Commentary: Norway's answer to violence is more democracy

If this was a call to arms, something got lost in translation.

You had to be struck by the prime minister of Norway’s public response to last month’s horrifying massacre of innocents, a bombing at the seat of government in Oslo followed by a mass shooting at a youth camp. The body count as of Friday stood at 76, most of them kids.

The English version of what Jens Stoltenberg said went like this: “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.”

Wait -- it was in English. And there’s more: “I think what we have seen is that there is going to be one Norway before and one Norway after July 22. But I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”

Even in cold print, you can hear a mournful pride in those words.

It helped, of course, that the confessed mass murderer was already in custody. And if the name and face associated with this bloodbath were those of some Islamofascist instead of an unmistakably home-grown geek with blond hair and the unmistakably home-grown name of Behring Breivik, the whole aftermath of this unspeakable tragedy might have a different tone. As shocked and saddened Norwegians noted, this was more Oklahoma City than 9/11.

In any case, carnage comparisons quickly become meaningless. It would be an insult to the memory of the dead and the grief of the living to make some psychological or ideological excuse, because the kind of monster capable of this has none. What he does have, apparently, is a hideously poisonous mind that planned these attacks to fight “Muslim colonization.”

Maybe he killed 76 innocent people because he thinks Islam is a “violent religion.” Maybe he’s another Charles Manson, trying to start a war he could blame on somebody else. Maybe, except for whatever intelligence can be gleaned that might help save lives in the future, we don’t give a damn why he did it.

No one should, and surely neither Jens Stoltenberg nor any other rational being does, have the slightest tolerance for terror -- domestic or imported. Not even the New Testament commands us to turn the other cheek to massacre.

I think about capital punishment in the context of a Timothy McVeigh and swear I could have thrown the switch myself. Millions of Americans cheered and celebrated at the news that Osama bin Laden was dead, and I was among them. It was a brief moment of American unity, like (but infinitely better than) the dark day for which bin Laden was responsible almost 10 years earlier -- before we broke into bitter ideological camps to claim or withhold credit and assign or avoid blame. Before we decided it was OK for Americans to spy on other Americans. Before we carved inconvenient chunks out of the Constitution and rationalized it with the transparently Orwellian name of “Patriot” Act. Before we began equating patriotism with xenophobia and the beating of war drums, and dissent with treason.

It’s almost impossible not to hear the prime minister’s plea in that context.

The 10th anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11 is a month away, and in many ways I dread it. Not just because it will evoke vivid memories of my country’s worst day in my lifetime, but also because I’m so afraid the sense of national unity and purpose it ought to inspire is all but impossible for us now. How do we come together as Americans with so many different, narrow, exclusive, self-flattering ways of defining what “American” even means?

Footnote: A press release from that Westboro sewer of a “church” reportedly says some of the faithful plan to protest at funerals of Norway victims because “God formed [Breivik] and appointed him to punish Norway” for its tolerance of gay marriage.

Footnote II: A married lesbian couple named Toril Hansen and Hege Dalen were camping near the island where the massacre took place. According to verified Norwegian media accounts, when the shooting started they jumped in their motorboat and made four separate trips into the line of fire to rescue teens who had fled into the lake. They reportedly took a few bullet holes in the boat and saved about 40 kids.

God must not have been paying attention.