by Ambassador (ret.) Keith C. Smith
The murder of 77 people by Anders Breivik has stirred up considerable commentary, most of it reflecting sympathy and shock over the actions of a lone Norwegian gunman. The overwhelming number of commentators have rightly focused on the tragedy of so many young people gunned down as they were debating political issues and having fun on Utoya Island about 50 kilometers from Oslo.
Even though I was once an official in the American Embassy in Oslo and am married to a Norwegian, I can’t claim to have the answers to the many questions posed by journalists and bloggers as to the motivation of the gunman or why such an event could take place in a country known for peace and social harmony.
One set of comments does bother me. Those are the reactions to the killings on the part of Glenn Beck, Pamela Geller and Debbie Schlussel. These commentators appear to justify mass murder because of the alleged political orientation of some of the young members of the Labor Youth Organization (AUF). Although Beck compares the youth group to a bunch of Nazis, others swing in a totally different direction. Geller and Schlusser claim that they are not justifying the killings but “explaining” the event as the expected result of the pro-Palestinian views of some of the young political leaders. I find this blaming the victims as outrageous as those who try to “explain” away the killing of Israelis victims by Palestinian terrorists on the grounds that it is the inevitable result of Israeli policies. Mass murder against any group cannot be “explained” away on political grounds.
Barry Rubin makes the assertion that the Norwegian youth group was engaged in a pro-terrorist program. I would reject this line. Norwegians who object to the policies of Israel in its dealing with the people in the Gaza strip should not be considered “pro-terrorists.” Many of us who strongly support Israel’s security believe that Israeli policy toward Gaza, including the use of disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians and the attack against the Turkish vessel trying to deliver food and medicine, would also object to being labeled “pro-terrorists.” I assume that Mr. Rubin believes that Israeli citizens who object to government policies in Gaza are also supporters of terrorism. I find this thinking highly dangerous. Mossad’s bungled assassination in the 1970s of an innocent man they mistook for an alleged PLO operative living in Norway shouldn’t be used by Norwegians or others to label Israel a terrorist state. Closing one’s eyes to violence directed against civilians is almost criminal. But too easily labeling something as “terrorist” can also be a dangerous trap.
The fact that Breivik considered himself a supporter of Zionism is not a condemnation of Zionists, nor the fact that he admired the Pope a reason to condemn Catholics. The logic of Beck, Geller and Schlusser is incredibly twisted. Hatred of multiculturalism most likely played a far larger role in Breivik’s fevered mind than did his support for the Pope, Putin, Israel or Christian Crusaders.
For those who may accept an “explanation” based on the views of some pro-Palestinian AUF members, I would remind them that Norway’s Labor Party leadership and its military forces have long accepted an important role in protecting Israel against Egyptian and Syrian forces. Norwegian soldiers have died on Israel’s borders over the past forty years while carrying out the U.N.’s peacekeeping mandate. They have been dying in Afghanistan alongside U.S. troops, even while many other NATO allies stayed on the sidelines. Norwegian F-16’s were quickly deployed along with U.S., British and French planes in protecting Libyan civilians against the murderous regime of Mohamar Kaddafi.
Ambassador (ret.) Keith Smith is currently a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He has been a consultant to several European and American energy companies and lectures on Russian-European energy issues in the U.S. and Europe. From 1997-2000, he was U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania. During his 38 years in the Foreign Service, he served in several Latin American posts, Hungary (twice), Norway and Estonia. His Washington assignments included EUR Director of Policy, and Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of State for Support of East European Democracies (SEED Program). His articles have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Economist, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the Center for European Policy Studies and a report of the Norwegian Atlantic Committee. He has appeared on BBC World, CNN and CNBC. His most recent CSIS publications include “Bringing Energy Security to East Central Europe” and “Lack of Transparency in Russian Energy Trade.”