Breivig is not alone in his culpability

July 29, 2011 

"If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we can show together."

-- survivor of the Utoya Island shooting

The Norwegian killings by Anders Breivig tragically call attention to the enigma of democracy: How does a tolerant society deal with intolerance without becoming intolerant itself? How do we keep from becoming what we hate?

During World War II another madman rocked Norwegian society. Before the war Vidkun Quisling was the leader of a minor party that espoused Quisling's ideology of Christianity and science called Universism along with corporatism and anti-Semitism. In other words he was a Norwegian, Nazi though his party never received more than 2 percent of the parliamentary vote. When Germany invaded Norway, Quisling was installed as the leader of a puppet government and the Norwegian resistance fought to rid their country of him and the Nazis.

The story is dramatically told in the Norwegian Resistance Museum located in the Akershus Fortress on the Oslo, waterfront, the same place where captured Norwegian patriots were executed by Nazi firing squads. Displays tell the heroic story of everyday Norwegians disrupting the Nazi occupation with hunting rifles and civil disobedience. Many died.

And it tells the story of Quisling: his capitulation to Hitler's anti-Semitic "final solution" and his betrayal of his homeland. Unlike other museums in Oslo where displays have English subtitles, the Norwegian Resistance Museum is only in Norwegian. Hence at the end of a tour, I wasn't sure what became of him and asked the young man at the information desk, "What happened to Quisling?" He rose from his chair, stood at attention, and proclaimed, "We shot him as a traitor to the nation."

Quisling was executed at the same place the Nazis had executed resistance fighters. Before he was killed, Quisling wrote that World War II Nazism was evidence of the coming of God's kingdom to Earth and would eclipse secular law.

After World War II, Norway and other European countries embraced democratic socialism in order to prevent a reoccurrence of a disaffected lower class that was the foundation of Hitler's post-World War II rise to power. The idea is to create a stable middle class by a progressive tax reallocation so no one is extremely wealthy or extremely poor and provide a security net in health and education. It has worked. Scandinavian countries consistently rank among the highest living standards in the world.

Democratic socialism, coupled with fortuitous oil wealth, made Norway extremely attractive to Third World immigrants. Generous immigration policies of the dominant Labor Government created a 21st century version of "give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Third World immigration also sowed the seeds of anti-multi-cultural, anti-liberal, Christian identity sentiment among a small minority of Norwegians including Breivig. The same ideas are found across Northern Europe and in the United States. Like Quisling, Breivig saw himself as doing God's work, in his case, as a modern Knight Templar.

Breivig's random violence perpetrated against innocent victims is the worst kind of violence. If Breivig were to be executed on the exact spot where Quisling was shot, society would have vengeance. But vengeance is not justice and progressive, civil society would become what it hates. That is not the answer.

The solution lies in the moral courage expressed by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg who recently said: "Tomorrow we will show the world that Norway's democracy grows stronger when it is challenged, and that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naïveté."

Anders Breivig deserves to go to jail, where he will rot in his bigotry for as long as the law allows.

But there are others who are culpable. Breivig frequented ultra-right Internet blogs where he apparently found support in like-minded cowards who hide behind their avatars so their identity is not known. In anonymity they spew their xenophobic venom without the possibility that someone will call them on it. They are the electronic enablers of the violently insane. It would be a mistake to restrict Internet free speech because of them. But we need to educate ourselves to recognize and reject their schema of hate.

The exclusionary agenda of the farright breeds intolerance and fear in a multicultural, pluralistic world where diversity matters. Diversity matters not just because choice is a human right, but because we need it to provide the source ideas of change for a rapidly evolving world.


Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service