Ireland and Norway are very alike. So, could it happen here?

25 Jul

This article can also be viewed on the Herald.ie site here

 

Monday July 25 2011

Not only has Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg shown great leadership in his measured response to the atrocity which had befallen the Norwegian people, he has also given a new measured response to such attacks with the words: “The answer to violence is more democracy, more humanity, but not more naivety.”

The appalling atrocities in central Oslo and the island of Utoya have rightly shocked us all, not just for their ferocity and callousness but for the fact that they have been perpetrated in the city and a country one associates most with peace building and peace making.

Oslo is not just the home of the Nobel Peace Centre and the location for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, it has also given its name to the 1993 foundation on which peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were based: the Oslo Accords.

Briefly, during the first hours after the car bomb exploded in Oslo many minds turned to the possibility that the attack was the work of Islamist terrorists. The attempted car bombing in Stockholm just before Christmas was as hard to understand, but that attack was linked to Islamist terrorism: the first such attack in the Nordic nations.

It took some time for the full scale of the slaying to emerge for experts and analysts to realise that this was not an attack from extremist Islamists.

It was the polar opposite. It was from a local home-grown ultra-nationalist who feared and hated Islam.

This attack, on his own people, was perpetrated by a man whose own warped world view sees Islam as a threat to the Western way of life and whose online writings denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend Norway from Islamic influence.

As we look at the horror, should we consider if such a thing could happen here?

Up to last Friday afternoon the Norwegians did not think such a thing was likely.

They, like us, considered this to be something one only read about in other larger cities and countries. Yet, it happened.

In many ways Norway and Ireland are alike. We are both small, quiet, friendly, liberal democracies most noted in the international context for our contributions to peace support and international diplomacy.

During those brief few hours when speculation focused on an external terrorist cause some suggested Norway’s having troops in Afghanistan as a possible reason why it could be a target.

We too have troops serving in Afghanistan since 2002, so it could also potentially make us one, though Norway’s membership of Nato and participation in the Libyan campaign were also cited as possible causes.

But, as we now know, the reason was not external – it was internal. In Norway’s case this domestic threat was aided by their gun laws: Norway’s large hunting and sports shooting traditions does allow regulated access to a range of firearms.

Back in 2008 the Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, moved to clamp down on gun controls, especially on the numbers of legally held handguns. Yet there are still many thousands of legally and illegally held guns on this island.

The one thing we cannot legislate for, though, is what goes on in someone’s head. A society cannot protect itself 24/7 from the actions of a lone crazed attacker.

To tackle that we need to turn to the last part of Stoltenberg’s advice: we cannot be naive. While the likelihood of such a thing happening here may be small: it is not zero. We must not be naive, we do need to be vigilant.

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