I'm still reeling about the terrible news coming out of Norway right now. How could this have happened in such a peaceful nation? One of the only "new" presentations I ever developed while on Fulbright there was on violence in the U.S. Edvin Svela, a teacher of really wonderful students at Oslo Katedralskole, asked me to come in to talk with his students about this topic. The students had a lot of questions:
- Why are guns so pervasive in the United States?
- Why is it so easy to buy guns?
- What is the rationale behind the death penalty? How can death be an appropriate sentence for anyone?
- Why are a disproportionate number of those executed people of color?
- Why is violence such an integral part of American identity?
These questions reveal how distant these students felt that violence was from their everyday lives. According to these students, in Norway, gun permits are granted only to hunters who have taken an intense course on gun use. They couldn't understand why anyone else would need a gun, nor could they understand how violent acts could be so embedded in a culture.
Their innocence is why I'm even more upset about what happened there. When I read last night that there were over 80 victims on Utøya, I was sick. I went to bed wishing that there was some way I could wake up to better news. I think about the wonderful students I worked with in Norway; I hope that none of them were on Utøya yesterday . . . I wish that no one had been there. I wish that nothing had happened at that camp.
I didn't have to tell the Kate students that violence is wrong, damaging, and too often cyclical. They already knew that, and I hope they still do. The worst outcome of the gunman's act could be more violence. I hope that Norway will maintain its more pacifist views as it moves through this difficult time--I hope that as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said: "You will not destroy us, you will not destroy our democracy and our idea for a better world."