Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reassessing our perspectives on terrorism: lessons from Norway

Almost a fortnight has passed since 77 innocent lives were lost in the terror attack in Norway, but the reasons for the tragedy remain uncertain.

The questions surrounding the tragedy won’t go away easily, particularly because the incident took place in one of the most peaceful and tolerant countries of Europe.

We should take inspiration from Norway, a country that is determined not to change its tolerant way of life. Instead it vows to encourage more openness and to fight back against the terror attacks that shocked the nation and the world through more democracy and more tolerance than ever before.

“Norwegians will defend themselves by showing they are not afraid of violence and by participating more broadly in politics,” promises Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

The determination and solidarity of the Norwegian people was evident in the rose march held outside the Oslo City Hall in which some 250,000 people participated. Tens of thousands of Norwegians have rejected the gunman amidst them and his anti-immigrant rhetoric by strewing the streets of their capital city with thousands of flowers until Oslo's florists ran out of blossoms.

Arne Walther, Norwegian ambassador to Japan, said that the gatherings on the streets of Oslo and across the country with roses and candles “share grief and comfort those who have lost their loved-ones, and not least send a strong message of unity in safeguarding the democratic values upon which our country and open society are built.” Walther called 2011 “a year of tragedy and sorrow” for Norway, identifying the attacks as a “one-man made human atrocity.”

Even amidst the sorrow that Norway is facing, the rest of the world can take a cue from the country.
Norway has shown that this is not the time to retreat away in fear and mistrust, but instead to increase engagement with one other in debates and discussion on how to make communities we live in more open, democratic and inclusive.

This is a moment to together defend our freedom to express different thoughts, even as we condemn violent extremism and strengthen our resolve for a smarter security system.
It is a time to reiterate daily to our children that no view is illegal but that violence used to express a view is unacceptable.

This is a golden opportunity for all of us to revisit ideas that will further enrich our pluralistic existence on this planet. It is time to redefine the relationship between the majority and minority population in a fair and creative manner.

Today, societies everywhere are struggling to find the proper balance between preserving valued traditions and living side by side with individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs. The spirit behind integration and assimilation everywhere is to make everyone feel that they are an integral part of life on this planet. The need of the hour is to make newcomers in any society feel at home and to provide space where a common identity is allowed to eventually flower.

At the policy level the task is to manage and harness the potential of diversity both in education and unemployment. Experts warn that poor integration, alienation and resentment within immigrant and minority groups is fodder for radical groups forever on the lookout for new recruits amongst disenfranchised populations.

Author of Love in a Headscarf Shelina Zahra Janmohamed regrets that as soon as news of the Norway killings broke, some news commentators were quick to point a finger at Muslims, who after September 11 became highly visible.

“The attacks of September 11 changed the nature of the discourse about the place of Muslims and migrants in the West. Last week's tragedy in Norway can and must change it again,” writes Shelina.

Shelina does not think that this is the time for triumphalism either, but believes that the loss of these 77 innocent lives should be a turning point. She would like the collective mind of the world to focus on resetting the terrorism narrative.

“This is the moment to subject previously unchallenged views to rigorous scrutiny. All those involved in the discourse around extremism and violence would do well to take away some big lessons from the past week to steer us away from the polarised trajectory we are on. First, we must be more precise in the language we use for such incidents. Just as it is not right to describe the September 11 perpetrators as "Muslim" terrorists, so it is not right to describe Breivik as a "Christian" terrorist,” suggests Shelina, who is a British Muslim writer.

At this time, societies that felt threatened by outside forces are beginning to look at terrorist tendencies within their own society as well. Shoma Chaudhury, managing editor Tehelka, a New Delhi weekly news magazine, believes it is time to reassess our perceptions of terrorism, even down to the language we use to describe it.

“It is important for all of us to correct the way we talk, write and look at the Muslim world and to learn to celebrate diversity,” says Shoma.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS