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A friend’s status update on Facebook alerted me that something horrible had happened in Oslo. Horrible things tend not to happen in Oslo, so I immediately turned to the news to learn what was going on. I read a story in the New York Times that squarely pointed to jihadi groups angered at the war in Afghanistan. The expert the Times cited was Will McCants. I checked in on his twitter feed throughout the day, as he allegedly translated an alleged website by the alleged terrorists responsible for the attacks in Norway. Throughout the day, he translated Arabic phrases from a forum about the type of explosives used, car chases through Oslo and arrests, etc. Even as he pointed to ambiguities about responsibility, the NYT let the story become one of Muslim terrorists wreaking the worst destruction on Norway since World War Two.
Hitler invaded Norway in April 1940. It was a strategic link to Sweden’s iron ore mines and the Allies’ main supply route to Stalin’s Russia. Once Norway was blocked, Iran was invaded and occupied by Russia to the north and Britain from the east and south to create a land bridge. As Churchill wrote to Stalin, the British and the Russians "joined hands" across Iran. As it turns out, the worst attack on Norway since Hitler’s invasion was actually carried out by a neo-Nazi. This attack was about Europe’s own ghosts.
The Financial Times was no better. From the start, it reported allegations of Islamic terrorism, continuing with this view well into its evening reporting by which time an arrest had already been made in the case. Briefly discussing possibilities of neo-Nazi terrorism, the FT continued to cite terrorism experts who spoke convincingly of the attack at the youth camp being carried out by “someone willing to sacrifice his life” thereto a Muslim extremist. The FT then devoted considerable space to tracing the history of Islamic terror attacks in Nordic countries since 2005. Other than their anger at Muslim immigrants, the FT left us with little information on who these neo-Nazi groups were and why they would want to massacre their own brethren.
Judy Woodruff’s interview with a Norwegian journalist that aired on PBS’s Newshour followed a similar scenario. We did learn that “a thirty-two-year old white Norwegian guy” had been arrested for presumably having carried out the bombings and the shootings. But no information was provided on the attacker's motivations or political affiliation; Woodruff simply did not ask those questions. Who forms the neo-Nazi movement in Norway? What are their party affiliations, their platform? Instead of these pressing questions, she asked about the history of terrorism in Norway that focused the rest of the interview on Norway’s involvement in places like Haiti, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Libya, and Afghanistan. As a member of NATO, the PBS report said, Norway has “forces in international military operations.” It is time the U.S. press stop using euphemisms for war. Norway is—as an active member of NATO—at war in Libya and Afghanistan.
But those wars are not why Oslo has a gaping wound in it today. Today a white thirty-two-year old Norwegian detonated a bomb outside the prime minister’s office. He then traveled forty-five minutes to the island of Utoya to a youth camp for the country’s Labour Party. Dressed as a police officer, he shot indiscriminately, kicking the wounded to check if they were alive before shooting them dead. The slaughter was aimed at symbols of Norwegian governance. Norwegian police said the attack had “catastrophic dimensions.”
In this 24/7 news cycle driven even more mad by terror experts who conduct research using google and tweet a mile a minute, journalists should exercise caution. It is ok to report a breaking news story and provide verifiable information over time. And as consumers of news, we need always exercise caution. The Murdoch fiasco has laid bare how the media can be manipulated for political purposes and financial gain.
As Norwegians sift through the debris, mourn their dead, and get accustomed to a new normal, they will need to conduct an honest national dialogue. Perhaps today the neo-Nazis in Europe count Muslims among the problems that drive their madness. But to a large degree, these right wing extremist views shaped twentieth century Europe. It is time for a European reckoning of its own history of violence that has bled into the present in such horrific and painful ways. Life changes when your hometown is torn asunder by violence; those of us who know this pain stand with Oslo today.
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