5. Answering Terrorism

At the heart of Norway’s narrative of the July 22 terror attacks is the theme that Norwegians refused to let extremist views or terrorist violence change their humane values. Psychologist Renate Bugge began her presentation to the ACIA meeting with “two glimpses” from her own memories that reflect that narrative:


One of the mothers who had lost her child said, “If I should have lived in a country that could have foreseen every little detail that might be wrong, I would never have lived in that country because that would be a police state that I don’t want.” That is one testimony.


The other one: one day in the court in Oslo, I was in the room, seeing Breivik there. In the witness box was a tall, good-looking man with a high position in the Department of Justice. He had to be helped up to the stand. — he was nearly blind from the bomb explosion, he had a lot of internal damage. He described all his injuries, and he ended by saying, “For 40 years, I have been working in the criminal department and. I have always thought that every single man has to be treated with dignity. No matter who.” And he turned around, looked straight at Breivik and said, “I am proud that I am living in a country that can treat even the worst criminal with dignity, and I have not changed my mind.”

And then I left, went out and heard allOslofilled with song, “Children of the Rainbow.” And I was so overwhelmed, coming from this silent and dramatic situation inside the courtroom and having this dignity from that man inside, and then meeting the dignity of a whole nation, and I just cried. I was saying to myself, I am so grateful that I am living in a country that can treat even this situation with dignity and find a way of expressing also the rage.


            The witness Bugge spoke about was 67-year-old Harald Føsker, who lost 80 percent of his vision as the result of his facial injuries. An unofficial transcript gives this translation of his statement: “I am proud that we have a system that reflects social values. Which is very important and that all prison officers in Norway has received through their education. And that we treat prisoners with dignity as a rule. In this way I have not changed any of my attitude about it.”

            The song Bugge heard outside the court building, “Children of the Rainbow,” is a Norwegian version of a song by American folksinger Pete Seeger, which celebrates diversity and harmony among different ethnic and cultural groups. After Anders Behring Breivik mentioned the song by name in his trial testimony as an example of “cultural Marxist” brainwashing aimed at young people in Norway, throngs of Norwegians gathered in mass public assemblies to sing it as their answer to Breivik’s racist and xenophobic beliefs.

            Other ACIA speakers had similar reflections. So did police officials Asbjørn Rachlew and Geir-Egil Løken at their separate presentation. When a questioner in the audience asked how Norwegian society was changed by the terror attack, Rachlew pointed to a news photograph projected on the screen behind him, showing the crowd on the square in front of Oslo’s City Hall with upraised arms holding red roses. Rachlew told his audience:


This is our response. Hundred of thousands of people hitting the street with one rose in their hand. The mantra of the Norwegian people was that if one man can express so much hatred alone; imagine how much love we can express together. That was our mantra and this was the reaction.


            The public reaction might have been different, Rachlew acknowledged, if the attacker had been a Muslim extremist, as many Norwegians assumed when the attacks were first reported. In the first two hours, before it was known that the terrorist was Norwegian, “there were some brown hours,” Rachlew said — “brown” being  a reference to Fascism:


I think a certain type of people in my country felt ah yes, it’s they. I am talking about the Muslims, because there was uncertainty for couple of hours. Whether or not the Norwegian people would have turned out in hundred of thousands like this if it was Al Qaeda, as was one of the greater possibilities in the first couple of hours when we did not know it was a Norwegian — how the nation would have responded, we do not know for sure. But this was the reaction we saw.


            His colleague Geir-Egil Løken added:


This is how we like to think we would have responded anyway. We will never know.   There were some stories about Muslims being harassed in the streets, but fortunately Breivik was arrested quite early. His name and picture were released almost immediately, which stopped any brown incidents from happening, brown as in fascist incidents.


            People should remember, Rachlew said,


that Breivik himself wanted us to break those values. He said that one of his objectives was to haveNorwaybreak their values, and he was very open about that because then it would become evident, as he says, that what we believe in and the way we rule our country is just bullshit. That is his opinion. He believes that the way we are running our nation, an open nation with equality etcetera, is wrong, because he feels thatEuropeis under attack and so he wants to generate that we break our values. That would create more extremists on both sides, and he wants a revolution. So if we did sink down to his level then we would lose the kind of attitude that we have.



