Could we stand up to Norway-style terrorism?

July 26, 2011
Times Colonist
Jack Knox

Late one night many years ago, on a street just a block or two from where the Oslo bomb exploded Friday, I was propositioned by a prostitute.

"Sorry," I stammered, "but I have a cold." Didn't want to seem impolite, not in Norway, where everyone was unfailingly courteous.

What is so frightening about the murders in Norway - sensible, peaceful, affluent Norway - is that the country seems so familiar, both in look and feel.

Plenty of parallels can be found between Canada and Norway, says Ken Christie.

He heads the Human Security and Peace Building program at Royal Roads University, is the author of America's War on Terrorism: The Revival of the NationState Versus Universal Human Rights. He also spent four years teaching in a Norwegian university, was there on 9/11.

Both countries are progressive, outward-looking. "They both see themselves as doing good in the world," Christie says.

They also have an openness that bad people can exploit. "It highlights this dilemma in liberal democracies like Norway and Canada," Christie says. "Liberal democracies are built on a certain amount of freedom and trust."

We're now left wondering how Norway will react to the killings - and how we would, under similar circumstances.

The Norwegians are saying the right things, about how they won't allow the murders to diminish the values of an open, decent society. But then, Americans said the same thing after 9/11, only for the voices of reasoned calm to be drowned out by shrill, hysterical paranoia. "Experience should teach us to be most on guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent," said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in 1928. "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

We Canadians get smug when we look to the south, where Tea Party crackpots and conspiracy-freak birthers get heated up by a media-fuelled fire. (By the way, Rupert Murdoch covered himself in more glory after Friday's attacks. In Britain, his Sun tabloid reacted to the attack with the front page headline 'ALQAEDA' MASSACRE, while in the U.S. the guest host on Fox News' The O'Reilly

Factor initially blamed the attack on "what appears to be the work, once again, of Muslim extremists." She continued: "In the meantime, in New York City, the Muslims
who want to build the mosque at Ground Zero recently scored a huge legal victory.") Note that the Norwegian killer quoted passages from Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

It would be unfair to dismiss this as a U.S. phenomenon, though. After the Cold War, Christie said, the world saw an explosion of what he calls the "politics of identity" as religion, ethnicity and alienation conspired with a sense of insecurity. Unease about multiculturalism slid into xenophobia.

The 1990s saw rapid growth of anti-immigrant groups in Europe. "It's the fear of the other," he says.
Certainly Canada is not immune to the violence of twisted ideologues, the most obvious example coming in 1989 when misogynist Marc Lépine shot 28 people, killing 14 women, at Montreal's École Polytechnique.

We have our share of white supremacists, too, though it's hard to know whether to take them seriously or dismiss them as a handful of misfits hunched over their computers.

We only pay attention when something violent happens: Jeffrey Hughes, linked to a group called Northwest Front Canada, was shot to death in a 2009 confrontation with Nanaimo RCMP that is the subject of a coroner's inquest that began Monday, while this May two Calgarians reported to head the Western European Bloodline were charged with what police called a random murder.

A Norway could just as easily happen here. How would we react? After 2001, Canadians dutifully fell in line with other countries in acting as though the answer to terrorism was to flail at shadows, playing a game of Whack-a-Mole in which airport security guards poured out passengers' shampoo, groped their footwear and banned bowling balls, reacting to yesterday's threat.

Christie remains optimistic. Look at how people reacted after suicide bombers killed 52 and wounded more than 700 in London in 2005. "The British just chose a stiff upper lip and said, 'We've got to keep calm and carry on.'"He expects Norway to follow a similar path, to keep its values. Would we?