Monthly Archives: July 2011

How to respond to terrorism

Today I participated in a memorial and response to the terrorist attacks in Oslo, a semi-spontaneous gathering of people organized within 24 hours via Facebook and TV. Around 200000 people – a third of the city’s population, the largest gathering in Oslo since the second world war, and that in the middle of the holiday season – met at City Hall Square. the large square between the City Hall and the harbor. I have never seen so many people in the streets of Oslo – and yet, the city was eerily quiet.

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Most, including us, carried roses or other flowers. The intention was to have a “March of Roses“, but the number of people made this impossible – instead, it became a silent and stationary memorial, especially moving when everyone held their flowers high and spontaneously and very mutedly sang Nordahl Grieg’s “Til ungdommen.”

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There were speeches by many, among them the Crown Prince (“today the streets of Oslo are filled with love. We have chosen to meet cruelty with closeness.”) and the Prime Minister (“evil may kill a person, but will never defeat a people”) but I actually thought the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, expressed it most cogently:  “Together, we will punish the murderer. The punishment will be more openness, more tolerance, and more democracy.”

Before going down to the City Hall Square arrangement, we visited the Oslo Cathedral, which has become a focal point where people have left flowers, candles and letters:

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We also went closer to the bomb site to see the damages. This is the building where Julie, our oldest daughter, works:

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And here is a view into a coffee shop on the first floor, two blocks away from the blast:

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There were lines outside every flower shop:

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After the ceremony, people where told to leave their flowers somewhere in the city. Here is one solution to this challenge:

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Like one of the speakers, Dilek Ayhan, said: “Today, I am very proud to be Norwegian.”

PS: Many more, and better, images here.

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The Oslo attacks

20110723-halvstangMy family and I have received many emails from friends in the USA and other places, offering their condolences and wondering if we are OK. (We live in Oslo, on an island, and from a distance it is natural to worry.) This post is to address those issues and reflect a little on what this means in Norway.

Our youngest daughter was alone at home (about 5 kilometers from the site) when the initial explosion (video here)occurred, and felt the impact in the house. Julie (oldest daughter, interviewed here by Boston Globe) was waiting for a bus in town about 800 m from the bomb site and both heard the explosion and felt the impact quite forcefully. She works in one of the buildings very close to the site, but was on sick leave at the time. Many of the windows in this building were blown out. Our middle daughter was away in the South of Norway. Lena and I were in Germany visiting friends, we returned early this morning.

As far as we know (and the names of the dead and wounded will not be made public until later this week) nobody we know directly has been directly harmed. Our youngest daughter knows, indirectly, five of the youths listed as missing. As I am writing this, 7 people are confirmed dead in the explosion, 86 (later revised down to 68) in the subsequent shootings on the island. About 73 are listed as seriously or critically wounded, 4-5 missing.

Lena and I drove through the Oslo City center on our way home at 2am this morning. The main government buildings and the bombing site are cordoned off and guarded by soldiers, and there are policemen on many street corners.

As unlikely as it may seem, the attacks are probably the work of one man, a fairly well-to-do islamophobe who has planned this for nine years. The intent seems to be to gather attention for a self-published manifesto, a feverish 1500-page PDF screed detailing his inflated self-picture, confused world views and preparations for the attack. The bomb attack was similar in technique and effect to the Oklahoma bombing, but with relatively few casualties due to it being vacation time and relatively late in the afternoon. The ensuing attack on the island (which is very small, about 200 x 500 meters) with the summer camp left such a devastating result because there are few places to hide and nowhere to run. Also, the gunman was dressed as a police officer and fooled many into getting close enough to him that they could be slaughtered.

The whole country is in mourning – at noon a silent minute was observed here and in the other Nordic countries. The Prime Minister and other public figures have shown remarkable dignity and restraint in a situation that must be inhumanely hard, especially since many of the killed and wounded were personal friends.

Norway is very small – as the poet Nordahl Grieg wrote during the second world war: “We are so few in this country, every fallen is a brother or friend.” In proportion to the population size, this attack has claimed roughly twice as many victims as 9/11. The 500 youths at the summer camp came from all over the country. In such a small society, everyone knows or knows of someone who has been harmed.

Norway has always been a very open society – the police is largely unarmed, you can run into public figures with few or no security guards (in fact, we met the Prime Minister on a bike tour in the city forest in April this year,) political meetings and demonstrations take place with a minimum of security presence. This openness and trust is highly valued by all. It is my hope and expectation that the actions of a deranged loner will not succeed in destroying one of the most cherished attributes of this small and close-knit society.