            For Kjetil Stormark, the popular narrative of Norway’s reactions is valid but not the whole story. “‘Love not hate,’ this was the Norwegian response, but I do not think that is entirely true,” Stormark told the ACIA meeting. As evidence he showed some of the messages he found in Breivik’s e-mail and social media accounts.


These were messages sent to Breivik from the Norwegian public directly to him by e-mail or through social media when it became known that he was behind the terror attacks. Keep in mind that I have left out the most intense messages, death threats and similar messages. I will read these rather fast: “You sick f***!” “You terrorist f***er!” “Psychopath!” “You will burn in hell whether you believe in it or not.” “You f***ing murderer.  I hope you die!” “You sick f***, burn in hell. I hate you.” “You deserve the death sentence.” 


There are also messages that raise concern about support of Breivik. These start to bounce around the internet just a few minutes after it becomes known that he was behind the attack. These are Facebook messages, most of them: “Hi, brother. The two of us need to talk.” “You are the man…” It takes a while before people discover the movie trailer he made with his propaganda message on YouTube, but when they discover it the activity skyrockets at that particular page. The Facebook page goes down or is taken down by Facebook themselves about 4 o’clock Saturday morning when they realized what is going on. These messages are from the next evening on Breivik’s YouTube site before it is closed down:


“Multiculturalism is a failure. This guy was right even though his terrorist attacks were wrong.” “That guy refused to be colonized by third world islamic foreigners, much love to him.” “Protect Europe from these f***ing Muslim leeches before it’s too late.” “You are a hero. Your struggle against Islam in the Nordic countries will never be forgotten….”  “He’s right about the Marxist plague.” “This deserves one million thumbs up. The cultural relativists declared war on ethnic Europeans three decades ago. Looking at how bloody Europe’s history is, did they actually think there would be no push back?” “…the leftists started a battle they won’t win. Now we are all caught in the crossfire. Remember that, people, the leftists created this nightmare.”


            Stormark gave no estimate of how many of the messages were from Norwegians and how many from outside the country. But when asked how many were in the Norwegian language, he replied: “Too many.”

            On a different aspect of Norway’s response to the attacks, Stormark expressed surprise that there was not more public anger at the lack of preparedness and botched crisis response. Those emotions, he speculated, may still bubble up. “I think there is a frustration in the Norwegian people that is not yet channeled and sort of aired in the media properly yet.”

            In a later discussion, Stormark commented that Norway may also be slow in recognizing the challenge posed by Breivik’s ideology. While they may not support his violence, Stormark said,


Many of the views of Breivik are supported by a larger number of Norwegians than we prefer to debate in public. Different camps have different views on how to address this. Some believe that it is the right path to just ignore them and hope that they will go away. Others believe that it is better to take them on in public, take on this debate and use argument to convince the greater public that hatred is not the right path to go down. There are some topics that we are afraid to go into. I am not able to pinpoint why exactly, but there are topics that we urgently need to discuss and that are not properly discussed in Norwegian society.



            When the Oslo Cathedral reopened to the public early on the morning after the attacks, it and the square in front of it quickly became a prominent stage for Norway’s response. Almost immediately, people began to gather inside and outside the building, many bringing flowers and candles to leave in memory of the dead. Meanwhile church leaders set to work to revise the order of worship for the next day’s service, to reflect what had happened in Oslo and Utøya. On Sunday, the prime minister and the royal family were there for the service, along with, parliamentary party leaders, and a number of family members of people who had died in the attacks. The service was explicitly not designated as a memorial ceremony, since religious and political leaders were planning to have an interfaith national ceremony to memorialize the victims. But if it was not formally a memorial, in many respects it served that function, bringing people together to remember and honor the victims and to reaffirm their beliefs and values.

            Even though the overwhelming majority of Norwegians at least nominally belong to the Church of Norway, the dean of the cathedral, Olav Dag Hauge, and his colleagues were still concerned with how much sectarian ritual was appropriate in the special circumstances that made that Sunday’s service a national as well as a religious event. Speaking at the ACIA meeting, Dean Hauge recalled discussing whether communion should be offered as it would on a normal Sunday. In the end the church authorities decided to go ahead and hold communion, principally because it would give an opportunity for people to light candles. As it turned out, he said, the communion served another purpose as well:


The communion time became an open space in the service where people could move around, meet and embrace, cry together, and it turned out to be an important part of the service, after all, although this part could also have been without communion, which perhaps would have been preferable.


