Learning from Norway’s Tragedy

One year ago this Sunday, Norway experienced the largest terrorist attack in its history, when Ander Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist, killed 77 people. The Norwegian response to the tragedy was to put him on trial exactly as they would any other criminal, and not to impose any draconian anti-terrorism measures. Writing in the New York Times, Norway’s minister of foreign affairs, Jonas Gahr Store, explains why:

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s reaction was unequivocal. He declared that Norway’s strongest weapon in responding to this was to employ more openness and more democracy.

Norwegians took up his call. Neither politicians nor the media turned it into a partisan political issue. The public reacted with grief but did not call for extraordinary measures. And the state chose to prosecute Brevik in an ordinary public court with full media coverage.

Many outside Norway have questioned this. Does not responding with openness allow an extremist to broadcast his fanatical views? Does it not risk strengthening extremist movements? Why not create a special, closed legal setting?

He goes on to say:

That the open public square can be an impressive antidote to extremism should not be surprising. This is not only a bedrock democratic principle. We also have ample historic evidence that extremist views thrive best when confined to the gutter.

Open debate is our strongest tool in standing up to extremism. The far more dangerous avenue is to force extremist ideas underground, where they can fester without competition.

Learning From Norway’s Tragedy   [NYTimes]


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