At a time when our capacity for shock might appear to have been exhausted, a sociopathic killer in Oslo, Norway, managed to plumb new depths. People around the world joined Norwegians in stunned disbelief at the calculated murder of 76, mostly young, people attending a youth camp. Shock gave way to grief and then revulsion as the cold, calculated planning behind the carnage was revealed. True to the principles that inform Norwegian society and politics however, politicians, security forces and average citizens all responded by denying the perpetrator the satisfaction of achieving his dark objectives. As one tweet from @pacific expressed it: “I am heartened by the streets of Norway today. He wanted a revolution of hate. We responded with a revolution of love.“ Or Norwegian cartoonist, Oystein Runde, wrestling with a welter of feelings but reaffirming: “WE happen to believe in something called the sanctity of ALL human life, even the life of this guy who is an obvious terrorist fundamentalist. I am endlessly proud of my tiny country that has the guts to appear ‘soft’ and ‘kind’ even when the rest of the world pressures us to be ‘hard’.”
7000 km away, in far less idyllic settings in the horn of Africa, the horror of suffering and death was intensified by the opposite factors; utterly predictable and preventable rather than unprecedented or unforeseeable; lack of shock and solidarity and the acceptance of loss of life in tones of apparent normality. An estimated 11 million men, women and children caught in a vortex of political, economic, religious and ecological fundamentalisms, most of whose misery could have been prevented or alleviated by some measure of the speed, compassion and ideals evoked by events in Norway – victims of collective apathy, cynicism, inertia and cold-blooded calculation of cost and benefit.
Beyond supporting those who are scrambling to provide relief against all odds, one can only wish that those who are charged with global leadership would, even now, demonstrate a miniscule fraction of the solidarity, vision and resolve we have just witnessed from Norway.