            The cathedral did not empty out after the service. It was full of people all day and was still full when the evening service was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. “When the evening service was announced, they asked the ones who didn’t want to be at the service to leave the church, but no one did,” Hauge said, and the service went on with several hundred people standing outside.

            Norwegians continued to come, night and day, in the days and weeks that followed. It has been said about the cathedral that “this space had captured the sorrow,” Hauge said. “With the events that met us after the 22nd of July, we felt that the sorrow captured us. I think that was the situation.”

            Reflecting on why a religious institution became so prominent in the public response to the terror attacks, Hauge said:


As we all know,Norwayis a multicultural and also a quite secular country, so you could ask why the cathedral so quickly became the focal point of the nation’s grief. I have thought a lot about it. Why? Of course part of the reason is that 86 per cent of the population are members of theChurchofNorway, and between 5 and 10 per cent are members of other Christian denominations. A majority of parents inNorwaybaptize their children. I think that the reaction after July 22 shows that this is not only because of traditions. There is a deeper reason, I think. A majority of Norwegians have a personal connection to a church, often the church where they grew up. In this situation, turning to the church, and the church building, when faced with such experiences beyond comprehension, becomes quite natural.


Primarily people came to the cathedral and the cathedral square with a desire to express sympathy with those directly affected by the massacre, to deal with their own strong emotions, and to seek comfort in the fellowship of the church and the Christian belief in the meaning of life. Visitors came in such large numbers that we had great difficulties directing the queues of people who wanted to enter the church. Priests, deacons and other church employees inOsloin addition to many volunteers were working to keep the church open and available for those who wished to enter.


The first two weeks we decided that there should be a priest and/or a deacon present in the church at all times. This presence created several contact points for conversations, and the priests/deacons made a significant contribution in this area. By the end of the week after July 24 we established in the north aisle of the church a place for children to draw. There were crayons, drawing paper, and strings on the walls where drawings could be hung up on display. This was frequently used, and not only children took the opportunity to draw their emotions. It was very interesting and moving to look at these drawings.


We had extended opening hours throughout the period up to and including Sunday, August 21, when the national memorial ceremony was held. The church was then open until midnight every night, and it was also open Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the church is normally closed. Here are some figures: During the first weekend after July 22, every shop in centralOslowas empty of candles, and during the first couple of weeks more than 1 million candles must have been lit. Local government removed three tons of flowers from the cathedral square, and more than 1 million people visited the church during the first two weeks, out of a national population of less than five million. Today we still experience that people are coming here daily, both to the church and to the square outside the church, to put down fresh flowers and light candles. Family and friends of victims come here for silence, grieving, and remembrance.


We have been asked how could you be prepared for such a reaction among the people. I will say no one can be prepared for such an act of terror, and we could in no way foresee these events, or the overwhelming amount of visitors to the church and its surrounding areas in the wake of it. All the priests in Oslo who weren’t on holiday were asked to help, and most of them came down here, walked around in the crowds, talked with people, and helped us carry out the daily evening masses the first two weeks after the attack.


What did we learn about what people need from the church after such an extraordinary trauma?


Firstly, people need a place to go with their grief, despair and anger.

Secondly, they need the fellowship of others who share their emotions.

Thirdly, they need the words and the liturgy to help them express their feelings. The language of the church communicates a hope that is not destroyed by evil and suffering. The church preaches the hope of the gospel in spite of death.


Those who were directly affected were initially in shock, and were in many ways upheld by the massive sympathy and expression of love by the nation as a whole. Only later will questions appear, such as how God could allow such a terrible thing to happen. In the face of such thoughts there is no consolation other than to underline that God never intervenes in a way that takes away the responsibility for one’s own life and actions. As human beings we are born with free will, and a responsibility to use it to do good things. It is our duty, as far as possible, to stop those who misuse this gift of God. The priests have tried to help those directly affected by opening up for conversations about their emotions towards the terrorist, and thoughts about God and the world. I think for most of the people the fellowship and the common grief of the weeks after this event helped many with their thoughts about God, life and death, and with their feelings about the terrorist act.


Many people have expressed how important the Church was in the days after July 22, for themselves and for the nation in general. This has also been said by many who take a more distant and critical view of the church. Whether anyone have returned to their faith or the church I couldn’t say.


