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Copeland: Should we view the Oslo attack as an arbitrary act or as a reflection of wider political and religious extremism?

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1 August, 2011
By: Daryl Copeland

Former diplomat; research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

The attacks in Oslo were certainly not arbitrary. But while I would in no way seek to belittle or minimize the individual consequences of this tragedy, I believe that actions of this type must be very carefully considered and assessed.

Although the motives and techniques associated with terrorism have evolved over time,  political extremism and religious violence have been with the world for millennia. However shocking such expressions of anger, alienation,  deep disaffection, or whatever the animus, it is important to keep the significance of such events in perspective.  Terrorist incidents remain relatively rare, and as generators of mass casualties pale in comparison to war, pestilence, famine, and poor public health, to name just a few of the issues which warrant much more concern than they generally receive.

Put another way, persistent underdevelopment, state failure and abiding insecurity kill millions of people annually; terrorism kills thousands, and not every year even at that.

Car accidents represent a much more serious threat to individual well-being.

In my view, it is the reaction of Norwegian people which has been more instructive than either the violence itself, or the various interpretations of the media coverage of this story – and terrorism is fuelled by saturation coverage. The steadfastness, determination and commitment of Norwegians to maintaining their open and democratic society without recourse to excessive over-reaction or extreme security measures has been nothing short of inspiring.

It is also worth noting  that Norway, and not by coincidence, has chosen to play a leading  role internationally by encouraging collaboration in the pursuit of solutions to such pressing global challenges as climate change, diminishing biodiversity, food and water scarcity, conflict resolution, and so forth.

Unlike the USA and many other NATO members, participation in what was until recently referred to as the Global War on Terror has not been among Norway’s foreign policy priorities.

In that respect , and indeed in terms of many other domestic and international policy choices, Norway provides an excellent example worthy of further study and, in some cases, emulation.

Canada and Canadians could learn much.

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