· After the terrorist attacks ·
The terrorist attacks in Norway this summer were just as unexpected as they were shocking. The Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has described them as the worst tragedy of his country since the Second World War. They belong to those events that will not be forgotten. Everyone in Norway remembers where he or she was, when the news about the horrible attacks began to spread in the media.
The responses from the Norwegian people in the following days were overwhelmingly strong and impressive. Papal Nuncio to the Nordic Countries, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig said in a comment that these tragic events might even make the Norwegian people more united and committed to overcoming hatred and violence. And that was exactly what actually came about. In the midst of deep grief, a renewed sense of solidarity and unity developed among the people. The main focus was not on seeking revenge, but on affirming a non-violent and open society.
The next Sunday many people came to the Lutheran Cathedral in Oslo, where a mourning ceremony took place. People brought flowers and candles to express their grief. Especially moving, however, was the large manifestation at city hall on Monday evening, 25 July, when people came from far and near in order to honor the victims and to give their support to the open and multicultural society of present-day Norway. Many witnessed about the strong experience of civic community and commitment to non-violence on that evening. Stine Renate Håheim, a young woman who survived the massacre on Utøya, in an interview formulated what many were thinking: ”If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show together”.
It’s easy to tell the plain facts about what happened in the Oslo area on 22 July. But is it also possible to understand why it happened? The Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig, expressed his sentiments in the following words: ”It is not possible to understand how such things can happen. It is horrifying to see that someone can be determined to act in such a way. Deliberately he (Anders Behrig Brevik) had calculated how he could kill that many people, and then he went on and performed his plans”.
During the first days after the events commentators in the media were speculating about religious motives behind the attacks. But it soon turned out that the motives were clearly not religious but political in character, even if the perpetrator in his rhetoric made use of some religious expressions.
In an extensive “manifesto” published on the internet the perpetrator explains his opinions about the political development of Europe. The text is a jumble of very disparate ideas, including some taken from the Christian tradition. The author describes himself as a Christian knight who is involved in a fierce patriotic struggle against multiculturalism, Islam, immigration and Marxism. Supporters of universal human rights and an open society are seen as enemies to be combated.
Bishop Eidsvig is certainly right in stressing the unintelligible character of deeds such as the terrorist attacks in Norway. Just like any form of evil, terrorism contains a trait of sheer unintelligibility. But even if there is no complete explanation to be had, some tentative reflections might be possible.
Our world is turning more and more into a global village. Contacts between persons of different religious and ethic background is becoming an everyday experience for people in almost every part of the world. This makes it mandatory to develop habits that will make us capable of facing diversity in a respectful and non-violent way. Simply trying to shut oneself up from the other will not do. From a Christian point of view such an attitude can certainly be inspired by our belief that God has created every human being into His image.
Another aspect is concerned with the rapid development of internet and social media. After the terrorist attacks in Norway, many newspapers – not only in the Nordic countries – decided to block the possibility for their readers to make anonymous comments on their web pages. The possibility of spreading offensive and hateful messages through the internet while remaining anonymous has developed into a new moral problem in our times. Again we need to come back to a basic moral insight: freedom can flourish only when combined with responsibility. It is of vital importance that we come to accept that insight.
The long term consequences of the terrorist attacks in Norway will be hard to tell. Most commentators seem to be groping in bewilderment while trying to come to grips with why it happened. One thing, however, seems to be evident. A strong majority of Norwegian people has made up their mind: the response cannot be more hatred. Hatred might be unintelligible, but it is not invincible, as Stine Renate Håheim reminded us by her succinct comment after having survived the massacre on Utøya. That insight can hopefully also give some consolation to those many who are still mourning the victims of the attacks. If she knew it or not, her words reverberate those of Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans (12:21): “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil by good”.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 23, 2019
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