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Norwegian island of Utøya

The bombing and mass murder in Oslo and Utøya, Norway, are both a shock and a surpise. How could the terrorist be so inhuman? And why Norway, usually considered one of the most sensible countries in the world?

Maybe we will get some answers. The suspect seems to want a platform and surrendered peacefully. His trial will be followed around the world.

But this act of terror brought two major thoughts to me;

1: Children as victims of terror

Schoolchildren killed during Beslam school seizure. Photo by Sergey Ponomarev, AP

I was particularly shocked during the 2004 Beslam school hostage situation in Russia about the fact that innocent children, many attending school for their first time, were taken as hostages. And many of them became victims. Terrorism raises the horror of the indiscriminate killing of people at random. But to target children is particularly inhuman.

The worst thing for a parent is to attend the funeral of their child. Usually such deaths are unexpected, and always tragic. Whereas you can celebrate the life of a grandparent who died of old age (and hopefully with dignity) – but with your child you can only mourn the loss of a life that might have been. This loss is not only tragic for the child, and her loved ones – particularly parents and siblings. It is also tragic for society which loses all the potential benefits and pleasure that could have resulted from that life.

The murder of about 90 young people who were just starting out on such a life is a tragedy for all of Norway. And one can only imagine the long-term psychological effects the murders have created in the minds of the survivors.

2: Terrorism is domestic

The automatic first reaction of the media was to see this as an imported act of terror. In fact, some sections of the media seem to have reduced their coverage when it became obvious the terrorist was local, white and probably Christian.

But most terrorism is domestic. It’s easy to immediately think of the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers in 2001 when terrorism comes to mind. But most acts of terror are committed by terrorists in their own country, against their own people. Very often against people of the same religion. Most acts of terror occur in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Iraq.

Even in the case of European bombings, like Madrid and London, it’s easy to label them as Islamist and therefore foreign. Despite the fact that the bombers may have been local citizens with a mentality deformed by their local situations as well as their own or their parents origins.

So while the US had the Twin Towers, it also had the Oklahoma bombing and other local acts of terrorism.

Bush’s “War on terror” seems particularly perverted. As does NZ Prime Minister John Key’s assertion that we were doing our bit against terrorism by participating in that war.  Why should one think invading a country around the other side of the world is going to prevent terror? It does nothing to target people like the Oklahoma bomber, or the social defects and ideologies which produced him.

Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan has done nothing to overcome the ills of the local society which have produced people like this current terrorist.

Ernie Abbott – victim of Wellington Trades Hall bombing

Norway also shows us that even a country like New Zealand is not immune to terrorism. Even here, though, when we think of local terrorism we think of the 1985 Rainbow Warrior bombing by French agents. But we should also remember the bombing of the Wellington Trade’s Hall in 1984 which caused the death of Ernie Abbott (see Trades Hall bombing remains unsolved, 24 years on). This was most likely caused by a domestic terrorist with an ideology and motivation fueled by class hatred and the political rhetoric of the time.

The media is starting to release information on the person arrested for these acts of terrorism in Norway. The trial should produce a wealth of more reliable information. But so far it seems to me that the motives and ideology of the Norwegian terrorist are probably similar to those of the (still not caught) local terrorist responsible for Ernie Abbott’s death in 1984.

I think there is a lesson here.We should not see terrorism as a foreign problem, or an imported on. If it can happen in Norway it can happen anywhere. It can happen here.

We won’t solve that problem by invading foreign countries. We need to deal with the real causes of terrorism locally. By coming to grips with the factors responsible for fueling the ideologies motivating and promoting extremism and hatred in our own countries.

See also:
The tragedy on Utøya – an attempt to understand
What did the Oslo killer want?
Christian Extremist Charged in Norway
Random thoughts on the Norwegian tragedy
A glimpse into the deranged mind of a mass murderer
Oslo Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik Manifesto

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