Last Updated: Mon Jul 25, 2011 00:41 am (KSA) 21:41 pm (GMT)

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza: Norway’s Moment of Truth

People gather to offer flowers in tribute to the victims of Friday’s twin attack in Oslo outside the cathedral of Oslo July 24, 2011. (REUTERS Photo)
People gather to offer flowers in tribute to the victims of Friday’s twin attack in Oslo outside the cathedral of Oslo July 24, 2011. (REUTERS Photo)

In the fall of 2010 I visited Oslo for a conference. I was amazed to see the levels of openness, friendliness and ease of movement. The airports, hotels, shopping centers had none of the rigorous security procedures as witnessed in the cities of India, US or even Afghanistan which have been targets of terror. A profound sense of gloom pervades my thought process, when I foresee the future changes in the openness of Norway, after the July 22 attacks that killed 92 people. But that’s a reality Norway will have to face and live with. It’s a 9/11 moment will be etched in the people’s memory. It surely cannot not be business as usual, if recurrences of such attacks have to be prevented.

Coming barely a fortnight after the Mumbai attacks, in which the investigators are still grappling for clues in establishing the identities of the perpetrators, analysts were quick to point out the Al Qaeda angle. This was not so surprising given Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan and the warnings it had previously received from the group. That speculation, however, was put to rest after the arrest and confession of the attacker, who has been linked to both the attacks.

In this instance, there was obviously no such connection with the Jihadi terrorism. However, terrorists worldwide are known to learn replicate and emulate from past attacks, indulging in copycat techniques. The July 22 attacks has strong parallels with the Oklahoma city bombings both in terms of venting grievances against what the attacker perceived to be unjust and hence, unacceptable and the modus operandi he adopted. It also highlighted the threat such open societies face from within.

While Oslo has played a key role in conflict mediation and resolution in theatres like Sri Lanka where they were infamously known as “White Tigers’, they certainly fell short of looking inwards in terms of their own security research and consequent preparedness. The intelligence inputs provided by US seem to be argely ignored. In leaked diplomatic cables dating back to 2008, American diplomats had pointed out to the fact that Norway seemed complacent about terror threats and criticized gaps in its intelligence. The cables released by Wikileaks further provided forewarnings of simmering anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic tensions in Norway.

The Islamist threat looms large over other NATO countries who have taken part in the Afghan war. But Norway, in spite of deploying 400 troops in that country since late 2001, appears to have ignored the risks it brings upon itself.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that Norway must retain its values of openness and transparency, despite the attacks. “What we are known for is an open society, a safe society, where you can have political debate without being threatened”, he said on July 24. He further said, “That’s what is under attack today, that is what is being threatened, and we have to act to stop that from happening”.

It would be pertinent to question if it is possible to do so any longer, unless Norway wishes to keep its vulnerability intact for lone terrorists or terrorist groups to exploit. The July 22 incidents will change the nature of an open society despite such assertions.

Members of the ruling Labour Party’s youth movement, the AUF, have said that they would not bow down to terror. But despite such public posturing, Norway will have to take some measures to securitize itself, in contrast to the values of an open society it has flaunted for years.

Moreover, Norway needs to take collective action with other European states. It needs to look at the loopholes that allowed the terrorist to take advantage of and it needs to plug them in order to be secure in future.

It would require a mix of security measures and open forums as well as policy debates to address the issue of right wing radicalism and ways to address the previous threats.

The measures will have to be long term, not just to prevent the July 22 type of attacks by a radicalized individual, but also the probable threats from the terror outfits from outside.

(Dr. Shanthie Mariet D’Souza is Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore (NUS) in Singapore. She can be reached at shanthied@gmail.com and tweeted @shanmariet)

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