x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Norway vows to fight terror with 'more democracy'

Many Norwegians emphasise the importance of not letting the attacks affect their country's values. Indeed, the violence may have brought the population closer together on some issues.

A survivor of the Utoeya island shooting overflows with emotion as she is reunited with her parents. Norway is struggling to come to terms with two terror attacks aimed at the heart of its government and society.
A survivor of the Utoeya island shooting overflows with emotion as she is reunited with her parents. Norway is struggling to come to terms with two terror attacks aimed at the heart of its government and society.
AMSTERDAM // Norway is struggling to come to terms with two horrific terror attacks aimed at the heart of its government and society. Initial reactions have indicated that the country is attempting to preserve its vaunted openness and respect for human rights in the face of an affront to its security. It may be helped by the fact that the alleged attacker was home-grown rather than foreign.
In his first extensive reaction to the attacks, Norway's Labour party prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, set the tone. "We meet terror and violence with more democracy and will continue to fight against intolerance," he said.
Norway is a paragon of the Scandinavian social democratic tradition with an extensive welfare state and tolerant social policies. Large oil and gas reserves have helped realise these policies and have made it one of the world's wealthiest countries. It has stayed out of the European Union but is a long-standing member of Nato and now takes part in several international operations with the alliance.
"Norway is really a very open place," remarked Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the National Defence College in Sweden. The government buildings that were targeted in Friday's bomb attack in Oslo were hardly protected, he said.
"They had barriers of some 20, 30 centimetres in front of them, although I think they had been considering closing off the street," said Mr Ranstorp. Looking at responses elsewhere to terror attacks, he said that he expected access to the government buildings to be more controlled. He referred to Mr Stoltenberg's remarks on democracy and said "this will really be a test for their openness".
Many Norwegians also emphasise the importance of not letting the attacks affect their country's values. Indeed, the violence may have brought the population closer together on some issues.
"I am really proud how the Norwegians have reacted," said Per Platou, a cultural commentator who works in Oslo. "I hesitate to use the word 'we' about Norwegians because we are so different, but this has made us stronger together, there has been a kind of consolidation."
The fact that the suspect is a Norwegian rather than a foreigner has had some interesting effects, said Mr Platou. "Even the right-wing parties now say 'we are all Labour'."
The Labour party was targeted directly in the attack on its youth camp on the island of Utoeya, where at least 85 people died. The party has been in power more often than not since the Second World War and even the country's more conservative parties have adopted parts of its social democratic agenda.
But like elsewhere in Europe, the political left has come under fire from new anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, right-wing activists who accuse the "left-wing elites" of ignoring the plight of the common man.
"That was certainly the rhetoric here in Norway too," said Mr Platou. "But for now, those sounds have all disappeared."
He confessed, slightly ashamed, that he had breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that the attacks were not the work of a foreigner, particularly a Muslim. "That would have been used by all those right-wing people to say that they were right and they may have won the next elections. Now I doubt that will happen."In Norway's social media, the identity of the attacker has also caused ripples of unrest. Many Norwegians had started using profile pictures of the Norwegian flag on the internet in response to the attacks, said Mr Platou. But when it became clear that a presumably right-wing Norwegian was the suspect, a debate erupted over whether this was not too much a symbol of nationalism, under the circumstances.
Immediately after the attacks, there had been a lot of talk in the international media about Norway's September 11 moment. This has changed since the identity of the suspect became known and now the most apt comparison seems to be the Oklahoma City bombing in the US in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government radical.
Whatever the comparison may be, many observers have said that it is a mistake to think that the global developments over the past decade have bypassed Norway. As in many other European countries, an increase in international terrorism had been taken into account.
Sweden and also Denmark have faced over the past year terror plots and attacks. "This has been Scandinavia annus horribilis in terms of terrorism," said Mr Ranstorp. But the Norwegian attacks fit into a very different category from the others, where some form of foreign element had been involved.
Assuming that the suspect's right-wing tendencies played a role in his motives for the attack, it would be an exception to the norm, said Mr Ranstorp. Over the past year, there had been no acts of right-wing terrorism in the EU, nor had there been any arrests of right-wing terror suspects, as far as he recalled.
"Both the Norwegian authorities and the EU counter-terrorism coordinator have been warning about the lone-wolf scenario, where a difficult to detect loner prepares an attack. But the expectation was that they were talking about an Islamic terrorist," said Mr Ranstorp.
"But now we have to take into account such self-radicalising tendencies also on the right."
foreign.desk@thenational.ae