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What Is Really Going on in Norway?

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NORWAY PROGRESS PARTY
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Originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

When a country is shaken by violence, most people expect it to react in kind with force. We're certainly reminded of that now, as we in the U.S. approach the tenth anniversaries, respectively, of the 9/11 attacks and the hot-on-the-heels launching of the War on Terror. So what about the most recent act of terrorism in the news -- Anders Behring Breivik's rampage in Norway?

I was struck by a comment left at Waging Nonviolence the other day by Susanne Kromberg, who wrote, "I am a Norwegian who is vainly trying to get The New York Times to cover the passive resistance that has sprung up in Norway as Norwegians under good leadership decide to demonstrate that only love is powerful enough to overcome hatred." I didn't know Susanne personally, but I wrote to her and asked to hear more.

Susanne, it turns out, is a Quaker (and Quaker blogger) currently living in Seattle, where she's a hospital chaplain. As a way of coping with the attacks on her home from far away, she explained to me, she has been collecting news of how people have been reacting to Breivik's atrocities in Norway, much of which has been ignored in the US media. Instead, the focus of American journalists has been on how the country has supposedly "reignited" its immigration debate and has been "reassessing" its relatively measured policing policy -- implying that things are moving in a bellicose direction. Yet, as Susanne wrote in a poignant letter to the New York Times Public Editor:

I have read more stories than I care to about "innocent", "idyllic" and "naïve" Norway in the last week. What evidence is there to support that opinion?

My best guess is that any response that doesn't involve increased security measures and weaponry seems naïve to [reporter Michael] Schwirtz. He appears not to recognize that people can be thoughtful as they choose another strategy to combat violence.

While Susanne hasn't yet had time to collect all the evidence she's been gathering into a single piece of writing, she has been continually posting it in Facebook status updates. In the spirit of our recent "Texting from Madison" series, I thought I'd share (selected, but uncensored and unaltered) some of her recent posts to give a sense of the courageously nonviolent responses to this attack mounted by her fellow Norwegians:

July 22

07:39 terrorism finds its way to Norway. apparent car bomb blew up outside prime minister's office building damaging bottom three floors. PM is safe, no word yet on how many others dead or wounded. aauugh.

11:36 right now the mayor of oslo is saying we're not going to allow fear to take a hold, because then we would have handed the victory to the terrorists.

11:38 prime minister now saying the same thing. violence will not frighten us and we will not allow anyone to try to intimidate us out of legal political activity

11:39 Muslim leaders in Norway swiftly condemned the attacks. "This is our homeland, this is my homeland; I condemn these attacks and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them," said Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway.

12:58 Norway made a conscious decision not to heighten the protection for politicians and other public figures after attacks elsewhere in Scandinavia. "We see it as a key political value in itself not to have that kind of militarized society," says Iver Neumann, research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)... "Whether we can still afford such an open society, is now up for debate." Yes, Norway is at a fork in the road. I hope we don't change much.

14:07 Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg: "Our answer is more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence. At the same time we shouldn't be naive, we should understand that violence can attack our society -- we've seen that today."

July 23

18:54 on a per capita basis, Norway lost twice as many people as the USA did on 9/11, according to a story in The Atlantic.

July 24 

09:14 I have seen more grown men cry on Norwegian TV the last three days than in my entire life up to now. That includes the King of Norway and Prime Minister.

09:15 so grateful that they model the appropriate behavior: grief, not vengeance.

11:43 "On Monday the perpetrator of the horrific attack on innocent Norwegian citizens will be given the opportunity to explain his actions in an open court. He has written in his "manifesto" that he will use the courtroom as a propaganda tool... Close the doors to the hearing. He wants to have open doors so that the recording can then be shown on TV stations worldwide." from the event "Steng doerene."

15:39 "If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create." Stine Renate Håheim, survivor from Utoeya, in an interview on CNN

July 25

01:30 Wow. We learned today that Crown Princess Mette-Marit's step-brother was one of those who was killed on Utøya (he worked as security officer and was among the first to be killed). It blows my mind that the Royal family, with the media's help, chose not to reveal this information until today. I'm thinking they wanted to ensure that no victims be singled out as "special" lest it detract from national mourning.

July 26

16:09 Crown Prince Haakon and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre at a mosque in Oslo to express their sadness that Muslims were erroneously blamed for the attacks on Friday. The imam confessed that he also made the same wrong assumption. The Lutheran bishop of Oslo, Ole Christian Kvarme also participated.

16:12 I should point out that they apologized on behalf of everyone who made that mistake - Norwegian authorities did not themselves entertain any theories despite media pressure to theorize.

22:00 All 7 political parties and their youth groups have been flooded with new members this past week - all of them, across the entire political spectrum in Norway. :-)

22:33 A Facebook poll in Norway reveals that 80% oppose the death penalty. I wish I had comparison numbers, but my guess is that opposition to the death penalty has increased after events on 22.7.2011.

