Aug 2 2011
I’ve been to Oslo on five occasions. I have had good times there, and made good friends in a city that isn’t just geographically close to my home town, Glasgow, but close in climate and temper. We are northern Europeans, used to long winters and short, wet summers. We dress warm, and embrace the sun as if our lives depended on it. We drink a lot of alcohol, even if the Norwegians adopted a sternly controlling approach to regulation a long time ago, making a pint in an Oslo bar one of the most expensive you’ll ever buy.
So I felt for Oslo in its bewildered anguish, more than I might have done had the killer done his dirty work in another European or Asian or American city. I worried about my friends, and their children, and the children of their friends whom I’ve never met but have heard talk of and can imagine.
I felt anger, and wished Breivik had been executed where he stood, thwarting his narcissistic plan for celebrity. I still do. Instead, the Norwegian police and people must listen to his obscene self-justifications for as long as he lives, which could be a long, long time. In 21 years he might even walk free, ‘rehabilitated’. No. They should have shot him, there and then, if he hadn’t the courage to shoot himself.
Fifteen years ago, as I was taking a class in media studies at the university of Stirling, central Scotland, three miles up the road, in a small town called Dunblane, a man called Thomas Hamilton was meticulously, remorselessly, shooting dead a class of young schoolchildren and their teacher. Seventeen of them died that morning, as we staff and students went about our business, only gradually becoming aware of something terrible happening up the road. He shot himself at the end of the massacre. He was a thwarted paedophile, who hated the parents of the children whose young lives he snuffed out.
In 1995 Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. He was an extreme right-winger, like Breivik. Like Breivik, he chose not to die at his own hands, at the scene of his crime, but was executed in prison.
The sad truth is, there are bad people in the world, and there always have been. Breivik’s crimes have nothing to do with terrorism, or Norwegian values, or politics, or anything he might have seen or read in the media. What he did was what Hamilton and McVeigh did – pick on innocent victims to sate some inner lack, some perceived grievance against poor old Anders Behring Breivik. Independent women; assertive muslims; ‘cultural marxists’ – these were just the catalyst for a pathetic human being who, when armed with a plan and a gun and a bomb, was able to take the lives of 76 others. It was appalling in its scale, and there should be an investigation into how it was so easy for him to execute his plan, but there is no cause for soul searching in Norway, and no need for scapegoats and witch-hunts. In times of crisis and catastrophe we look for people to blame, but the Norwegians are blameless. They were unlucky, and it was no-one’s fault in that peaceful, quiet little country, except the killer’s.