We are still reeling from the horror of the attacks in Oslo and Utoya this week. The thought that someone could slaughter innocent young people in such a mechanical cold-blooded manner, it is truly beyond belief. And the fact that it happened in calm, sleepy Norway added to the shock. It hits close to home to think that a peaceful Nordic country, much Finland itself, could be the site of such an outrage.
Our hearts go out to families of the victims and, in fact, to all of Norway. I can’t imagine the grief they are experiencing right now, especially knowing that it was brought about by one of their own, apparently a lone right-wing extremist.
Early on, when it was “just” a car bombing, it was completely plausible to suspect it was the work of some international terrorist group, though Oslo doesn’t seem the most obvious target for such an attack. While the events were still unfolding, the Norwegian foreign minister, speaking to the BBC, however cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that the perpetrators were Islamic jihadists. He was wise to do so, and we can only wish others in the public space (journalists and bloggers) would have exercised the same kind of fair-mindedness.
At news of the attacks, the American conservative blogger and Tea Party firebrand, Erick Erickson, immediately tweeted: “Terrorist bombing in Oslo. I bet you it was not Lutherans who did it.”
Though he was not exactly unique in making that assumption, something about his tweet struck me as especially smug. The next day in his blog, he admitted he was wrong. But he also objected to criticism he received for his swift judgment, and then took the media to task for insisting on identifying Anders Breivik as a “conservative Christian”.
I’m not quite sure why he found this so objectionable (he explains it in the blog, but I’m not sure I understand it), and I think he might be missing the point. I think that the media, by emphasizing Breivik’s religion, weren’t trying to paint Christians with the brush of terrorism, but rather were attempting to counterbalance their initial speculations that al-Qaeda was behind the killings and discourage the kind of prejudice that might lead to knee-jerk reactions against Muslims in Norway. And by “reaction”, I don’t mean violence. I can’t imagine that someone in Norway would have retaliated violently against the Muslim community there – but, then again, three days ago I would not have imagined that anyone in Norway would have hunted down and shot nearly 100 happy young people.
Interestingly enough, two days before the massacre in Norway, the state of Texas put to death a local man who went on a shooting spree of blind vengeance after the terror attacks of 9/11.
In September 2011, white supremacist Mark Stroman set out to kill “Arabs” in the Dallas area and ended up murdering a Pakistani Muslim and an Indian Hindu. He also wounded a third man. None was Arabic, of course, and none had anything to do with the attacks in New York and Washington.
The sole survivor of Stroman’s shootings, a Bangladeshi Muslim named Rais Bhuiyan, campaigned unsuccessfully for clemency for Stroman. In pleading that his attacker, who he has forgiven, should not be executed for his crimes, Bhuiyan has said, “In order to live in a better and peaceful world, we need to break the cycle of hate and violence.”
To which I – though not able to call myself a Christian – can only add “Amen”.