18th July 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Shetland Life: Editorial

A quiet defiance

It is impossible at this time not to think of Norway. The terrible events that struck that country on the 22nd of July feel very close to home here in Shetland.

Somehow too there is an added impact – both poignant and tragic – when attacks such as those carried out by Anders Behring Breivik take place in a country that has so actively promoted peace, tolerance and co-operation over the decades. The events of that day seemed not just horrific, but entirely out of place.

Norwegian history, of course, is not entirely untainted by far-right politics, and over recent years there has been a rise in support for anti-immigration policies, such as those espoused by the Progress Party. But theirs has remained an inclusive society, in common with its Scandinavian neighbours.

In his 1,500 page manifesto, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, released online just prior to the attacks, Breivik highlighted this very inclusiveness as one of his principle enemies. This enormous, rambling document may have been fuelled by twisted conspiracy theories, but its targets were familiar: multiculturalism and, particularly, “political correctness” (which he labelled “cultural Marxism”). Together, Breivik claimed, these values were dragging Europe down a path of “Islamisation”.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about these views is exactly how unshocking they sound. We have heard all this before, and not just from the BNP or the English Defence League either. Breivik quotes approvingly from the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips in the document, and many of his rants seem uncomfortably mainstream, at least in this country. That alone should cause us to stop and think.

But what then? What happens next? Actions as significant, as terrible as these, seem to demand equally significant reactions. They seem to require, at the very least, that an important lesson be learned. But what lesson?

The dramatic arrival of “Islamic terrorism” in the popular consciousness on September 11th 2001 prompted a series of significant reactions. Principle among these were increased “homeland security” and the war in Afghanistan, which began less than a month after those initial attacks and is still ongoing today. That war, while it has removed the Taliban from power, has also proven to be something of an own goal. Not only has it increased anti-US sentiments in the Middle East, and potentially inspired a whole generation of future terrorists, but it has also exposed the United States’ military limitations, dragging them into an apparently unwinnable conflict. The jihadists got the reaction they wanted.

Anders Breivik too was looking for a response, that much is for sure. He saw himself as a patriot and a pioneer, taking the first shots in a long battle. But Norway is a very different country.

Here in Britain, as in France and other parts of mainland Europe, the gradual rise of the far right has been met not with defiance but with a kind of capitulation. The rhetoric of the right – denouncing immigration and multiculturalism – is now finding its echoes in the political mainstream;  better to appease than to oppose, the logic seems to go. But pandering to extremists does not make them disappear, it only makes them look less extreme.

In Norway, the reaction to last month’s events have so far been quiet – solemn reflection and a shared sense of grief. Though it may yet come, I do not anticipate any talk about fighting “enemies within”, nor do I expect there to be any moves towards “understanding” Breivik’s grievances.

The lesson of these awful events, I think, is that sometimes there is no lesson. Sometimes terrible things just happen, and the best we can do is to keep going, clinging tightly to our values.

* * *

Oslo’s mayor, Fabian Stang, when asked whether the city would need greater security in future: “I don’t think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect.”

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenber: “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation”.

Novelist Jo Nesbø, writing in the New York Times:there is a road forward. To be brave. To keep on as before. To turn the other cheek as we ask: ‘Was that all you’ve got?’ To refuse to allow fear to set limits to the way we continue to build our society.”

Malachy Tallack