On the same day the bombing and shooting in Norway killed 77 at least eleven Syrian protesters were killed by security forces, bringing the total for the week to over 50 and the number of Syrian civilians killed since mid-March to 1419. (Sunday Update: At least eighty Syrians were killed in pre-dawn raids today).
On the same day that Breivik was killing his fellow Norwegians, political violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, killed 19. Earlier in July another clash between adherents of one political party and a recent splinter group killed 100. (Sunday Update: Ten more were killed overnight in Karachi.)
Each month an average of 38 children are killed by Mexican drug-related violence. Since sustained anti-cartel operations began in 2008 over 40,000 Mexican civilians have lost their lives in the crossfire… sometime literally.
I could, of course, keep going. Last week and since there have been significant civilian casualties in Malawi, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Somalia the death toll from famine — estimated at more than 30,000 and climbing quickly — has been supplemented by battles between African Union and Al-Shabab forces and by inter-clan violence. Many of those killed are women and children who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I have not given nearly the attention to these other deaths that I have given to the Utøya massacre and related Oslo bombing. By attention I don’t just mean coverage in HLSWatch. I mean time committed to research. I also mean emotional investment. Monday morning I missed a scheduled teleconference because I was distracted by this — sadly not-so-unusual — event. That is not something I do. But over the last week it has been a personal and professional preoccupation, despite my best efforts to objectify the event and reduce it to analysis.
A weekend indulgence in some public self-analysis — as if you care — but there may be some policy implications:
I cut my professional teeth on post-Tito Yugoslavia. I began my analysis well before Tito’s passing. My worst case projections never included the implosion of ethnic violence that unfolded. Fortunately for my career I had left Yugoslavia far behind by the time the wily Marshall died in 1980. I was amazed what a few monstrously banal leaders could do when amplified by the hate and violence of a few others and the complicity of many, many more. It took less than a decade for a peaceful, prosperous, and tolerant nation to descend into genocide.
While some will find this scandalous, I perceive the potential for a banal and/or evil response to Breivik’s actions is — or was — as significant in Norway as it was in the very early 1980s in Yugoslavia, before Milosevic and his circle succeeded in dominating the political culture. Instead we have all benefited from statesmanlike, inclusive, generous — even redemptive — acts and words across the political spectrum. While the current Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, certainly deserves a great deal of credit, he has been joined by his principal political rivals, the royal family, every media outlet I can find, religious leaders of every sort, and by the parents and other survivors of those killed.
Several years ago the then Norwegian Prime Minister caused a few eyebrows to arch when he said, “It is naturally Norwegian to be good.” I would argue he mistook a socially effective ethic for a natural predilection. It is wrong — even dangerous — to take this for granted as some sort of “natural” exceptionalism. It is crucial that Norwegians — and all of us — recognize the shared habits of empathy, solidarity, forgiveness, and a realistic commitment to justice and accountability are crafted through a million individual choices and all too easy to lose.
I have been preoccupied with “this little country” (as the Norwegians have described themselves this week), not because of its all-too-ordinary experience with deadly violence, but due to its atypically courageous and constructive response.