Last Friday, as many of us watched in horror, Norwegians experienced absolute devastation as the news feeds revealed the murders of over 90 teens in Utoya and the destruction of Oslo’s government buildings. The attacks, which have been attributed to a young Norwegian man, brought back a flood of memories for many Americans: Oklahoma City, 9/11, Columbine, Virginia Tech.
As I sat down at the computer to email friends of mine who live in Oslo, I searched my brain for ways to express the fact that despite their whole world had suddenly been thrown into a realm of chaos, things would one day return to normal. At a loss for words, I suddenly realized how untrue that statement really was.
The truth is that, we as a society, have not recovered from the many mass tragedies we’ve experienced. Many schools have installed metal detectors to prevent weapons from being brought on campus or hired security to patrol the school grounds. These measures serve as daily reminders that violence is an ever-present concern in our communities even amongst our youth. Airports are a most obvious reflection of the fear-based changes we’ve undergone in the last decade. While the occasional news story about a child being reduced to tears in TSA searches or a 95 year old grandmother being asked to remove her diaper to go through airport security still make the news, most of us have become accustom to shedding our shoes, jackets, and belts, spreading our legs and holding our arms above our heads for the imaging machines. Warrantless wiretapping has become a regular practice for law enforcement and racial profiling is no longer viewed as discrimination by many citizens.
Looking at the lasting effect terror has on the US, I can’t help but wonder how Norway will ever fully recover from these tragedies. Having visited Sweden many times, I’ve always considered the Scandanavian countries peaceful and far ahead of the United States in their human rights and open society policies. Their prisons have been crowned the most humane in the world and their criminal justice system reflects a sense of respect for all parties involved, including the accused. Shortly after the shootings, the Norwegian prime minister stated “We are a small nation and a proud nation. No one will bomb us to silence. No one will shoot us to silence. No one will ever scare us away from being Norway.” These words come in stark contrast to those spoken by Bush after 9/11, “Either we will bring out enemies to justice or we will bring justice to our enemies.” We can only hope that as America continues to struggle to recover from the terror we have experienced in the last decade, Norway will achieve their goal in remaining true to their values despite the unimaginable horror they have seen. And perhaps, the US will then be able to follow their example.