Well, that’s certainly true – and it’s gutsy of Odfjell to say it. Equally gutsy is Nina Witoszek, a professor at the University of Oslo who fled Communist Poland in 1983. In her own recent op-ed, Witoszek actually dares to criticize the Norwegian public’s response to the events of July 22. It will be recalled that this response consisted largely of immense displays of roses, massive parades, and plenty of rhetoric about the importance of peace, love, and tolerance. The implicit message was that any criticism of Islam was an expression of the kind of hate that Breivik had been acting out when he killed all those teenagers on Utøya.
In late April, the roses came out again. After Breivik stated at his trial that he despises the beloved (and, frankly, insipid) Norwegian kindergarten melody “Barn av Regnbuen” (“Children of the Rainbow”), a loose translation of the 1960s Pete Seeger folk song “My Rainbow Race,” because he considers it Marxist indoctrination, a large square in Oslo was filled to overflowing with Norwegians who sang this song in defiance of Breivik.
Witoszek points out that in the context of the modern age, with its manifold evils, it’s not Breivik that’s abnormal: it’s Norway. Compared to virtually every other country in the world, Western Europe included, Norway has had it very good: “The Norwegian soul is virginal. Those who do not experience the Devil, do not need to believe in God. They can afford to believe in people.” Witoszek quotes the revered Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910): “I will die in the belief that other people are good.” People who think like that, argues Witoszek, “often believe that evil is a technical mistake, something that can be eliminated with the right social technology. If we’re good to others, they’ll be good to us. Pasifisme über alles.” This is indeed a fair characterization of the Norwegian philosophy of life – the philosophy that the Norwegian elite disseminates in kindergartens, schools, universities, and the media.
Pretty thoughts. But such thinking, Witoszek underscores, has its dark side. Citing the police response to the massacre on Utøya, she characterizes it – with remarkable bluntness – as feeble and cowardly. She notes the widely commented-upon fact that on the first day of the mass murderer’s trial, the judges and lawyers all shook the defendant’s hand – and, when criticized, explained with a bland shrug that it was simply a Norwegian courtroom custom. Witoszek also makes the daring observation that on the island, it was mostly the handful of non-Norwegian participants “who were willing to risk their own lives to save others.”
Why? Her answer: the education given to Norwegians from infancy onward doesn’t prepare them to encounter evil. Instead “they learn to be do-gooders [she uses the English word] who trust in the almighty state.” They’re fed rhetoric about peace and kindness and are protected from stress – the result being that when they grow up and encounter the unexpected they’re impotent and gutless. “More love” – the prescription offered by Norwegian authorities and others after July 22 – is, Witoszek insists, not enough: Norwegian young people need to learn resistance, self-control, and respect for life. “Only then,” she says, “can one stand up to the Devil.”
Wise words. God knows there’s been a hell of a lot of diabolical activity here in Norway in the wake of Breivik’s atrocities. Let’s hope the forces of freedom – given voice by people like Herland and Odfjell and Witoszek – manage to overcome it.
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