Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nesbo's Norway

An extremist decides that multiculturalism is diluting Norway’s “pure” race and undermining its Christian character and so goes on a rampage. He belongs to a small group of fascists who cannot escape from the prison of Norway’s past and wreaks vengeance on those he considers responsible for selling his country’s soul to the unwashed hordes of immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants.

Is this a description of the 32-year-old Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik who took the lives of at least 92 people in Oslo and in the island of Utoya?

No, it is the description of the antagonist in Norway’s bestselling writer Jo Nesbo’s 2000 thriller, The Redbreast.

Sometimes the true state of a country is reflected more in the fiction of its perceptive writers than in the facts of its textbooks. Norway is a progressive country that often hosts weighty international conferences, the Oslo Accord of 1993 between Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel being one. Any threat of terrorism in that Nordic country is attributed to “Islamic extremists” and “radical Islam,” simply because it is the easy thing to do. A 2011 report on terrorism concluded that “the far-right and the far-left extremist communities do not represent a serious threat to Norwegian security.”

Don’t these pundits read their fellow Norwegian Jo Nesbo’s books? Can’t they at least allow for the possibility of lethal currents of extremism flowing beneath the placid surface of its seemingly peaceful society?

Harry Hole, the protagonist in Nesbo’s thrillers at one point asks, “what is it with our country?” The cerebral detective is frustrated by the vicious racism he encounters among officers in Oslo’s premier police academy and among obtuse politicians, and his inability to do anything about it.

Now Anders Romarheim, a fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies says, “It was international jihadism we feared. What we have now is more painful in terms of a re-evaluation of ourselves.”

When news broke of the horrific killings in Oslo and Utoya, some in the media immediately floated possible links to Muslim extremist organizations, just as they did during the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995. After 9/11, this became so ingrained that we shuddered at the occurrence of mayhem anywhere, reflexively thinking that Muslims were responsible and thanking God when that turned out to be false.

I felt an enormous relief when Mehtab Afsar, the Secretary-General of the Islamic Council of Norway said, “This is our homeland, this is my homeland. I condemn these attacks, and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them.”

It is estimated that there are anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 Muslims in Norway, about 2% of a population of 5 million. They are mostly Pakistanis, Filipinos, Albanians, Somalis, Turks and Moroccans. Right-wing organizations regularly post virulent and hysterical articles with titles such as “Is Norway Becoming Muslim?” and “Norway is Under Attack by Islam!” Like extremists everywhere, they are in the minority but because of their singular focus on hate and violence, they can cause damage vastly out of proportion to their numbers.

The majority of Norwegians reject the homegrown terrorists and their nihilistic agenda but where they were indifferent to their shadowy presence before, they will now have to be particularly vigilant.

I do not support the labeling of Anders Breivik as a Christian fundamentalist. He is a fundamentalist, a fanatic, a racist, a brother to fundamentalists, fanatics and racists of all persuasions everywhere. That’s who he is and that’s how he must be viewed, and that’s how the Norwegian court must judge him when he stands trial for the cold-blooded murders.

There is too much violence in the world today and no society, culture or nation is exempt from it, as John Nebo’s complex thrillers emphasize. It lies dormant until it suddenly explodes and then horror and shock numb us, forcing us to reevaluate our easy opinions.

For Norwegians who have lost their children to Breivik’s carnage, we offer our prayers and condolences. The sunshine has gone out of their lives and although time is supposed to heal everything, it can rarely heal the anguish of parents who have lost their loved ones to the violence of madmen. Still, we say to them, “We are with you in your sorrow. May peace and acceptance find their way into your hearts and may your children find eternal peace in the presence of their Creator.”

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