It is under a darkening shadow that I write after the bombings in Boston, unexplained as of yet. Though it was through a breaking news item on the BBC website that I learned of the event, it was on Norwegian TV that I watched it unfold, watched new facts and quotes come in over confused, hectic looking scenes.

It was quick, therefore, for me to look at the events in Boston against the attacks perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway almost two years ago. Though I didn’t ask on the evening, maybe through politeness, maybe just timidity, I wondered whether my hosts, the parents of my girlfriend, were drawing connections for themselves; the bombs in the city center almost seem like a recall of the bombing in Oslo and the start of that unspeakable act. The setting too, a marathon, a strange target, to blow up fun-runners almost seems like you want to be seen as evil, as evil as shooting defenseless teenagers at a summer camp.

Two years ago noone would have given Norway a noticeable warning of any terror activity, a relatively small nation, known for the cold, the vikings, the oil and a prosperous society, always on the list of best places to live. The unexpected element surely goes toward creating our reactions.

And the reactions will be noticeable, where America decides to go next will probably be a different sight to the Oslo mourners, movingly standing in peaceful, defiant silence. This will not change us, the strong message. The US tends to have a more reactionary tone to it, you can already hear the conspirators scheming new plots I’m sure; It was the government, Al Qaeda, The Black Panthers, who knows?

With my background in the Middle East, both living in and writing about the region, attacks like these can seem overstated, and the complaints will come quickly about western media being saturated with stories about other westerners being hurt while ignoring the plight of non-westerners around the world; the same day 31 people were killed in a series of car bombings in Iraq.

There’s the complaint about the Breivik trial too, they keep wondering whether he’s insane or not – when do people wonder whether Islamic extremists are insane? Or can a westerner only commit atrocities if he’s less mentally able like those Arabs must be?

The answer to that question is slightly more complicated, of course, what with the Norwegian court system being different from countries having had similar attacks. What we should really compare is the treatment of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma city bomber, to Mr Breivik. McVeigh was found sane and tried as such, Breivik too was found sane last year. Interestingly, Hasoon Aswat, friend and collaborator to Abu Hamza, has had his extradition to the US opposed by the EU Court of Human Rights, on the grounds of mental illness. Whether insane or sane, the verdict can be used different ways, an old habit of the Soviet Union was to brand opponents as insane.

Norwegian society seems unaffected, at least from a passing outsider’s point of view. I’ve had days of drinking and talking, often heatedly, with people around Bergen and it’s only now that I realise noone has mentioned Breivik. The city of Bergen is like a wet fairytale town and maybe it’s an underlying denial that leaves these things unsaid, a longing to keep the old way alive, but I can’t see that. Norwegians seem intelligent, the country is arguably one of the best run in the world and the obvious fact for people was that the events during the summer of 2011 were truly the exception, a total anomaly in the idyllic mountainside.

Norway has realised that to effect any changes in it’s society would be a reactionary and pointless tactic, an unnecessary response. America has to come to terms with the fact that this isn’t a total anomaly, whatever kind of extremism has caused this there is something underlying, some kind of flaw, which is continuing to let these things happen. Reactionary politics need to be put aside, let’s not answer violence with violence, at the very least, lets wait for the facts to come forward.

BY: James Tennent

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