There will be scores of unexpected funerals in Norway this coming week, all of them too early—some a lifetime premature.
We are burying teenagers who cared about the world, who wanted to make it a better place. These were future politicians, perhaps a prime minister among them, killed by a young Christian man who had his vision of the world he wanted to live in—a place with tighter borders and less contact with the outside world.
For more than 60 years, the Workers Youth League, the youth league of the governing Labor Party, has held its summer camp at Utøya. On Friday, hundreds of youngsters, most of them between 15 and 20 years old, had gathered for a weekend of political discussion on the small lake island half an hour’s drive from Oslo, Norway’s capital, when a man disguised as a police officer arrived and started shooting indiscriminately.
In a massacre lasting almost an hour, he managed to kill almost 70 people—shooting teenagers in the back as they ran from him, or executing people in the water, as they desperately tried to escape by swimming away.
According to the news reports, after setting off a car bomb in central Oslo that killed several people and severely damaged government buildings, Anders Behring Breivik drove to Utøya to perform one of the bloodiest assassinations in history. Counting the number of deaths, the shooting at Utøya far exceeded Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, combined.
When police finally arrived, Breivik surrendered and was taken into custody. His confession didn’t answer the question on every Norwegian's mind, a heartbreaking "Why?"
Today, Verdens Gang, Norway’s largest newspaper, where I once worked, writes that the 32-year-old Breivik wrote a manifesto before his bloody deed—with parts directly copied from the manifesto of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. (My former workplace is located next door to the prime minister’s office and was heavily damaged by the car bomb. Windows were broken and the employees evacuated to a nearby hotel, where they started working on the next day’s paper.)
Whereas Breivik believed that the reigning social-democratic ideals in Norway might destroy his fatherland by keeping the borders open to immigrants and by sending aid to Africa, the young Social Democrats gathered at Utøya—a mix of agnostics, Muslims, and Christians—believed that Norway needed to remain an open and tolerant society.
His confession didn’t answer the question on every Norwegian's mind: ‘Why?’
A young friend of mine was there. It was supposed to be a weekend of political discussions, a place to share idealism and possibly naive ideas. Before the massacre, he wrote a Facebook post describing his excitement. “Headed for Utøya camp 2011—the most beautiful adventure of summer.” In a post after his return, my friend wrote: “I'm safe and physically healthy. My thoughts go to my friends who were with me at Utøya.” My friend survived the massacre, but what he saw has surely scarred him for life.
The morning after the massacre, Twitter users and Facebook friends shared comments and reactions. This was, many said, the most depressing morning ever. Many complained that they still couldn’t sleep or worried about what to tell their children. Some said that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was now in the position President George W. Bush was in after 9/11, when he promised to “hunt down” those responsible for the attacks.
Stoltenberg, who is not a religious person, didn’t employ Bush’s vengeful rhetoric and instead of a gunslinger attitude promised more political discussions, an open society, and a fortified democracy. "No one will bomb us to silence. No one will shoot us to silence. No one will ever scare us away from being Norway," Stoltenberg said, after the worst terror act to hit Norway in modern history. "You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy or our ideals for a better world."