Norway’s sense of justice

I take pride in my Norwegian heritage, but it’s hard to imagine life in a country where the worst sentence a mass murderer can get is 21 years. The Anders Breivik story has been painful to watch for a host of reasons – such a beautiful and peaceful country savaged by such a horrific crime; so racist and brutal a killer, somehow sprung from the land of the Nobel Peace Prize; a challenge so blunt to the Norwegian traits of tolerance and generosity.

And it’s painful, too, because that very tolerance and generosity will extend even to this monster who claims to have acted on behalf of the country he hurt so badly. Uff.

Decades ago, one of my relatives in Norway – an old merchant marine sailor — shocked me with a casually racist remark about Africans. Being young and stupid, I was tempted to generalize from that remark that Norwegians might actually be racists who hadn’t yet met many people of color.

A more defensible generalization, though, is that Norwegians seem to be people who will stick to their principles through thick and thin. Journalists covering the trial have quoted survivors and onlookers saying the same thing in different ways: Breivik tried to change us, to shake us from our ideals, but he couldn’t do it.

Breivik has expressed contempt for the 21-year-sentence that may follow a conviction, and says he should be either acquitted or executed. I’d say he has half a point. But then, my people left Norway a long time ago, and my principles aren’t what they should be.