STAVANGER, Norway (AP) – On the 10th anniversary of Norway’s worst peacetime massacre, survivors of Anders Behring Breivik’s assault fear the racism that fueled the anti-Islamic mass murderer reappears in a nation known for its progressive politics.
Most of the 77 victims of Breivik on July 22, 2011, were teenage Labor Party members – idealists enjoying their annual camping trip to the peaceful forested island of Utoya, in a lake northwest of the capital Oslo. Today, many survivors are struggling to keep their vision of their country alive.
“I thought Norway would change positively forever after the attacks. Ten years later, that has not happened. And in many ways the hatred we see online and threats against members of the Labor movement has increased, ”said Aasmund Aukrust, then deputy leader of the Labor Youth Wing who helped organize the camp.
Today, he’s a national lawmaker campaigning for a nationwide inquiry into the right-wing ideology that inspired the killer.
Aukrust fled the bullets that flew through the forest, then remained in hiding for three terrifying hours as he saw murdered friends nearby. A strong proponent of properly addressing racism and xenophobia in Norway, Aukrust has been the target of online abuse, including receiving the message that “we wish Breivik had done its job”.
Victims of the Utoya massacre came from towns and villages across Norway, turning a personal tragedy into a collective trauma for many of the country’s 5.3 million people. The survivors were joined by a shaken population who were determined to show that Norway would become more – not less – tolerant and reject the worldview that motivated the killer.
A decade later, some survivors believe the collective resolve is weakening.
“What was very positive after the terrorist attacks was that people saw it as an attack on the whole of Norway. It was a way of showing solidarity, ”said Aukrust. “But it’s gone. It was an attack on a multicultural society. And although this is one person’s act, we know their opinions are shared by more people today than they were 10 years ago.
Breivik hit the Labor Party institutions which he said were helping what he called “the Islamization” of Norway. Dressed as a police officer, he landed on Utoya, killing 69 members of the youth wing and injuring dozens more. He had previously murdered eight people in a bombing of government buildings in Oslo.
“It’s no accident that our summer camp was attacked. The hatred was against us because of our values of openness and inclusion, ”said Sindre Lysoe, a Utoya survivor who is now the general secretary of the youth wing of the Labor Party.
“After Utoya, it was too difficult for a lot of people to get back into politics. For me and for the company, it was very important to stand up and fight thanks to the good work that we knew we could do, ”he said. “Before July 22, politics was important, after it became a matter of life and death. “
After hearing about the Oslo bombing on “the darkest day of our lives”, he remembers his friends saying they were in the safest place in the world. Within minutes, the gunshots and screams began on the island. Today, Lysoe spends much of her time warning young people about the dangers of right-wing extremism.
In the years following the attack, the Norwegian security police, the PST, continued to view Islamists as more likely to commit acts of domestic terrorism than right-wing extremists.
But after the mosque attacks in New Zealand in 2019 killed 51 people and an attempt to impersonate Norwegian gunman Philip Manshaus just outside Oslo later that year, in which the the killer’s sister has died, the Norwegian security police have changed their annual assessments. He now classifies both forms of extremism at the same level of danger.
“As we moved forward in 2013 and 2014, European migration and ISIS became the prisms through which we saw terror. Norway returned to a narrative that extremism was largely foreign, ”said Bjoern Ihler, who escaped the bullets while swimming in the freezing waters around the island to seek safety.
“There is a failure in self-reflection. We miss the fact that Anders Breivik and Manshaus were Norwegian, but also a lot of extremists over the past decade who should have been caught by our social system, ”he said.
Since the attacks of July 22, Ihler has become an expert in the fight against radicalization, founding the Khalifa-Ihler Institute for the consolidation of peace and the fight against extremism, advising the European Union and chairing a panel at the Global Internet Counterterrorism Forum.
Planning the attack from his mother’s home in Oslo, Breivik tapped into an online ecosystem that demonizes Islam and questions Europe’s Christian future. Ihler, who spoke to dozens of Reform extremists, says these echo chambers on the internet need to be exposed to different voices.
“Regardless of ideology, the reasons they entered radical environments are all quite similar. It is about finding an identity and a space where you find a belonging. Whether they are Islamists or extreme right-wing extremists, their fundamental problem is to live in diverse environments, ”he said. “The tricky part is helping them feel comfortable with this diversity. “
Ihler still believes in the power of traditional Norwegian values such as democracy and rehabilitation in solving societal problems.
Breivik went after all of this, testing not only the country’s commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness, but also to non-violence and merciful justice. However, he still benefits from a justice that favors rehabilitation over revenge.
While his sentence may be extended if he is still considered dangerous, Breivik is serving his 21 years in a three-room cell with access to a gym and computer games, a luxury that would be unthinkable even for underage criminals. In other countries.
“It is right that he is treated humanely,” Ihler said. “We don’t want to take the same path of violence. We need to continue to show people that there are better ways to deal with the problems we have. “