22:37 ‎10,000 Norwegians have joined a Facebook support group for the killer's mother, acknowledging that she is suffering too, encouraging her to accept the love we offer.
next day at 07:49 Update: 38,000 have joined

23:44 I cried watching a video snippet of Norwegians gathered at the Islamic Mission Mosque in Oslo to remember the Norwegians who died last Friday. The imam and those interviewed talked about how proud they were to be Norwegian. Notice how many times I said "Norwegian"? The emphasis was on this shared identity.

July 27

20:09 The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has decided not to provide coverage of the upcoming Norwegian Rifle Championship (July 30 - August 6).

20:23 I am SOOO grateful to the Crown Prince, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Lutheran Bishop for going the World Islamic Mission Mosque for a memorial event yesterday!

July 28

08:40 Opponents of a multi-faith center at Stiklestad have dropped their objections.

08:45 Askøy Mayor Knut Hanselmann (The Progressive Party, the political party that opposes immigration to Norway) says the consequence of the terror attacks must be that Progressives stop claiming that immigration destroys Norwegian culture. Instead, they will focus on use of resources.

09:00 The Hacker group Anonymous is encouraging people to download Anders Behring Breivik's manifesto, make playful editorial changes and publish the altered version. They hope that, in the end, no-one will know what the original manifesto said - and prevent ABB's manifesto from becoming the permanent legacy he was hoping to create. (Dagbladet 28.7.2011) I confess to having mixed feelings about this proposal, but finally come down on the side of opposing making changes - that would be censorship and is not compatible with democracy.

19:08 I have been wondering what it is like for Norwegian soldiers bombing Libya and soldiering in Afghanistan to hear our Prime Minister and other Norwegians going crazy over how the only way to respond to violence is with love. Ahem.

23:01 Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg just said in an interview that one of the things that gives him joy now is that he sees people hugging each other everywhere he goes.

23:23 Life is beginning to return to a regular rythm in Norway (not "normal"). Just listened to a fascinating discussion on whether Norwegians would have chosen the route of love and civility in response to hatred if the killings had been done by a Muslim. The responses varied, but everyone agreed that we were lucky not to have been tested in that way.

July 29

13:23 There's a facebook page in support of the Norwegian killer's lawyer, commending him for serving the principles of democracy by ensuring his legal rights are honored: 46,000 supporters. Then there's a facebook page for those who don't think any lawyer should agree to represent the killer: 7 supporters.

July 30

07:17 Norway is bringing its F-16s home. No more bombing Libya. Apparently the decision was announced to the press on 7/22, before the killings, but it didn't make it into the papers because everyone's attention was on the killings. The reason given was "Mission accomplished" - Gaddafi's ability to haarm the civilian population is dramatically reduced.

July 31

14:48 Secondly, [Verdens Gang] has been doing the "aren't Norwegians wonderfully loving" coverage for 10 days. After 10 days, they do an "aren't Norwegians bigots?" story. How about we do more nuanced writing all along, rather than alternating between worshiping and reviling people. No-one is all hero (not even Gandhi or MLK), no-one is all villain (not even ABB).

14:58 Despite the crisis in Norway last week, Norwegians sustained or may even have increased donations to relief agencies that support those who are starving in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa.

18:51 Anders Behring Breivik's father has said he wishes his son had committed suicide. His mother does not wish to see him. A facebook group has sprung up in support of the parents. It has 70,000 members.

19:45 Although some Norwegian Muslims were harrassed in Oslo last Friday (before everyone knew that the terrorist is a Norwegian), many Muslims now say that "ethnic Norwegians" are going out of their way to smile, acknowledge, engage, encourage.

20:05 Ole Jørgen Anfindsen, right wing blogger and Islam critic, says the anti-Muslim rhetoric that pre-dates 7/22 is now "unusable" and he acknowledges that the hard line that he and his colleagues took could contribute to "crazy people running amuck".

20:11 Grocery store chain Coop has stopped selling violent computer games as a gesture of respect to those whose loved ones died on 7/22.

22:06 NRK tv reports on a poll showing that 26% have a more positive view of multiculturalism now, 9.3% more negative, 49.1% are unchanged. Researchers caution against reading too much into it, as many may just be trying to distance themselves from Ander Breivik's actions.

August 4

07:20 Erna Solberg, leader of Hoeyre (Conservative, pro-Israel party) says attitudes towards Muslims in recent years are reminiscent of the ways Jews were treated in the 1930s.

07:25 I: Whenever Anders Behring Breivik's picture appears on the front page of a newspaper, ordinary customers are increasingly turning the papers around in the displays, so his face is hidden. Journalists and editors are pleading with people not to do that, as they consider it a form of censorship.

II: But regular people don't think ABB should be rewarded for his acts by having his pictures everywhere, and they want survivors of the trauma to be free to enter public spaces without seeing the face of the killer.