Norwegian society and the Breivik verdict

Society Fellow Roderick Orner was in Norway last summer at the time of Breivik's crimes and spoke to us then about their impact on Norwegian society. We asked him for his views in the light of last week's verdict.

A panel of five judges took a brave decision in declaring Anders Breivik accountable for acts of terrorism on 22 July last year.  Had orthodoxy prevailed, he would have been declared insane. And in one fell swoop the construction of the bombing of the administrative centre of a demographic government and the killing of a significant proportion of the next generation of activists allied to a political party would have been attributed to a medical disorder.

A three-month trial culminated in the rejection of a pernicious propensity to medicalise interpersonal and inter-group conflicts that give rise to profound social, political and ideological tensions that are rife in Norway, Europe, more generally throughout the Western World and to some extent globally. 

By his actions, Breivik confronted Norwegian society with some of its most unpalatable truths and for 13 weeks he put Norway on trial. The debate is just about to start about how this country and its organisations have failed to give due recognition to minority ethnic, cultural or religious interests and what to do in years to come. In  consequence of its strategy to cover up many unpalatable truths about immigration, assimilation, integration and cultural diversity a breeding ground was created for fundamentalist views to take root and fester until eventually taken to their natural devastating conclusions.

For decades, under the cover of silence and a propensity not to want to know about anything that is inconvenient, Norwegian nationalism and Christian fundamentalism became the ideologies that dared not speak their names but would be revealed in murderous action.

Thanks to the judges, 24 August 2012 marks a turning point for Norway and all countries confronting the challenges of tolerant pluralism in beliefs, attitudes, opinions and debate.  Silence in all these matters that are relevant for us all is no longer an option, even if to speak freely inevitably causes offence.

The hope after Breivik, despite his long-planned attacks on basic human rights, is a future in which they are strengthened and a promise of dialogue and debate eventually securing greater tolerance, understanding and more equitable sharing of the world's wealth and its limited resources. Beyond the horizon lies a country which values ideas and quality of relationships more than complacent materialism, individualism and insularity.

Dr Orner worked in the British NHS for many years and is now in private practice. He is a former President of the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.