One greatly sympathises with the peace-loving people of Norway for the tragedy that took place on July 22 — two almost simultaneous attacks on its capital Oslo and a nearby island. Almost unbelievably, one Norwegian rightwing fanatic has shot and killed at least 80 people during a youth rally of the ruling Labour Party, while another seven were killed by a car bomb near the office of the prime minister in Oslo. Having said that, one is a bit relieved that no Muslim was involved in them. We also hope that this gratitude is not expressed too soon.
TV commentators in the West had to stop speculating about yet another adventure by al Qaeda because of the quick declaration by the Norwegian police that the man killing the youths on the island had been arrested, that he was a native Norwegian and that he had possible links with the righting extremists in the country. Norway has a very negligible element left over from the neo-Nazi group that showed muscle in the country some years ago. One cause for concern is that if the act of terrorism was the work of a deranged individual, similar to ultra-right American Timothy McVeigh, then who was behind the car bomb attack that has wrecked a whole sector of the capital city?
We hope that in the coming days, new facts are not revealed about possible connections to al Qaeda, which would mean increased focus on Pakistan. Norway has a Muslim community with a strong contribution from Pakistan, mainly from Gujrat, which the Norwegian ambassador in Pakistan has often praised as a most useful contributor to the richness of Norwegian culture.
Before the Norwegian police came out with facts, some western commentators felt that it could be the much feared ‘next attack’ on Europe, a continent that has been spared al Qaeda’s wrath now for some time. The reasons given were many: That Norway was a Nato member with troops stationed in Afghanistan and some involvement in the siege imposed on Libya; that some of the blasphemous Danish cartoons may have been reprinted in Norwegian newspapers as a part of the ‘freedom of speech’ debate; and that Norway should be made to get out of Afghanistan just as Spain was made to get out of Iraq after a bombing of trains in Madrid. Attempts by the media to link the killings to the country’s substantial Pakistani presence were proven wrong and underline the dangers of racial/ethnic profiling when dealing with cases of terror.
The car bomb did look suspiciously like an al Qaeda attack but it is more likely that the killer followed in the footsteps of McVeigh and placed the explosives-laden car in the city square before going to the youth rally with his arsenal of guns. The ‘lone wolf’ theory is more tenable because Scandinavia has been more or less free of terrorist attention, apart from Denmark, which was unsuccessfully targeted by al Qaeda from Pakistan and for which Pakistani American David Headley is under trial in the US after having made some confessions extremely embarrassing to the government in Islamabad.
Norway could very well call the attack its 9/11 because the last time it witnessed carnage of such a scale was during the Second World War. It has been more peaceful than Sweden, where a Turk tried unsuccesfully to explode a bomb in Stockholm in December 2010. In the scale of loss of life, Oslo has suffered less than Madrid (191 killed) did in 2004, but more than London (52 killed) did in 2005.
It has been only three months since Osama bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad and everyone in the world is looking to Pakistan to tackle the contagion of terrorism spreading to the rest of the world. With more than 35,000 lost to al Qaeda and its local affiliates, Pakistan deserves sympathy and help for which it must prove itself worthy by fighting its own war against terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2011.