Love in a time of Anguish
Ruth lives in Tromsø, and writes from Oslo.
“Kjærligheten vil vinner over hatet”
”Love will win over hate”
So were the words of a young Utøya survivor. The Mayor followed on to assure that this small city in this small country would not give in to fear and prejudice but would respond with even more openness, democracy and love.
This Monday evening in the far north city of Tromsø the tears of the land poured from the sky and splashed on the cheeks of the thousands gathered, torches aflame, in a beautiful and dreadful sharing of grief and solidarity.
The profound sense of love overcoming hate resonated from this and the hundreds of other memorial processions which spanned the country that evening. Engulfed in the power and emotion of many people standing together, I wonder how this message resounds with each individual…
My mind settles uncomfortably on an article which I had read in the local newspaper just one week earlier. The front cover boasted two middle-aged, white, male members of the FRP (Norway’s right-wing “Progress Party”), sipping coffee in Tromsø’s swishest café-bar discussing their reasons for opposing the building of a mosque in the city. “Afraid of Tromsø becoming a ´mini-Oslo´” they explained; littered with prostitutes, beggars and asylum seekers; which no doubt the building of such a place would drag in its wake. This pair – afraid of so much, tolerant of so little – were presumably representing the views of a wider section of Norwegian society. In a country which prides itself on its openness and understanding, my thoughts drift to those people who nodded in agreement to that article or those who cast unfriendly looks towards the Muslim owner of one international food shop in town as he walked to work on Friday afternoon. How does this emanating message of togetherness speak to them? I hope it provides them with a challenge.
“Multiculturalism is the future” commented the above shop owner in a recent edition of the same newspaper. It is hard to comprehend how something so natural as the mingling of peoples can be feared and despised to such an extent. The warped concept of some “indigenous peoples of Europe” -seemingly held by the man who’s name Charlie Brooker rightly comments deserves to be forgotten – is frightening in its ignorance and ambiguity.
The fact that the very islamophobia which fuelled the massacre was reaffirmed by the rest of the world in the hours of guesswork following the first bomb attack is a heavy wakeup call to just how ingrained such prejudices have become. No doubt, you caught the sigh of relief which tentatively swept much of the globe at the news that the killer was white, ‘Christian’ and homegrown. At long last must the word ‘terrorist’ be ripped apart from its increasing synonymity with ‘Muslim’ and the world must recognise that, again in the words of the international food shop owner, “a terrorist is a terrorist” – having far more in common with each other than with whatever faith they claim to ascribe to. That this chiseled blond face, surreally reminiscent of some male model advertising to which we are so used to being exposed, could be the one responsible for such an unfathomable attack is a stark reminder of how easy it is cast blame upon those who seem most ‘alien’ to ourselves.
Tragedies such as this touch us all in a different way. For my own part, it was the calculated target of a political youth camp with felt far too close to the bone. However, experiencing – from the inside – the country’s reaction has been some form of solace. Norway has been shaken to its core but, as I have learnt living through an Arctic Norwegian winter – even in the deepest darkness, a little bit of light always breaks through. Now this little country has the opportunity to demonstrate that a heightened recognition of the strength of human bonds and a greater religious and racial tolerance is the only valid reaction to such acts of violence and horror. We can be thankful, at least, that this pitiful man did not achieve his aim in securing a platform to broadcast his views to the world.
My deepest condolences go to all those bereaved and injured and I hope that they, and the rest of us, have the strength to follow the sentiment expressed by one victim; “We must not be scared and we must strive not to hate.” For it was fear, hate and ignorance which powered every terrible bullet last Friday and those who suffered the result of this fateful mix deserve their memory to be preserved in a country, continent and world which refuse to succumb to these weaknesses.