Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Opinion

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.

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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

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