Interview on the Norwegian terror attack!

Norwegian’s response to terror

I have only one word for it: exemplary. The response was as good as it could get. One was drawn to this response as if by some magnetic field. It was impossible not to feel remorse, not to feel part of a wider community sharing its grief and sadness while suspending all possible differences and becoming one with everyone else. I am neither Norwegian nor have I lost anyone whom I knew personally. Nevertheless, it felt natural to grief, to share the pain and sorrow of those affected by the tragedy. I have had some intense emotional moments while participating in those large gatherings commemorating the victims.

Has Norway lost its innocence?

It very much depends what kind of innocence we have in mind here. If we mean political innocence, the answer is: Norway has never been innocent. Breivik amply testifies to the fact that Norway is part of an international global scene which in the last decade is characterized by the rise of extreme right and whose discourse is based on certain fundamental notions: that of preserving the purity of one’s own group, exclusion of the other whose differences are perceived as unbridgeable, multiculturalism as a failed political ideology, etc. These notions are all linked to that of identity or lack of it thereof. The perception that one’s identity is being eroded by the presence of the other has been more and more prominent across the continent and Norway has certainly not been immune to it.

We could however speak of another kind of innocence that we can call “the innocence of goodness” or the ideology of snillism. Immediately after the bomb exploded in Oslo and the news coming from Utøya that the shooter was a blonde Norwegian, the first reaction of many Norwegians was: that couldn’t be true. Norwegians were not capable of committing such atrocities. It must be someone else. This someone else was, of course, supposed to be a Muslim. So this kind of innocence has been seriously damaged. When you become part of a global community, you cannot remain isolated in a bubble. The discourse, which promulgated this message, has been shown to be illusory. Nonetheless, the perception that Norwegians deep down were immune to committing such atrocity was real and had some political purchase before all this happened. It used to legitimize a one-way discourse about immigrants: they had to be integrated into the Norwegian society, while the host society didn’t particularly feel any need to accommodate itself to the new realities. This ideological perception completely obliterated the fact that Norwegians can be as bad and discriminating as any other people. After what happened one cannot innocently use this discourse to exonerate oneself from, and blame the other for the problems and antagonisms that are part and parcel of all contemporary societies. One cannot go on as if nothing has happened.

But an interesting phenomenon has emerged after the bombing in Oslo and shooting in Utøya. Norwegians’ response was by all accounts exemplary and I would say, it is the only effective way of combating terrorism. The sense of solidarity and inclusiveness that was shown has given birth to a longing for, and this time fully deserved, some kind of moral innocence. And by moral innocence I mean that, whether as a group or individually, one is willing to step back and take responsibility, or at least show readiness to a form of openness and accountability which was not there before, for its own failings. One seeks no retribution but forgiveness. One stops pointing constantly the finger at the other and instead includes oneself among the others or includes the other as part of oneself. One is able to bring oneself, ones notions of good life, under critical moral reflection and come to terms with the fact that no individual or community is wholly good no matter what perception it has of itself. This is a very positive development and I hope that its effects are long lasting. The naiveté of goodness has been lost but a desire to be better has been gained.

What would have happened if the terrorist were an Islamist extremist?

This is very hypothetical and many people have only a vague idea or presumption about what could have happened. Particularly after the great solidarity display all across Norway, these kinds of speculations may even be perceived as offensive. Nonetheless, one or two things can be said with certainty: had the perpetrator been a Muslim we would not have seen this kind of inclusiveness and solidarity which suspended all differences of colour, ethnicity and religion; the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant discourse would have intensified well beyond the limits under which it operates now. FrP (The progress Party) would have become bigger and would have felt vindicated for its fear mongering anti-Muslim propaganda. With the intensification of the anti-Muslim propaganda, some form of real violence, or even a paranoiac acting out, exerted against Muslims would have been expected. In the immediate aftermath of bomb explosion in Oslo and before it became evident that the perpetrator was an ethnic Norwegian there were reports that a few people of darker skin presumed to be Muslim were already being attacked and verbally abused. Judging by these few and unrelated incidents and the news from the media about the hype that the bombing elicited in some extreme right wing groups we could have expected them to multiply here and there, and Muslims, individually and collectively, would have been expected to openly and unambiguously condemn and take distance from terrorism. There are many downsides to being a Muslim under such circumstances. No one for example demands from Christians to publicly declare that they openly and unambiguously condemn terrorism, etc. It is taken for granted that they do. Should it have been a Muslim, all Muslims would have somehow been implicated in the act.

My own first reaction when I heard of the explosion was unmistakably prejudiced: it must be Muslims who have orchestrated the attack. This response was immediate and, of course, utterly stupid though perfectly understandable: many a Muslim has had the same feeling when it happened. But my reaction was also one of fear and anxiety: what would happen to Muslims and immigrants if they were behind this. I dreaded the moment when they would announce the name of the perpetrator: some Ahmad or Muhammad. Terrible as it was, it could have been worse.

Part of the interview is published here:

About albphilosopher

Sead Zimeri has studied Philosophy, Islamic Philosophy and Religion, International Politics and Psychoanalysis. He is currently the project coordinator of "Islam and the Liberal Society" at the Liberalt Laboratorium (LibLab) thin tank in Oslo, Norway. http://www.liblab.no
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