and justifiable, many might think—to respond with a call for draconian security measures and government monitoring of citizens. But instead, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called for peace and a renewed commitment to the democratic values the nation holds dear.
"In the middle of all the tragedy, I am proud to live in a country which has managed to stand tall in a critical time,” the Norwegian leader told mourners at a church. "Our response is more democracy, more openness and more humanity, but never naivete."
Political leaders looking ahead to November elections talked not about how the attack revealed the weakness of domestic political opponents, but about how to conduct a campaign in the wake of such a devastating tragedy. "I believe everyone understands that we have to discuss the form of the debate ... to avoid a conflict between the political debate and the need to show dignity and compassion," Stoltenberg said. The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, meanwhile, said, "we have to agree on the rules of the game." [Read articles about national security, terrorism, and the military.]
Locals, too, mused about what the attack meant for the relationship among Muslims, Christians, Jews, and other religious groups. The Washington Post quotes a frank and reflective Sigrid Skeie Tjensvoll, who works for the state broadcaster NRK:
"If Islamic people do something bad, you think, 'Oh, it’s Muslims,' she told the Post. "But if a white Protestant does something bad, you just think he’s mad. That’s something we need to think about."
Breivik has brazenly admitted his hate, defending his unspeakable actions as "atrocious, but necessary."
How laudable that Norway’s response is to fight violence with peace, and hate with a commitment to openness and democracy. How deserving Oslo is of its hometown prize.