How to live side by side in Norway?

The terror of Oslo and Utoya has given us Norwegians a shared trauma that will stay with us for ever. We are also bonded by our sympathy for the survivors, and the family and friends of the 77 people killed last July. In the aftermath of the attack we gathered in marches and public displays of sorrow.

But I fear this response differs little from how we would have reacted to a natural disaster or a fatal accident of the same dimensions. As the trial against self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik starts, Norwegian politics seem to be back to normal. Though Breivik's deeds, trial and psyche totally dominate the national media, we seem to be shying away from the political matters close to the terrorist's heart.

This winter Norway signed an agreement to return young asylum seekers to Ethiopia. These children have lived all their lives in our country. A coalition of organisations tried to stop this forced return to an unstable dictatorship, but the deportations seem likely to begin. The love that should be the answer to Breivik's hatred has not extended to these children, nor to Palestinians, Kurds or other refugees.

In the same manner, the debate on Islam and Islamophobia has hardened rather than softened after 22/7. In the aftermath of the killings, some anti-Islamic organisations and websites showed remorse, but that phase passed, and now the venom is even stronger.

Those who insist that Islam poses a threat to Europeans and Norwegians, and claim the past 1500 years is a story of a never-ending clash between a Christian civilisation and Islamic barbary, are just as insistent as before. Instead of opening a door to decent debate, the terror has cemented divisions.

Immigration and Islamophobia go to the core of Breivik's ideology. And even though many words have been used to declare how 22/7 has changed and will change Norway, it is still exactly the same people who oppose the inhumanity of our immigration policies, and the same rightwingers who criticise anything that looks like ''giving in to Islam''.


After the attack, prime minister Jens Stoltenberg stated that Norway's response would be more democracy and more openness. Politicians of all parties joined him in a declaration that the elections last September would be the nation's answer to the terror. People should turn up and vote to defend democracy. But the count showed no significant growth in turnout.

The debate and discourse on the terror of 22/7 is more and more focused on details: of the act itself, of the mistakes of the police and government and, most of all, of Breivik's biography. We are looking so intently into the eyes of the terrorist that we are becoming blind. We know all his guns, his suits and uniforms, his family and friends. He is becoming a celebrity, an icon of evil.

Stoltenberg, and many with him, said we should not let the terrorist change us. We have succeeded to the extent that debating Breivik's connection to contemporary political life has become taboo. I believe we should change after Utoya. We should reconsider the most serious question of them all: how do we deal with a future where people of different religions and cultures live side by side in Europe? And how do we deal with the ideology that tells us this is impossible? We need to poison the soil that Breivik grew from.

This is what is at stake during Breivik's trial: more than his punishment, it is how we will understand 22/7. What will our children read in their textbooks in 15 years' time? Will it be seen as the mad act of Breivik alone, or as the product of a growing Islamophobia and political hatred? The conclusion will follow us for generations. Guardian

Aslak Sira Myhre is the director of the House of Literature in Oslo.