The news about the terrorist attacks that took place yesterday in Norway kept on getting worse and worse. First, we heard that a massive bomb blast took place in the heart of Oslo, causing major destruction and chaos. Then came the news about a subsequent related attack on the island of Utøya, where a gunman had killed at least 10 people attending a youth camp of the Workers' Youth League (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking), which is affiliated with the governing social democratic Labor Party of Norway (Arbeiderpartiet). As if this was not horrifying enough, we later found out that at least 80 people had been murdered in the youth camp and that many of the shooting victims were children. The gunman was apprehended and the suspect has been identified as Anders Behring Breivik, who has a purported Facebook account and he has left a number of comments on political websites, which are currently being analyzed by the police. It is not clear what his motives were, whether he acted alone or as part of a group and whether he suffers from a mental illness. During the next days, we are bound to find out more, as Norway recovers from this shock and its police force conducts all the necessary investigations.
One of the key questions that arose initially was whether the terrorist attacks had been conducted by religious extremists or by domestic political extremists. The initial preliminary clues do not suggest any obvious link between the suspect Anders Behring Breivik and religious extremism. However, the comments that he allegedly made on the political website www.document.no suggest that Breivik strongly disliked multiculturalism, immigrant culture, left-wing or "Marxist" ideas, and felt that traditional Norwegian values were being threatened by multiculturalists, Muslims and left-wing politics.
Breivik's comments are quite characteristic of the growing far-right political movements in Europe, therefore it is quite possible that the motives for his terrorist acts may have been in part influenced by this right-wing extremist ideology. Breivik's dislike for left-wing politicians may also explain why he chose a youth camp of the social democratic Labor Party as a target for his attack. The tragic irony is that in many ways, right-wing extremists in Europe who promote a culture of hatred against mostly Muslim immigrants are not too dissimilar from Muslim right wing extremists, who in turn try to promote a culture of hatred against "unbelievers." Both groups strongly resist the progressive-liberal values that are represented by the center-left political parties, both groups want to replace multiculturalism and tolerance of the "other" with a more homogeneous and traditional society, and members of both groups have shown that they are willing to use violent means to achieve their goals.
One of the biggest shocks to all of us was that these attacks occurred in Norway, which is characterized by an open and peaceful society. However, if one looks at it from the perspective of religious or political right-wing extremists, Norway is exactly the kind of country that would offend such extremists. The fact that the society in Norway is tolerant, peaceful, promotes progressive-liberal values, provides strong welfare support, while maintaining a high level of quality of life must be a thorn in the flesh of right-wing extremists. This is why the response to these horrifying events has to be cautious. When I heard the Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg respond to the attacks by saying "You will not destroy us, you will not destroy our democracy and our idea for a better world," I felt a great sense of relief and some pride in being a progressive-liberal European. If the ultimate goal of right-wing extremists is to undermine our core values and try to force our hand by giving up the tolerant and open societies we have built in Europe, we cannot let them win.
One of the most painful aspects of the massacre yesterday is the murder of the children. These teenagers were attending the political youth camp to promote values such as tolerance, social justice and peace. Their participation was a sign of their commitment to further improve our society, and in this sense, they are heroes similar to the firefighters and policeman who died during the September 11, 2001 attacks in the line of duty. We will mourn the victims of all these terror attacks and we can hope and pray that their families will recover from their grief. At the same time, we also need to look towards the future and work together so that we can try to prevent such attacks from happening again. Recognizing the right-wing extremist threat is just the first step. We then have to develop short-term and long-term strategies to counter this threat without sacrificing our core liberal progressive values. We owe this to the victims.