Death in Oslo

A profound sense of sadness blanketed the globe as the world watched the unfolding of events in Norway this past weekend. Although we have been here before, most recently in an Arizona parking lot, the sheer scale of this attack was difficult to digest. We have long let go of notions that children would be spared such barbarity. Still, it was shocking that one man could conceivably unleash a devastating bomb in the Norwegian capital, and manage to then shoot to death up to seventy people, mostly teenagers, on a resort island an hour away.

oslo bombingDetails of the shooter emerged in short order. Most news agencies reported that the culprit was a blond, green-eyed Norwegian, steeped in Christian fundamentalism and an extreme right-wing philosophy. At the heart of the hatred fueling this incident is his perception of the effects of immigration and Islamic culture on Norway.

In the midst of the outpouring of emotion and facts surrounding the case, I have yet to hear a collective questioning about how such an incident could occur. The regularity of such attacks has left us accepting that people who would do great harm to others are a fact of life. We are shocked, but not surprised. We have come to acknowledge the connection between fundamentalist hate-speech, and destructive action. The struggle is in knowing how to respond.

In the case of this most recent massacre, practical questions will be asked. If the perpetrator didn’t have access to explosive fertilizer or guns, would these events have occurred? What role would the proliferators of hate-speech play in emboldening him to act so violently? If communities created high-security zones, could such attempts be thwarted?

Thus far, each society has weighed the above questions and dealt with them by establishing a fluid line in the sand meant to preserve the best of desired freedoms, while acknowledging the risks that comes with them. We live with no allusions that ultimate freedom and complete safety can be achieved.

However, whereas it is cold comfort in the wake of acts meant to terrorize a society, the fact remains that in a world of over six billion people, acts of terrorism are perpetrated by relatively few. Living in New York City, I am able to take part in events that bring tens of thousands of people together: parades, rallies, sports and cultural events. I ride subways with the masses, eat in packed restaurants, and walk crowded streets overwhelming habituated by peace-loving individuals. I marvel at the ballet of bodies that maneuver around each other without hint of incident.

This latest terrorist act will deservedly cause Europe to acknowledge a growing problem that has cataclysmic potential if unchecked. It is also noted that as one man chose unthinkable violence to further his beliefs, billions of others have chosen to face their world with nonviolence.

by William Repicci

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