Living in Oslo during the past few years, I passed the government buildings downtown almost every day. I lived right up the road from them, only a five-minute walk; they were my gateway to downtown Oslo. Very often, when I looked over at these structures in which, I knew, the prime minister and all of the cabinet ministries had their offices, I shook my head in wonder at the utter lack of visible security. Almost never did I see a single armed — or even unarmed — guard. (The only exceptions were on the rare occasion when a blizzard of foreign flags and a motorcade parked on the sidewalk indicated that some president or prime minister was visiting from abroad.)
This lack of security was certainly not unusual for Norway, where the police don’t carry guns, and where the very idea of police carrying guns is widely looked upon as some holdover from an earlier stage of human evolution. But — hello — in front of the main office buildings of a Western European government? After 9/11? It seemed sheer madness. In recent weeks, passing grim-faced soldiers with machine guns at Amsterdam airport, and then outside the New York Stock Exchange, I thought immediately of those vulnerable-looking government buildings in Oslo.
When I first heard the news of the explosions at those buildings, my first thought, of course, was that it was a jihadist attack. But it wasn’t: it was a right-wing lunatic. It wasn’t jihad. It was a meaningless killing spree by a madman, like the ones at Columbine and Virginia Tech. A headline in one Norwegian newspaper today noted that the death toll in Oslo and at Utøya yesterday was higher than at Columbine and Virginia Tech combined. The Norwegian media have always reported on mass murders by lone gunmen in the U.S. as if they were things that could never happen in Norway: rather, they were symptoms of a sick society that Norwegians could never possibly understand. In Norway, they use the term “amerikanske tilstander” — American conditions. It never means anything good. Yesterday’s nightmare, from a Norwegian perspective, was the most American of American conditions.
Those of us who thought, in the first hours after the blasts in downtown Oslo, that we were witnessing yet another act of jihad can be forgiven. In a way, it made sense. 9/11, London, Madrid, Beslan, Bali, Mumbai — why not Oslo? Then again…Norway, although a member of NATO with troops in Afghanistan and Libya, was not exactly in the forefront of the struggle to defeat jihad. On the contrary. Norway calls itself “the peace country.” For years, the Norwegian government and cultural establishment have striven to communicate to even the most extreme elements of international Islam that they want to be friends. They’ve shown their good faith in a number of ways:
- They’ve made a great show of treating Jews very shabbily. Jostein Gaarder, author of the international bestseller Sophie’s World, published an op-ed a few years back declaring his contempt for Israel and the Jewish people. When Gaarder came in for some criticism, many high-profile members of the Norwegian cultural elite rushed to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. If the cultural elite in Norway is more anti-Semitic than its counterparts in any other country in Europe, it has a great deal to do with the recognition that the more you like the Jews, the more you’ll antagonize the Muslims.
- They’ve been extremely gentle with Mullah Krekar, Norway’s resident terrorist. While some government officials have (admirably) labored to get the founder of Ansar al-Islam returned to his native Iraq, the system has repeatedly protected him, allowing him to stay in a very nice flat in Oslo, where he is supported by the state. Over the years the Norwegian media have churned out countless profiles of this murderous, child-torturing monster, invariably depicting him as a charming, grandfatherly type and allowing him plenty of space to bash the United States.
- They’ve squelched criticism of Islam. In January 2006, Vebjørn Selbekk, editor of a small evangelical publication called Magazinet, reprinted the Danish Muhammed cartoons — and sent the Norwegian establishment into a tailspin. Politicians at the very highest level pressured Selbekk to apologize for his offense. He withstood admirably — for a while — but eventually buckled, and on February 10, 2006, appeared before a gathering of Norwegian imams and begged their forgiveness for having exercised his freedom of speech. Top government officials looked on in satisfaction, and a delegation led by a bishop of the Church of Norway traveled to Yemen to deliver the happy tidings of this capitulation to the theologian widely viewed as the closest thing to a Muslim pope, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
- They’ve dropped displays of Islamic totalitarianism down the memory hole. Two years ago, on two separate nights, a small army of Norwegian Muslim youths rioted in the heart of Oslo, turning a usually placid quarter into something reminiscent of Sarajevo or Beirut at their worst. The alleged motive for this explosion of violence was displeasure over the situation in Gaza; the real intention was to mount a display of power — to intimidate, and to communicate to Norway that their time had come, and that they had better be listened to with respect, or else. And in February of last year, another small army of Muslims, this time not rioting boys but sullen-looking men in long coats and full beards, gathered in downtown Oslo, in the same square where Vidkun Quisling once held his Nazi rallies, and listened with apparent pleasure while a young speaker named Mohyeldeen Mohammed threatened Norway with its own 9/11. Both of these events came and went, and the people who make decisions about this sort of thing plainly decided that it would be best to pretend that they had never happened.
- They’ve openly supported terrorist groups. In the last few days, one of the major stories out of Norway has been the declaration by Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of his country’s support for the effort by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state. This stance scarcely came as a surprise, given the Norwegian government’s longstanding effort to “build bridges” to Hamas. It was Støre, after all, who — when a couple of dozen Western diplomats walked out on a rabid anti-Israeli speech by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad at the 2009 UN conference on racism — was the only Westerner who chose to stay and hear him out.
- And the way they’ve talked to Norwegian Muslims about Islamist terrorism has been — well, consider this. A couple of years ago, when Jørn Holme, head of security services for the Norwegian police, showed up at a meeting sponsored by the Muslim Students Association, supposedly to discuss terrorism, surveillance, and the Muslim community, his main goal seemed to be to bond with the Muslims in attendance by putting down ethnic Norwegians (who, he said, were “too stupid to understand that there is no connection” between Islam and terrorism) as well as white American Christians (“In the United States in the sixties,” he told the audience, “blacks were raped by whites who went to church the next day”). Holme called the United State “human-rights-violation-country number one” and said that his greatest fear, when he contemplated a possible terrorist act in Norway, was that such an act would inflame anti-Muslim prejudice.
You can see, then, that while an Islamic terror attack on Oslo was a possibility, it would’ve been just plain dumb for Islamists to make an enemy of Norway.