Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway's pain - and a new threat - affects us all

The website of Camp Otoeya is a tribute to a happier day. In 2009, the pictures of paradise were all smiles: a girl tests the frigid waters of Lake Tyrifjorden; a young man flashes a thumbs-up sign at the camera; there are laughs and football games and chats at the canteen.
At the weekend, as the world watched in horror, those memories were rubbed out by the actions of a murderer. It is a lost innocence in more ways than one. "Youth paradise," the Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday, had been turned "into a hell".
The death toll from Norway's worst incident of domestic crime was still climbing yesterday. In two deadly acts, first the bombing in Oslo's city centre and then the shooting spree at the youth camp on the secluded island of Utoeya, this senseless bloodshed has been felt far beyond Norway's shores. The outrage is worsened because the Utoeya attack coldly targeted teenagers in a horrific shooting rampage.
That evil aspect of this crime stands out, but the world has become sadly accustomed to senseless acts of violence against civilians. The kneejerk presumption on Friday was that the bombing was the work of Islamist terrorists - an unfortunate reflection of past attacks by Al Qaeda whose hallmark has been indiscriminate murder.
But of course such madness knows neither creed nor colour. Reports indicated that a 32-year-old Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, may have carried out the attack on his own. While this does not diminish the threat posed by Islamist extremists, Breivik - a fundamentalist Christian, alleged Islamophobe and radical ideologue - is a different face of murder with which we must contend. There will be many questions in coming days about his access to weapons, whether others were involved and the poisonous delusions behind his crimes.
We have an idea of where Norway's search will begin. Europeans have been battling a growing trend of radical right-wing hatred. The likes of Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who openly disparages Islam, have helped to fuel this fire; TheTimes of London reported that Breivik supported Mr Wilders's party in the Netherlands.
As one French sympathiser wrote on Camp Utoeya's website yesterday, the weekend's violence must be a call to action. Together, he wrote, the world must challenge the drift towards hatred "and not let it take root and grow in the dark corners of individuals' hearts or of society".
It is a message with which we can all agree. There is far more that unites us than divides, and we are far stronger than murderers no matter what their ideology.