This is a post I've been avoiding writing for nearly a week. I've been trying to put together my reactions to the attacks in Oslo and Utøya, but am really struggling to get my thoughts to be at all eloquent or coherent. (In fact, I had a post ready to go on Monday, but then our internet failed, and the post was lost. I haven't had the emotional energy to sit down and address the subject matter again.) I feel like everything that I write is just repeating what every other news report has said, and my own personal insights are rather limited. I actually haven't spoken with any "real" Norwegians about the attacks, so I can't even offer a first-hand story of how a "real" Norwegian feels. And in some ways, I feel like my point of view isn't so important. I feel like an outsider, an imposter; but then again, Norway is now my home. For better or worse. And good times, and in bad.
It is shocking. It is unfathomable. The numbers defy my imagination. I do not profess to understand much about Norway's political system, but Norway has always felt peaceful to me, a quiet, respectful land keeping to itself in the north. One rarely sees the police on the street and they are never armed, you don't need to take off your shoes in the Oslo airport, political leaders and star Olympic athletes have their home phone numbers listed in the phone book, and nearly every mail box has the entire family's names listed on them: Lars, Mari, Olav, Sigrid and Ingrid. We've been so hard-wired in the US to look out for kidnappers, I think: who's to stop the dirty old man down the street from luring Sigrid and Ingrid into his van, calling them by name?
But, I digress.
The young people who gathered on the island came from communities all across Norway. They were leaders with and interest in politics, and going to the summer camp run by the Labor Party was a great privilege. As a result, every community or region in the nation has been personally touched by this massacre. Every area either had children that survived or children that were lost, so the entire country is deeply grieving. I watched a news report of about a dozen teens flown home together on a charter plane to some of the northern most cities in Norway, being welcomed on the tarmac by their families, several days after the tragedy. Watching these kids collapse into their parents arms in tears was absolutely heart-wrenching. I can't imagine the images in their memories, and don't know what can be done to help erase them.
I am very grateful that Greta is only 3, and that I can--for the time being--protect her from the stories and images. I noticed a father at the grocery store with his two elementary aged kids, and they all gazed at the collection of newspapers at the check-out line. Even a year or two older, she would be astute enough to ask about the broken buildings or the parades of flowers, or the pictures of people crying and hugging. I know I won't be able to avoid these difficult parenting situations for long, or even this particular story. This is by far the darkest day in Norway's history, and will be recognized and taught in schools from this day forward, I'm certain of it.
I have been most impressed with the strength and courage that so many of these kids have demonstrated when they talk of returning to Utøya. When I learned that this was an annual camp, something that has been going on since the 1970s, I thought, "they are going to board up those doors, and no one will every step foot on that island again." Instead, the day following the attack, the leaders of the Youth Organization were declaring, "we're going back. We're taking back that island." I am humbled by such profound displays of courage.
And now for displays of cowardice. Erik read a newspaper article that described the treatment that some Muslims received in the first few hours following the bombing. Insults, blame and finger-pointing, including one woman saying to a Pakastani neighbor who has lived in Norway for over 10 years, "You did this. You did this bombing". Muslims make up 10% of Norway's population, according to a news report I heard the other day, but this is a fairly recent phenomenon. By recent, I mean in the last 30-40 years. "Recent" is a relative term, when you consider Norway's history of a fairly homogenous society and race. And while I believe that most Norwegians are open and accepting to immigrants, it's obviously not an easy process for anyone.
I think Norwegians are very shocked by the fact that this tragedy came from a native Norwegian. It would be--and was--very easy to blame a Muslim terrorist for the attack, and to find excuses and explanations for his actions. "He doesn't understand our values," "he's doesn't believe in the same God as we do" "he doesn't appreciate what it means to be Norwegian". Then again, the same can be said for Anders Behring Breivik. I don't think there are too many people--Norwegian or otherwise--who believe in a God who would endorse this.