I am not sure that anyone lacking a strong background in Norwegian culture and politics can really make heads or tails of the senseless violence in Norway, though D. Gregory Smith makes a worthwhile effort. I’m certainly not going to try.
What is illuminating, though, is what our response to this tragedy says about our own political discourse. Both Glenn Greenwald (charging that, contrary to popular reality, Norway is in fact responsible for violence in some way comparable to what it has suffered) and Glenn Beck (comparing the Labour Party camp that was the scene of most of the violence to a Hitler Youth camp) responded in the ways that were callous, self-serving, and inaccurate.
They don’t need exhaustive responses. Glenn Beck is being himself; his allegation that he finds indoctrinating youths in politics ‘creepy’ makes a lot less sense when considering his own status as a misguided culture warrior who attempts to press politics into every part of our lives. As to Greenwald, well he’s smarter than Beck so he takes some knowledge to refute, but here goes – Norway is indeed involved both in the Afghan and Libyan conflicts, but he would be wise to consider that in both cases, there was a state of war before NATO became involved, and in both cases, NATO forces have been responsible for far fewer civilians deaths than those of their adversaries, and have been in Afghanistan responsible for broad increases in human rights and living standards.
But the bigger point isn’t that these two Glenn’s are wrong or mean-spirited. It’s that it took so little time for American commentators on different sides of the political spectrum to cheapen 76 innocent lives to ever so slightly push their pre-conceived political notions. D. Gregory Smith points out that whatever the motivation, terrorism is possible when ideology defeats humanity. I don’t think either Glenn is likely to resort to violence any time soon, but if they are indicative of American political culture, the lens of ideology seems to be obscuring our perceptions of our common humanity to a troubling degree.