Your Questions Answered: Q&A About Norway

Watching online and international news coverage since the terrorist attacks in Norway on July 22nd it has become abundantly clear to me that people outside of Norway are having a hard time understanding our culture, our history and most importantly right now our reaction to what has taken place. I’m not particularly surprised by this – for outsiders, and especially North Americans – Norway must seem like a bizarre country where everything is turned on its head. And in many ways it is. Our culture, our politics and our attitudes towards social and political issues are fundamentally different to those of our fellow people on the other side of the Atlantic.

There is also a serious problem with translation. Norwegian is a notoriously complicated language with many dialects and two official and very different written languages. It is also a language that relies heavily on reference. Many words and sentences taken out of context lose their meaning completely and auto translation solutions like Google Translate often have a hard time making heads or tails of them. In addition there is a cultural translation barrier. Many words, when translated, turn into words with a different reference. And when that happens meaning is lost.

In an effort to help non-norwegians understand what is happening over there in my home country I will answer questions and find reference materials and links for anyone interested right here on this site. If you have a question, if you are looking for information or if you are confused about something, leave a comment below and I will make every effort to answer you. I’ll post all the questions and answers in this post as a running log so come back as it gets updated. I’ll also do the same for all questions asked through social media including Twitter (@mor10), Facebook and Google+ (gplus.to/morten). You can also send me a question directly through the contact form.

*Updated from the top*

Q: Do you think he wrote his “manifesto” himself? Is Roid Rage being talked about in the Norwegian press at all?

A: From reports it sounds like the manifesto is a patchwork of different content. In the preface he also says something to that effect. It is heavily littered with quotations from published authors and bloggers, some of it cut and paste, some in edited format. There is also a section, referred to as a “diary” that is clearly his own work. The last entry there is on July 22nd a few hours before the attacks. Some experts have said it is impossible that he could have written it all himself but I think it is the work of one person. As for roid rage there hasn’t been too much talk about it. Though he did take steroids he doesn’t look big enough to have gotten to that stage IMHO.

Q: What kind of camp took place on Utøya exactly?

A: The AUF summer camp is not a camp in the sense that most North Americans think of camps. It is a gathering of the regional members of the AUF (youth branch of the Norwegian Labour Party) to discuss and formulate policies. It is not as some have suggested an indoctrination camp run by the Labour Party to fill young minds with political propaganda. The Utøya camp is run by and for the members of the AUF and the AUF actually owns the island. A point of interest: Many of the policies and opinions held by the AUF and its members do not correspond to those of the parent Labour Party. There are often quarrels between the two and the AUF in general tends to be more radical and left wing than the Labour Party.

Questions by Cord Jefferson in preparation for his excellent article Why the Norway Shooter May End Up Serving a Life Sentence:

Q: As I understand it, Norwegian law says that nobody, regardless of crime, will be sentenced to longer than 21 years in prison

A: “Life in prison” in Norway is 21 years with a possibility of parole after half the sentence is served. However there is a discussion taking place that the terrorist will be tried for Crimes Against Humanity, paragraph 102, for which the maximum sentence is 30 years in jail. If he receives this maximum sentence he will be released after 30 years unless something changes.

An alternative is to send him into what is called “forvaring” or “containment”. This has a maximum length of 10 years but after this the courts can extend the containment in 5 year increments indefinitely.

The one thing that is a certainty is that there will be no reintroduction of the death penalty. Norwegians don’t consider the death penalty an actual penalty.

Q: Are you comfortable with the idea the perpetrator might only receive 21 years, or would you like to see something more severe? What is justice to you?

A: I am a strong believer in the Norwegian legal and penal system. The system focuses on rehabilitation and restoration, not just punishment and retaliation. Many a murderer has served his or her sentence and is now free to roam and contribute to society. And in all but the most unusual cases these people get on with their lives and are not a continuing problem. In an extreme case like this however I don’t see a future in which the legal system will let the accused out. I imagine they will find some way of keeping him locked up indefinitely under the current legal statute.

Am I satisfied with this? Assuming he is held until the end of his life at age 80, yes. This guy should be made an example of. He should sit in jail, preferably in solitude, and serve as proof that even though he committed the worst crime against the country since World War II, and even though he treated his victims inhumanely, we, the society, will still treat him as a human being. He should be held without visitation rights, without access to news, letters or anything else from the outside. He should be left to spend the next 40 years contemplating the fact that his actions didn’t lead to the outcome he wanted.

I think in all of this the key is that last sentence. We, as a society, have to make sure the acts of this man do not produce the results he was looking for. And to do that we need to treat him as the cowardly criminal he is: with humanity. I pity him for his lack of understanding of the human condition.