My thoughts have been mostly with Norway this past weekend. The horrific terrorist attack that left 93 people dead on Friday felt to me like a surreal cross between Columbine and Oklahoma City. Although the wreckage from the bomb was impressive, most of the dead were teenagers at a summer camp miles away, hunted down like animals by a lone gunman. The young people on Utøya had come from all over Norway, so I can imagine that in each community there must be collective shock and sorrow, but private, individual grief as well. I hope they know that the whole world stands with them in this anguished moment. I offer my personal heartfelt condolences to any Norwegian readers.
Predictably, when news of the bombing and shootings first hit Norway and the world, many assumed that the killers must be dark-skinned Islamists. But unaccountably, this killer didn’t fit the accepted “terrorist” profile. Anders Behring Breivik was blond, Christian, and wanted nothing to do with Islamic terrorists. In fact, that was the problem. He hated Muslims so much he had decided to start a “Crusade” against both Islam and those who are tolerant of it.
The attacks in Oslo and Utøya shocked Norway and the world. Norway is a peaceful country where violent crime is rare. How could an atrocity like this happen there? It would be nice to think that Mr. Breivik really did come out of the blue. But he didn’t. In his 1500-page manifesto, Breivik drew on rising European anti-immigration sentiment, and used dozens of quotes from American right-wing activists. While the authors and activists that Breivik quoted might not themselves have actually called for bloodshed, they have created a culture of hate that makes a fertile breeding ground for violence.
And now I’m afraid I’m reduced to the awkward position of quoting myself. On May 4, just after the killing of Osama bin Laden, I made the following lament:
“In a world where principles have been replaced by patriotic slogans and war has been perpetuated and extended until it becomes a normal fact of life, it is no wonder that we are losing basic respect and human decency. I see the deadly fruits of our current societal attitude not only in the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, but also in the reaction I have witnessed to his death. I say again, what have we become when a violent death becomes an occasion for celebration? Must we choose the dark road of hate, revenge, and war? Will we look in the mirror tomorrow and find the very thing we have sworn to destroy?”
This weekend in Norway I looked in the mirror of Western Civilization and saw yet another deadly fruit. Breivik’s actions demonstrate the awful consequences of our society’s choice to demonize an entire religion and culture. And this week Norway paid the price for all of us.
We can do better than this. Surely by now we can see that it is not enough to love only our next-door neighbor. If we are to avoid this deadly harvest of hate, we must learn to love our neighbors across the world, no matter their culture or religion. Every generalization about terrorism, every religious denigration, every culturally-based joke (however idly intended) gives encouragement and validation to people like Breivik. Only by choosing to utterly reject bigotry, hate, and violence in all its ugly manifestations can we build a safe and beautiful world for our children, and teach them how to live peacefully in it.