On July 22, 2011, the government quarter was attacked by a far-right terrorist. After detonating a one-ton bomb outside the Prime Minister’s office, in which eight people lost their lives, he drove to AUF’s summer camp on Utøya. There he shot and killed 69 people, one by one. Almost half of them were under 18 years of age.
These young people were not accidental victims. They were killed because they were politically active on the left. Because they were the future of the Labor Party. Because they wanted a society with equality, diversity and solidarity. Because they stood for a human view and had a political belief that was and still is hated and despised by the far right.
10 years have passed. In these ten years, Norway has taken a settlement with the catastrophically lacking police and security preparedness. But the settlement with the lack of ideological preparedness has been hindered by a paralyzing fear of being touched.
When AUF got in touch, I was not for a second in doubt that I should say yes to delivering a text.
— Hege Ulstein
Now it begins to loosen. Earlier this year, historian Hallvard Notaker published the book “Arbeiderpartiet og 22. juli”. It tells honestly and brutally about how the whole party was affected and what it cost to be in the middle of a disaster. Notaker also writes well about why the Labor Party ended up calling July 22 an attack on Norway, not an attack on the Labor Party. Even though everyone understood that this was exactly what this was about. The desire for a unifying rhetoric trumped the need for a political and probably polarizing settlement.
Tuesday ga AUF published his own book on July 22nd. In “Never keep quiet, never forget”, survivors, survivors and relatives tell about how they experienced the attack. Central figures in the labor movement write about the thinking behind the attack and the values that were attacked. Scientists and experts analyze the universe of ideas that motivated the terrorist. And three writers write about the way forward.
I am one of them. Why was it important to contribute to this book? When AUF got in touch, I was not for a second in doubt that I should say yes to delivering a text. It has been despairing and frustrating to see how the acceptance of the terrorist’s ideas has increased in recent years. Not least, it has been painful to witness how the attempts to settle with this mindset have been met with suspicion. People from AUF and the Labor Party have been accused of «play victim», to «draw the July 22 card» and to «drag the Utøya card». Not in lugubrious hooks on the net, but from a top politician in the Storting’s rostrum, a minister and deputy leader of the Conservative Party and a profiled and respected presenter in NRK.
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One of the terrorist’s most important sources of inspiration – perhaps the most important – has received a scholarship from Fritt Ord. He has become actively invited to write posts in Aftenposten. The think tank that shares the conspiracy ideas about Eurabia receives million support over the state budget every single year and has some of Norway’s richest behind it. It has too the website that specializes in hateful comment fields and tendentious “articles” that feed on racism.
The responsibility for taking the settlement with the thoughts that led to July 22 can not be borne by AUF and the Labor Party alone. We only get a proper confrontation with dangerous ideas on the outer right when the normal right wing signs up with full force. Whether it is about the political parties, or the big media that belong on the blue side of the political spectrum. The naivety we have seen in the face of destructive currents, must end. Just as the right – rightly – expects the left to distance itself from conspiratorial, left-wing radical websites, extreme and violent groups, and anti-democratic superpowers, just as they expect ordinary Muslims to distance themselves from Islamist terrorists and anti-human oppression, the right must also demand of itself that it distance itself from conspiracy thinking, hatred and radicalization on its own part of the political spectrum.
“Never forget” is about always remembering those we lost on July 22 and why we lost them. But “never shut up” is about something more than that. Fighting right-wing extremism, racism and hatred is, of course, an important part of the fight to prevent us from having another terrorist attack, as we experienced on 22 July 2011 and 10 August 2019. But it is also important for another reason. A society where these thoughts are given space and power is not a society we want. How it goes then, we can see in Poland, in Hungary, in Russia – even in the United States we have seen it, for four dark years. When right-wing radical, authoritarian forces gain more power, it leads to attacks sexual, ethnic and religious minorities, restriction of women’s rights, degradation of the rule of law, knebling of free speech and the suppression of fundamental democratic rights.
At Easter, AUF leader Astrid Hoem proposed that it be reduced a new July 22 commission which will discuss the ideology behind right-wing extremist terror and how such attitudes arise. It is a good proposal that should receive warm support.
After the attack, the then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that our response should be “more democracy, more openness and more humanity”.
Then he added three words: “But never naivety.” That part of the quote is often overlooked. The time for that should be over.