There has been something distinctly inspirational about the way Norway — from Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to teen survivors to parents of those killed–seemed to instantly grasp the real threat from the attack was not to the security of Norway’s citizens — it was a threat to a treasured way of life, an open culture of social trust that is founded on the leap of faith in fellow man that is implicit in the promise of democracy. The very first statement by Stoltenberg, even before it had been confirmed that the violence came from a lone domestic terrorist, was that Norway would not be forced to alter its national character in response to violence, however horrible, because that would be the ultimate capitulation to terror.
In 1940, the Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg wrote: “We are so few in this country. Every fallen is a brother or a friend.” Surely that must be the feeling in Norway this weekend — and yet where are the calls for more security, more vigilance? There appear to be none. Instead, as a Norwegian diplomat observed, its is “more openness, more democratic involvement, more transparency, less speculative rhetoric, less suspicion.”
What can we learn from this? It’s difficult, and perhaps unfair to America, to compare the Norwegian reaction to this event to our American reaction to 9/11. After all 9/11, aside from being the product of external terror, was deeply threatening for its audacity, the number of terrorists involved, and the sense that the terrorists represented an implacable enemy for whom this was not a “one-off”, but a link in a chain that went all the way back to the first World Trade Center bombing, and flowed through the Embassy bombing in Kenya, and the USS Cole, and would lead …. where? So it was different.
But still…..there seems to be something deeply admirable in the Norwegian reaction, especially coming so quickly and across such a wide array of citizens. A sense of shared experience, calmness, and common purpose: I had never thought much about the character of Norway — now I’ll never forget it.
I wonder how they would debate a debt ceiling crisis if they had one?