Can Norway Avoid Adopting a Post-9/11 Mentality?


Norwegians believe penalties for serious crimes in their country should be tightened in the wake of a shooting and bomb attack that killed 77 people in July, an opinion poll showed Monday.

In a survey of 1,283 people conducted six days after the July 22 attack, 65.5 percent said the penalties were “too low” and only 23.8 percent believed they were suitable, newspaper Verdens Gang reported.

Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year old anti-Islamic immigration zealot who has confessed to the bombing in Oslo and shooting spree on a nearby island, has been charged by police with terrorism, which carries a sentence of up to 21 years.

Such reactions are understandable. Perhaps Norway’s notoriously lenient penal code should be toughened, though according to every source I’ve found, Norway has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, under 1 per 100,000 population. When you’re that close to zero, the costs of lowering the stat may outweigh the benefits. The 1-and-Under Club: Homicides per 100,000 pop. Whatever you believe about punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, and the rest of criminology, you have to acknowledge the risks of overreacting to tragedies. For example:

Per Sandberg, chairman of the parliament’s Justice Committee, said stiffer sentencing will be on the agenda when party leaders resume debate on August 15.

“I am sure when we come to August 15 the political discussion will be about sentences, searches by the police and everything else around this case,” Sandberg told Reuters.

“My party has always wanted that. I believe there will be new measures.”

Here we have a politician already stretching the public’s demand for longer sentences into a mandate for increased surveillance and “everything else.” That politician, by the way, belongs to the right-wing Progress Party, which once counted Breivik among its members, so he’s hoping for a twofer: a chance to distance the party from the villain by calling for harsh punishment and an excuse to push through laws that his party “always wanted” — laws whose enforcement will probably fall hardest on the Norwegian Muslims whom Breivik hated. Nice.

But Norway may not take the path the United States charged down after 9/11:

Justice Minister Knut Storberget told VG he was “not surprised” by the calls for stricter laws. “We must listen and have a debate, while not draw hasty conclusions… it’s important that policy isn’t shaped in a state of panic.”

Hanne Marthe Narud, a political scientist at the University of Oslo, said Norway’s parliament is likely to stand against immediate public calls for harsher sentencing and more surveillance.

“A lot of these attitudes we see now are reflections of the terror event,” she told Reuters, referring to the VG poll.

“I don’t think the politicians will change legislation on this point as a spontaneous reaction. It may be considered, but there will be a broad debate first.”

Norwegian diplomat Eirik Bergesen, who was in Washington, D.C., on 9/11, wrote the following a week ago:

The typical step a society takes after a terrorist attack is towards stricter security measures. It happened after 9/11 and has continued to happen in the US in the decade that is soon to have passed. Obviously, as a symbol of Western civilisation the US is a more prominent terrorist target, and concise parallels are difficult to draw. However, Norway has surprised foreign observers I have spoken to, and maybe even ourselves, in that we instead have managed to take a step back. Through careful reflection proving that there are other ways of maintaining order than merely through more rules and regulations. That increasing the social trust, in a society that already enjoys amongst the highest levels of social trust in the world, is a more rewarding option.

I hope that careful reflection prevails.

Seems I Gave Jeffrey Goldberg Too Much Credit

Jeffrey Goldberg apparently doctored his Friday post on the Norway attacks to make himself look less bigoted and ridiculous. Read “Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, and Journalistic Ethics” and “No Shame at The Atlantic?” for details. I’ll go ahead and resolve that question mark by directing you to this.

Was I Unfair to The Atlantic?

On Friday, I included The Atlantic in a list of sources that “ran with the unsubstantiated Muslim-terrorist angle” immediately after the attacks in Norway. I was referring to a they-hate-us-for-our-freedoms piece about an alleged 2010 plot by three Muslims against Norwegian targets. In my haste, I overlooked the July 2010 dateline and wrote as if the article were newly issued background on a pattern of unprovoked Muslim hostility toward peaceful Norway. That was sloppy of me, and I corrected my post to note the error.

But it turns out that The Atlantic did re-post the year-old piece Friday as background on a pattern of unprovoked Muslim hostility toward peaceful Norway. The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg explains:

The question arises, then, why did Jennifer Rubin make this outrageous assertion about jihadism and Norway?

Well, perhaps it was because she was reading the Atlantic. Shortly after the bombing in Oslo, the Atlantic re-posted on its home page a very interesting piece from last year by Thomas Hegghammer and Dominic Tierney entitled “Why Does al Qaeda Have a Problem With Norway?” …

So it would have been possible, from reading The Atlantic alone, to suspect al Qaeda involvement in the Norway attacks. I myself suspected this, and wrote so.

Boy, did he. In a post subtly titled “Mumbai Comes to Norway” — we know what sort of people blow up buildings in Mumbai, right? — Goldberg let his extraordinarily active imagination loose on the situation, even working in a plug for his beloved Iraq War. Goldberg was sure to include an escape hatch, thus proving that he’s smarter than Will Saletan and Dave Weigel, but it’s a doozy:

Of course, this could [be] an act of right-wing extremism, perhaps in reaction to the rise of radical Islamism in Europe. I’m as confused as the rest of you are about the authorship of these attacks. There have been early claims of responsibility by jihadist groups, followed by denials, followed by reports that a blonde “Nordic-looking” man was the one who opened fire on the youth camp. Was this “Nordic-looking” man an Adam Gadahn-type, or someone not motivated by jihadist ideology? Stay tuned.

In other words, at the time Goldberg composed the post, before he added any updates, he already knew that the only reported suspect was not your stereotypical al-Qaeda operative. Yet Goldberg charged ahead anyway, asserting that the killer was probably inspired by radical Islam one way or the other. Look at that first line again: “Of course, this could [be] an act of right-wing extremism, perhaps in reaction to the rise of radical Islamism in Europe.” Not “perhaps in reaction to the very presence of Muslims in Norway” or “perhaps in reaction to the Jared-Loughner-esque voices in some loon’s head.” No, our misguided young Aryan must have been driven to madness by THE RADICAL ISLAMS!!!!!

I believe we’ve just witnessed the birth of a new Twinkie defense.

UPDATE: I expected some competition for stupidest response to this post, but I think I can go ahead and declare a victor. Goldberg had no evidence that the attacks were undertaken by Islamists of any race or ethnicity, there was nothing particularly Islamist about the choice of targets (no synagogue or church or even military base), and there were reports that a “Nordic” guy (who could have been Muslim, of course, but there was no evidence of that) was responsible — and Goldberg still decided to ride the Clash of Civilizations Express. Obvious conclusion: Goldberg is credible and I’m a racist. Well, I’ve learned my lesson: from now on, my default assumption whenever a mass murder takes place will be that the perpetrator is a Muslim (or suffering from Muslim panic).