This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by Anna Jeide from Luther College.
On the 22 of July 2011, a man ascribing to extreme right-wing political ideology took it upon himself to make clear his anti-immigration views by attacking one of Norway’s left-leaning political parties. Anders Behring Breivik first bombed government buildings in Oslo then targeted the island of Utøya, where the Worker’s Youth League, the youth branch of the Labour Party, was hosting summer camp. There, he gunned down over seventy young people; the youngest victim was only 14 years old.
I am humbled to be in Oslo as many gather to commemorate the massacre that took place three short years ago. After being in this peaceful country for over a month I can only begin to understand how shocking, horrifying, and confusing it must have been when Norwegians first heard news that one of their own had unleashed such violence against his own people.
It can also be easy to demonize individuals who commit such crimes. Our natural instinct is to distance ourselves from any possible connection to such evil acts.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sister Helen Prejean reminds me that there is an undeniable humanity in all of us and that, ‘“people are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.” Prejean has been nominated twice for the Peace Prize in 1998 and 1999 for her work in advocating the abolishment of the death penalty in the United States. She has accompanied several prisoners on death row, serving as their spiritual mentor in their final days.
I don’t know how Sister Prejean is able to walk alongside people who have committed such atrocious crimes. I don’t know how the people of Norway can forgive a man for killing almost eighty innocent people. But I do think that Sister Prejean’s message is important and that somehow we need to respond to violence in a way that is constructive, rather than perpetuate the hateful ideologies that inspire violence in the first place.
Just today, I read online that Breivik’s attorney Tod Jordet reported, “(Breivik) has now become very clear that he doesn’t support violence and that he doesn’t encourage others to carry out violent acts.” As an outsider to this tragedy, I find some small hope in Breivik’s change in outlook, and I hope that those affected by the massacre can find some hope as well.