A Monument of Civilization?

It now seems that the atrocities in Oslo and Utøya were commited by a single person. I think we can rule out completely any kind of organization. Apparently, the killer – a tall, blond native Norwegian, age 32, who speaks the local dialect – was taken to the island on the organizers’ own boat. Now, if there were more than one person involved, surely someone in the organization would have had a speedboat ready for him on the mainland?

Besides: Utøya? A summer camp for politically engaged youths?!

Granted, if terrorism is all about creating fear and terror, there might be some logic to it: strike where the shock will be greatest.

But still, I can’t in my wildest imagination come up with a scenario where a bunch of Mossad agents or al-Qaida sympathizers have sat around and discussed their next step and that idea has materialized – it’s just too weird.

Norway Cup (an over-sized symbol of Norwegian greatness), or some Confirmation Sunday (“all those pork-munching, cartoon-printing infidels celebrating their successful indoctrination of yet another generation”) — that I can imagine.

But a summer camp on an isolated island? No way.

So my hope is that the Norwegians are able to put aside all the national rhetorics, all the talk about threats to democracy and being a small country in a difficult world. And stay away from using words like “terror” and “terrorism”, at least for as long as these words are near- synonymous with “islamism”.

And this is where my headline comes in:

If this is the deed of a single madman, which seems to be the case, it is a sign of what a thin, thin, fragile varnish civilization is. It’s not that difficult to set an entire society on ends. All it takes is a van filled with explosives (which, I suppose, any construction worker can get hold of) and a convincing policeman’s shirt.

When we can still lead perfectly normal lives most of the time, and have so for hundreds of years (except for brief interludes of socio-economic and military madness), it is for the single reason that most of us, very nearly all of us, don’t do such things.

We’re civilized. We behave. I frankly don’t care if that’s because we’re all indoctrinated or something like that: we behave because that’s what we want to do anyway — that’s how we feel most alright. If it wasn’t for this collective “We behave”, there isn’t a terror plan or a millennium act in the world that could uphold civilization as we know it.

It’s a tragic day, of course, and nothing to celebrate. That something like this happens is — seen in isolation — a sign of failure.

But seen in a larger perspective — and here I mean: over hundreds of years, generations way beyond our own memory and the memory of those we remember — it’s a sign of success: that the glue that binds us together is so strong that something like this has never happened before.

That it is so easy to tarnish civilized life — and yet: nobody has done it.

Until now, that is. In Norway, that is. Now, where to go from here?


4 thoughts on “A Monument of Civilization?

  1. Deep condolences to people of Norway!
    I stay in Oslo now and the explosion wave pushed the window of my flat on HausmannsGate open at 2.30 p.m.July,22.and ,as it occored that I was a witness, I followed the events on internet closely
    I shall mention the obvious slowness of police and special forces-how come that 40 minutes-2 hours period the maniac killed children?In the age of mobile phones?
    What’s the matter?It seems to me that police didn’t take seriously children’s cries
    for help initially (having the blast in Oslo)
    I’m outraged that the killer is treated as human now.
    I would suggest Ramzan Kadirov as interrogator for him
    Deep,deep sorrow

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    Two important corrections, though: The description “obvious slowness of the police” is quite inaccurate. It took less than an hour from the first notification to the police until the bastard was arrested. This may be be the age of mobile phones, but even in such an age, it takes time to physically move people. Utøya is an island in the countryside, and although an hour is too long (and much too short for those for whom this was the rest of their lives), it is difficult to blame the police for the time it takes to get from point A to point B.

    Secondly, I share but disagree with the outrage that he is treated as a human being. My answer turned out to be so long, that I decided to post it separately.

  3. Thank you,Eyoulf.
    There are very,very disturbing facts.
    How come the police and special forces didn’t find a chopper
    or a small plane available to get to the island in a matter of minutes?
    The press found one to get the horrible pictures of the scumbag
    killing kids -pictures made from above.
    Why not to take a sniper with them and stop the massacre at-once?
    How about policemen(and women)sqeezing themselves into the boat
    (“way too small and way too poor”as their senior said)till the boat
    sinks and can’t be used anymore?Looks more like a scene from Loui De Funes
    gendarmd movie than resque operation.
    The Delta forces(!) decided to go to the island by cars(!?)Why not by bikes?
    Where did he get the police ID,the police uniform after all?Or bullets”dum-dum”?
    What is it?Extreme sloppiness of police or a plot with infiltrated helpers
    inside power structures?
    I’m not a Norway citizen,so I can’t demand.
    But the victims kin shall demand an independent investigation
    of police actions.
    Now I’m listening to the police sirens in Oslo as the cars’re rushing
    in all directions!Isn’t it too late?where have you been before?
    I’m absolutely devastated.
    RIP to innocent people!

  4. Hello Eyolf,
    Your comments are so insightful, they really are.
    I would contiunue the thinking on the word ‘terrorism’ being applied in this situation.
    I would think that this type of action is one that doesn’t bear the markings of any distinct , just as you have noted. It does however therefore apply to all, and it’s terror can be felt by anyone living anywhere. In that sense it’s even more insidious and frightening. It can’t be escaped by avoiding travel to some designated country, or avoided by not being in contact with any given group.
    I guess I’m more bothered by it because it is so hidden from view, until the moment it expresses itself. Perhaps I’m also more bothered by it because it represents what everyone already knows about their own mortality i.e., we can be gone at any moment. One thought more on that would be that we are indeed already gone, but our brain prevents us from seeing it. I am partial to metaphysical thinking, but find myself run most of the time by all the feelings and thoughts of the most common kind.
    I have become even more sensitive as I get older. I am a 58 yr. old American man who has discovered that he is the product of a very sheltered life, despite having traveled quite a bit, and lived overseas in several countries, Denmark being the closest to yourself. None of this has served to take away the experience of sorrow, or the realization of terror that so many others have had to bear in the last moments of their lives.
    I feel for them, and others.
    I am constantly amazed by the great number of people who have taken it upon themselves to become executioners. I find it difficult to understand what it is that’s
    different between them and those of us who don’t find it to be a personal need. Somewhere in the mind lies a switch (or bias), which when accessed releases a chemical of wanting and willingness to kill others.
    I think it must be a chemical because we are chemical beings, run by chemicals from within and without. Civilization can’t stop these processes, but is indeed a tribute to civilization that so many more instances of such terrible action have been thwarted.
    I’m sorry for these people and their families. The pictures of the island are so beautiful that no one would think twice about sending their children there. Who would know what was going to happen?
    Anyway, I was inspired to comment by your comments, and I thank you for the opportunity.

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