Owen Jones: Norway's dignity in the aftermath of Breivik is an example to the rest of us

What our rulers could learn from the country's Prime Minister

Share
Related Topics

Would the British political establishment have been able to resist demands for the restoration of the death penalty if such a horrifying massacre had taken place here? Support for capital punishment remains largely passive, but widespread; it occasionally surges in the aftermath of horrifying crimes, particularly when children are involved, such as the Soham murders in 2003. But what if a bomb detonated outside our Parliament, followed by the systematic, methodical slaughter of dozens of teenagers?

Norway is undoubtedly a very different society to our own: the last execution in peacetime took place in 1876, nearly a century before the last man was hanged in Britain. In the aftermath of far-right terrorist Anders Breivik's unbearable massacre, just 16 per cent of Norwegians advocated the return of the death penalty.

Even when the country remained in a state of shock just five days after 77 civilians were murdered, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg struck a defiant note that would have been unthinkable in many countries. "The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation," he said. No crackdowns on civil liberties, but a pledge not to allow a fanatic to succeed in eroding Norway's democracy.

And so Norway's justice system plays it by the book. It has been suggested that Breivik is insane, rather than consumed by an ideological hatred of Muslims and socialists: not a qualification generally given for Islamic terrorists, it must be said. The latest psychiatric assessment found that he was not "psychotic", overturning the verdict of an earlier criticised report, but his mental state will be determined during the trial. Breivik has declared that to send a "political activist" to a psychiatric hospital would be "sadistic", "evil" and "the ultimate humiliation": but it will be due process, not revenge, that determines where he will be locked up. Prison cells in Norway are the stuff of Daily Mail nightmares, and he could end up with a flat-screen TV, a personal trainer and even a rock-climbing wall.

Parts of the trial are televised, although key elements will not be – including Breivik's testimony, depriving him of the platform he clearly craves. What has already emerged is a smiling, unrepentant terrorist, weeping only at his own propaganda film. One of the most chilling moments was an exchange of handshakes with prosecutors, court officials and the psychiatrist: as if to say "pleased to do business with you", as they greet a man who mercilessly hunted down children to slaughter. But again, Norwegian court protocol was simply being observed, summing up this whole process – no exceptions would be made, however grotesque the crime.

And as Norway's justice system treats him as any other defendant, the country sends a defiant message that the horrors of July 2011 will not change it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future