STAVANGER, Norway (AP) – On the 10th anniversary of Norway’s worst peacetime massacre, survivors of Anders Behring Breivik’s assault worry that the racism that fueled the anti-Islamic mass murderer is resurfacing in a nation known for its progressive politics.
Most of Breivik’s 77 victims on July 22, 2011 were teenage members of the idealistic Labor Party enjoying their annual camp on the quiet, forested island of Utoya, on a lake northwest of the capital Oslo. Today, many survivors struggle to keep their country’s vision alive.
“I thought Norway would change positively forever after the attacks. Ten years later, that has not happened. And in many ways, the hatred we see online and threats against people in the Labor movement has increased, ”said Aasmund Aukrust, then deputy leader of the Labor Youth Wing that helped organize the camp.
Today he is a national lawmaker campaigning for a nationwide investigation into the right-wing ideology that inspired the killer.
Aukrust fled from the bullets flying through the forest and then remained hidden for three terrifying hours as he watched his friends killed nearby. Aukrust, a vocal advocate for taking proper account of racism and xenophobia in Norway, has been the target of abuse online, including receiving the message that “we wish Breivik had done his job.”
The victims of the Utoya massacre came from cities and towns across Norway, turning a personal tragedy into a collective trauma for many of the country’s 5.3 million people. The survivors were joined by a shocked population that was determined to show that Norway would become more, not less, tolerant and reject the worldview that motivated the killer.
A decade later, some survivors believe that collective resolve is waning.
“What was very positive after the terrorist attacks was that people saw this as an attack across Norway. It was a way of showing solidarity, ”Aukrust said. But that has disappeared. It was an attack on a multicultural society. And although it was the act of one person, we know that his views are shared by more people today than 10 years ago. “
Breivik attacked the institutions of the Labor Party that he believed were aiding what he called the “Islamization” of Norway. Dressed as a policeman, he landed in Utoya, gunning down 69 members of the youth wing and wounding many more. He had previously killed eight people in a bomb attack on government buildings in Oslo.
“It was not by chance that it was our summer camp that was attacked. The hatred was against us because of our values of openness and inclusion, ”said Sindre Lysoe, a Utoya survivor who is now the secretary general of the Labor Party’s Youth Wing.
“After Utoya, it was very difficult for many people to return to politics. For me and for society, it was very important to get up again and fight with more of the good work that we knew we could do, ”he said. “Before July 22, politics was important, then it became life or death.”
After learning about the Oslo bombing on the “darkest day of all our lives,” he remembers his friends telling each other that they were in the safest place on earth. In a matter of minutes, the shooting and screaming began on the island. Today, Lysoe spends much of her time warning young people about the dangers of right-wing extremism.
In the years after the attack, Norway’s security police, the PST, continued to classify Islamists as more likely to commit domestic terrorism than right-wing extremists.
But after the New Zealand mosque attacks in 2019 killed 51 people and an attempted imitation of Norwegian shooter Philip Manshaus outside Oslo later that year in which the killer’s sister, the security police, was killed. Norway changed its annual evaluations. Now classify the two forms of extremism at the same level of danger.
“As we move into 2013 and 2014, European migration and the Islamic State became the prisms through which we viewed the terror. Norway returned to a narrative of extremism being largely foreign, “said Bjoern Ihler, who escaped the bullets by swimming in icy waters around the island to get to safety.
“There is a flaw in self-reflection. We are missing the fact that Anders Breivik and Manshaus were Norwegian, but so were many of the extremists over the last decade who should have been trapped by our social system, ”he said.
Since the July 22 attacks, Ihler has become an expert in countering radicalization, founding the Khalifa-Ihler Institute for Peacebuilding and Against Extremism, advising the European Union and chairing a panel at the Global Forum. Internet to Counter Terrorism.
By planning the attack from his mother’s home in Oslo, Breivik took advantage of an online ecosystem that demonized Islam and questioned the Christian future of Europe. Ihler, who has spoken to dozens of reformed extremists, says these Internet echo chambers must be exposed to different voices.
“Regardless of the ideology, the reasons why they entered radical environments are all somewhat similar. It is about finding identity and a space where you find belonging. Whether they are Islamists or extreme right-wing extremists, the fundamental problem they have is living in diverse environments, ”he said. “The hard part is helping them get comfortable with that diversity.”
Ihler still believes in the power of traditional Norwegian values such as democracy and rehabilitation to solve social problems.
Breivik attacked all of them, testing not only the country’s commitment to tolerance and inclusion, but also to non-violence and merciful justice. However, he still benefits from a justice system that favors rehabilitation over revenge.
While his sentence may be extended if he is still deemed dangerous, Breivik is serving his 21st birthday in a three-room cell with access to a gym and computer games, luxuries that would be unthinkable even for minor offenders in other countries.
“It is right to be treated humanely,” Ihler said. “We do not want to follow the same path of violence. We need to keep showing people that there are better ways to tackle the problems we have. “
Mark Lewis, The Associated Press