Biggest moments of 2011 #22 A massacre in Norway
This is the second instalment in our 23-item countdown of the Biggest Moments of the Year. Each day until the Friday before Christmas, we’ll be counting down the events that marked 2011. Our list contains moments from politics, pop culture, tragedy, sport and more. This is one of the moments that had all of us talking this year.
On July 22, Andres Behring Breivik, 32, massacred 77 people and injured 151 in a pair of terrorist attacks on Norwegian officials and civilians. First, Breivik planted a car bomb in Oslo’s executive government district near the Prime Minister’s office. The bomb killed 8 and the PM escaped unharmed. Less than two hours later, Breivik arrived at the island of Utøya where a camp for Labour Party youth was being held. Posing as a police officer, he gunned down scores of people.
There was no light in the darkness of this story. The New York Times reported: “As soon as the shooting started… people panicked, running in all directions, tumbling down the island’s rocky hill in an attempt to reach the sea. Even after many made it into the water, the gunman calmly and methodically shot at those who were swimming.”
What happened next
Police took 90 minutes to get to the island and arrest Breivik. Although it doesn’t really need to be said, Breivik is certifiably unhinged. Just this week, he was found by a pair of Norwegian psychiatrists to be criminally insane. One said he had developed paranoid schizophrenia and was psychotic.
Just before the massacre, Breivik emailed a thousand people a “manifesto” of his beliefs. The manifesto was eerily similar to an Al-Qaeda jihadist instruction manual. Breivik’s writings revealed he hated Muslims and wanted an armed movement to protect Europe’s Christian culture. Just like Al-Qaeda want to expel the West from the Middle East, Breivik’s principal aim was to drive Muslims from Europe.
As you’d expect, this set off a firestorm of debate about race and ideology. It didn’t help that when some commentators initially heard about a massacre, they quite explicitly pointed the finger at Muslims, saying they must have been behind the attacks.
It also didn’t help that Breivik praised four Australian conservatives – John Howard, Peter Costello, Cardinal George Pell and Keith Windschuttle – in his writings.
What we learned
Put a nutcase, a hateful perversion of religious thought or culture and some weaponry together and you’ve got yourself a threat to people’s lives. No matter what country they live in. No matter what religion. No matter what weapons they hold.
We also learned that hard-core ideologues will take advantage of any related happening in their chosen battlefield of ideas to further their own argument. Not realising that they’re all the same obsessive type of person, just belonging to different tribes.
How The Punch covered it:
Some people blamed the Bible for Breivik’s massacre, others Muslims, others video games and heavy metal. We blamed just one thing: hate.
We led our coverage with a piece by Geoff Lemon that took issue with commentator Andrew Bolt’s initial assumption that Muslims were behind the attacks:
In an action replay, it goes: “In latest news, here is some evidence that would definitely prove that I’m right. Oh, wait a minute, that evidence doesn’t exist. Even so, I am actually right, and let’s proceed with that assumption.”
Alan Baxter followed by having a go at how some stores in Norway had banned shoot ‘em up video games in the aftermath of the massacre. “There’s been no word from bookstores on when they’ll remove the Bible from their shelves”.
Nor should there be. If only we could take off the shelves the way people pervert what those books really mean.
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