            Along with serving as a forum for national feeling through its own spiritual and communal traditions, the cathedral also became a collection point for a remarkable range of individual responses, in the form of notes left at an altar in the south nave. That custom predates the terror attacks, but as Hauge explained, like the crowds in the cathedral itself, the number of “prayer notes” also increased dramatically.


In the south nave of the cathedral we have a large silver statue representing the Last Supper, with Jesus and the disciples. This statue is used as an altar, and people can write notes of prayer and put them into the altar, like they do at the Wailing Wall inJerusalem. We have collected all these notes. Most of the notes were put on the altar but we have also a box beside the altar. The ones that were put in the boxes we read and then destroyed, but the ones that were put in the open we kept.


A third of these prayer notes were written in other languages than Norwegian (including Danish and Swedish). Most of them express solidarity withNorway, “the whole world is weeping,” and respect and admiration for the way the nation has handled the situation. Many were written in foreign scripts such as Arabic, Chinese, Serb etc. And a large part of them were written or drawn by children.


A large part were prayers, or expressed hope or knowledge that the dead were now in heaven, paradise, or Nangijala.* This tells us that it was not only Christians coming. Some of them said: “Hope you have a good time with God,”  “I hope you dance with angels,” “Dear grandmother, you know heaven well, take good care of them,” and one said, “You must root for Rosenborg [a football club] from up there.” Many notes said “Rest in peace” or “Allah, give them heaven.” Only two notes prayed that the terrorist should burn in hell, but several prayed for him and his soul. One prays for the murderer by name, some pray for his family.


* A mythical land portrayed in the novel The Brothers Lionheart  by Norwegian writer Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), better known outside Norway as the author of Pippi Longstocking.


Many notes greet the dead by name and pray for them to watch over us, and express how much they are missed. Some give thanks for getting their loved ones home safely. Many express despair faced with the incomprehensible. One asks God to rewind so we can pretend this never happened. Especially children say they feel sorry for the victims, or sad that they had to pay the price of an open society, and that the victims have given us a reason to become better persons. “Evil shall not prevail,” “Do something good out of evil, God,” “An eye for an eye makes the world blind” (a quote from Mahatma Gandhi), “This has struck us all down, not only the bereaved — why, God?” And some pray that the love that is now shown will last. Some say that it is not the foreigner who should be feared, but those who fear the foreigner. A majority express trust that the dead are taken care of after death. Surprisingly, many use the wordParadise. Therefore there are many Muslims among those who pray, and this is maybe not surprising even though it’s inside the church.


            In answer to a question, Hauge told the audience that Muslims in Norway


said openly to the media and the television that first of all they were shocked and they were afraid that this was a Muslim attack, but then they got to know that it was a Norwegian.  Many of them said that then we were shocked that it was “one of our own.”  That is very interesting. They feel like Norwegians and they expressed it.



            A principal theme in ACIA’s deliberations was how Norwegian culture may have influenced the national response to the July 22 terror attack.  Renate Bugge noted that historically,


Norwaywas a very collective society where people have had to be dependent upon each other. As fishermen, working in the woods, or in small communities, you could not manage on your own. The culture has a long, long, long, long line going back, that you have to rely upon each other. I just heard a paper some weeks ago that the culture of Norwegians is kind of changing from this caring collective more to the individualistic, where you care about yourself and your family and you do not think so much of the collective responsibility. But in the culture it is very, very deep rooted that we have to care for each other to be able to survive.


            Also on the issue of culture and its influence, parliamentarian Laila Gustavsen noted that Norwegian social scientists have linked the quality of the country’s public life to its economic pattern:


Norwayis a very egalitarian society. There are very small differences in salaries, small differences between the richest and the poorest. So they believe where everybody has a kind of equal situation, there is more trust between people. They have shown that there is a link between the economic situation and trust, whether or not people trust the government, trust each other.


            If culture and social and economic circumstances helped shape Norwegians’ commitment to preserve their values after the terrorist attacks, however, Gustavsen wanted to make very clear that that is not the same thing as forgiveness: 


I do not think that the Norwegians are forgiving. Do not put these things together. We have never talked about forgiving his actions. None of us have. In this case is it is very difficult to talk about forgiveness. I think the right word is probably reconciliation. Patch up your destiny. Be able to live through it, live with it. You do not have to forgive and we will not.