16th Dec 2017


The other answer to terrorism is more democracy

  • The US reaction to terror showed that terrorists had realised one of their goals: undermining democracy. (Photo: wstera2)

When I boarded the plane in Stockholm to fly to Oslo recently, no one asked me to show my ID. This stunned me – all the more so when I noticed the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and her husband Daniel boarding the same plane.

I was on my way back to Oslo six weeks after the 22 July attacks that made headlines around the world. A young man of Norwegian origin with a background in the political far right bombed the Oslo governmental blocks–leaving 8 people dead–and massacred 69 people at a summer camp of the ruling Labour Party.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The morning of his attack, the 32-year-old terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, had uploaded his 1500-page manifesto onto the Internet, in which he announced the start of a “global civil war” between Christianity and Islam. He described in the document how he had planned these attacks – the worst terrorist act in this peaceful and rich country since the Nazi occupation – for almost ten years.

This same decade was when the world experienced searing terrorist attacks. Thousands of people lost their lives in attempts by terrorists to trigger some sort of global civil war between ideologies, religious beliefs and cultures.

The reaction to this by the attacked countries has been new wars and new limitations on freedoms at home.

Global politics of fear

This has produced a global politics of fear. The US, with its declaration by former President Bush of a “war on terror,” distinguished itself, for the worse, by meeting terrorist violence with state violence.

But even on European soil, the 11 March 2004 bombings of suburban trains in Madrid and the 7 July 2005 bus bombings in London soil prompted governments to suspend some civic freedoms, boost surveillance and increase immigration controls. The reaction showed that terrorists had realised one of their goals: undermining democracy.

The Oslo attacks could have joined the list of terrorist successes. Except the Norwegians refuse to let them. There are still seas of flowers around the main churches in the Norwegian capital, and the bombed headquarters of the national government will not be operational before early 2013. Yet what is most striking about Oslo is that people here are lowering barriers, not raising them. Today, 12 September, Norwegians are going to the polls to elect their local and provincial parliaments.

After I landed in Oslo, I did not see any special security at Gardemoen Airport. The same could be said of downtown Oslo: almost no police were out on the streets. Strategic buildings such as the Parliament, the Central Railway station and the Central Bank Headquarters remained unprotected by security and broadly open to the public.

A global counter-example

All this is not by accident. The first reaction by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to the bombings and massacre was not “We fight back.” He did not promise more security. No, the only things that Stoltenberg pledged were “more democracy” and “more openness”. “We need to talk together much more than before and to express our views and opinions,” the prime minister said. He emphasised that no one should be isolated or left out: “An open political dialogue is the best insurance against any form of violence.”

There has been legitimate criticism of the Norwegian ability to detect terrorist attacks. Some naïveté has been exposed. When Anders Behring Breivik conducted his attacks on 22 July, out of 2,300 police officers in the Capital of Oslo, only four were on duty.

The rest were on vacation or off duty, late on a typically quiet summer Friday afternoon. And during the massacre at the Labor summer camp, the police had no helicopters or boats available to respond. Law enforcement could not communicate well with each other. These failures are now being examined by an independent commission. Some things may change. Policing levels may be increased. Surveillance of extremist circles may be stepped up. The accessibility of some governmental buildings in downtown Oslo could be limited.

However, the government has made clear that it will stick to its strategy of keeping society open and promoting political dialogue. The government has suggested that this might be the moment to consider broader political reform in Norway to make the system even more democratic.

Norway has opted for more openness instead of the politics of deterrence, counter-attack and fear. This is not what terrorists would like to achieve. And that is why the Norwegian approach to terrorism is the only answer.

The writer is the president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe

Post-9/11 Europe: 'safer' but less free

Ten years after the fall of New York's twin towers and four months after the death of Osama Bin Laden, Europe is said to be 'safer' - but in return private data is scrutinised by a multitude of counter-terrorism programmes, few of which have been properly assessed.

Norway massacre shocks Europe

EU politicians on Saturday expressed their horror and outrage at the death of at least 84 youngsters shot on the Norwegian island of Utoeya by a gunman allegedly also responsible for the blast in central Oslo that killed another 8 people.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives