July 22: Remember and reach out with a vision for peace

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States
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July 22

Photo: Stig Andersen / Flickr
Roses of Oslo: in the aftermath of the attacks, roses were everywhere, including this bunch with the Latin phrase for “grant us peace.”

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

As I write this, today is July 22, 2019, eight years since the terror on the island Utøya in Norway.   

Like many others, I clearly recall where I was when I first learned of the terrible events. I sat behind my desk where I worked at Microsoft at the time and took a break to check the news on the MSN website, and when I opened my browser, I saw the story.

Only a few weeks earlier, I had been in Oslo to perform at Frogner Park for the Fourth of July celebration in a crowd of 20,000 people. I had felt so safe, so secure. These things just didn’t happen in “Little Norway,” but the unthinkable had happened, and somehow I knew that things would never be the same.

For Norwegians, July 22, 2011, was much like our Nov. 22, 1963, or Sept. 11, 2001. I also recall the assassination of President John F. Kennedy very clearly, although I was only a child. Everything stopped, school was let out, adults were crying, there was massive confusion, and we wondered if the world would go on as before: it was a loss of innocence for Americans. Likewise, an attack on American soil on 9/11 brought an earth-shattering shock to our nation. These are events that we would never forget and should never forget.

The outpouring of love in Norway after July 22, 2011, will also not be forgotten: the roses, the speeches, the concerts, the silent moments. The Norwegian-American  community on this side of the Atlantic also came together in sympathy and solidarity. But as we continue to remember this terrible day, the greater question is what can be done so that we may never see another day like that again?

All over the Western world, populist and fascistic political factions and regimes are on the rise, with an uncomfortable, frightening rhetoric. We hear it in the United States; we hear it in Europe; we hear it as far away as New Zealand, a peace-loving nation that saw unimaginable horrors in the name of Islamophobia this March.

Even in Norway, there have been disturbing trends after July 22, 2011. The far-right Progress Party, to which Anders Behring Breivik belonged as a youth, has fought to roll back migration and benefits. During her tenure as Minister of Justice, Public Security, and Immigration, Sylvi Listhaug pursued aggressive restrictions on immigration, particularly for Muslims.

In Norway, there are still fear-mongering undercurrents that tap into a history of exclusion, including discrimination against the native Sámi. While there had been improvements in recent years, statistics show that immigrants from the Middle East are chronically underemployed, even if they hold doctoral degrees from Norwegian universities, and they are even made fun of for speaking “kebab Norwegian.”

There are other disturbing trends with an oversimplification of thought on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Progressives around the world tend to hold up countries like Norway and Sweden as shining examples of equality, yet most of them have never been there, let alone lived there. They have been sold a romanticized view of Scandinavia as the best countries in the world. Norwegians themselves may have even started to believe it, even though they know their everyday lives aren’t perfect. This can become a dangerous worldview when self-awareness and critical thinking stops.

Officially, Norwegians and Swedes may have had the most generous response to the refugee crisis in Europe, but I wonder how many of them have ever invited a Muslim into their home. I always remember the story shared with me by a friend in Stockholm, who invited an immigrant colleague to a dinner at her apartment. The evening had been a first for him: although he had lived in Sweden for over 30 years, he had never been invited into a Swedish home.

Another friend and colleague of mine, Melannie Cunningham, the 2018 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Laureate, reminded me that equality, harmony, and peace actually do start right at home, in your very own home—and I believe this is a lesson that all Americans and Norwegians alike need to take to heart. You can also start in the virtual world of your Facebook list of friends: if don’t find anyone of a different ethnicity or skin color, you may want open your eyes to others around you. In the end, we all have much to share and learn from each other.

So today and in the days following July 22, I ask all of you to remember and to dare to reach out beyond your comfort zone. Let’s not ever forget, but let’s also choose not to live in fear. Let’s visualize a better world, as we build a global society based on equality, friendship, and peace.

Lori Ann Reinhall is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and state representative for Sister Cities International, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

For a brief history of the July 22 attacks at Utøya, see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Norway_attacks.

This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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