Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Norway's Response to Hate

Norway's Prime Minister (centre) at bomb site.
 'We are going to answer hatred with love.'

Who was the speaker? Not some Norwegian religious leader but the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg speaking at a memorial service for the victims of the terror attacks that shocked us all.

In a remarkable way the people of Norway, led by their Prime Minister, have given the world a lived example of the saying of concentration-camp survivor Viktor Frankel: 'The last and greatest of the human freedoms is the freedom to choose one's response in any given circumstance.'

'The bullets struck dozens of our young people but they were aimed at the entire nation,' Stoltenberg said, speaking in Oslo Cathedral. 'I think 22 July will be a very strong symbol of the Norwegian people's wish to be united in our fight against violence, and will be a symbol of how the nation can answer with love.'

He quoted the words of a young woman who had survived the shootings: 'If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we can create together. Violence creates violence, hate creates hate.'

In another speech the Prime Minister refused to use the 'war on terror' rhetoric, language that only increases fear and hate, and has been used to enact repressive legislation and restrict freedoms in other countries. Instead he spoke of how it was 'absolutely possible to have an open, democratic, inclusive, multi-political society, one that is not fearful and afraid of violence, and one that can still be secure.'

'In the middle of all these tragic events, I am proud to live in a country that has stood firm at a critical time. I am deeply impressed by how much dignity and compassion I have seen. We are a small nation, but a proud people. We are horrified over what has happened. But we will never abandon our values. Our reply is: more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivety.'

Speaking in parliment Mr Stoltenberg said that Norwegians need to reflect on the tone of debate within the country, on 'what we have thought, said and written.... We all have something to learn from the tragedy.' He told MPs: 'We can all have a need to say "I was wrong" and be respected for it.'

The Scriptures tells us: 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good' (Romans 12:21 ). In the St Francis Peace Prayer we ask for strength to sow love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness.

What a gift to the world to see a nation that has suffered from such dark evil and yet responds by turning resolutely toward the light.