Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dangers of Disengagement and Complacency in Democracy

What If We Reached Out?
One Woman’s Answer to Terrorism

By Grete Roland

Questions continue to nag at me regarding the Oslo terrorist of 2011: How could a person raised in a democracy, a Norwegian with privileges not enjoyed by the vast majority worldwide, commit such callous acts of murder? How has this lone man’s terrorism affected the society and the nation? Also, how can such a murderous rampage be prevented from happening again in Norway and other democratic nations? Just as one person was capable of murdering 77 people in Norway, one woman found the answer to theses nagging questions.

Acts of terrorism have reverberated across the planet and resulted in many tragedies. In the western world, we readily conclude that a suicide bomber in the Middle East is a religious fanatic brainwashed at an early age to be a martyr for a cause. The woven pattern varies, but the Oslo terrorist is cut from the same cloth: he believes he’s a hero and a martyr. He bragged recently that his intention was to kill all the unsuspecting, unarmed people, mostly youth, on the Utoeya fjord island near Oslo.

No doubt, every society has someone with a screw loose, some societies more than others. Therefore, it was inevitable that even Oslo, the icon of peace in the world, would have one lurking in the shadows just waiting for an opportunity to gain world notoriety for the age-old notion of superiority over those who are different. Although predators exist everywhere, some have a more grandiose, ego-inflating political agenda. Commentators have said the tragedy could have been averted: if only the Norwegian authorities had paid more attention to terrorism in neighboring Sweden, the United Kingdom, and other European countries; if only it hadn’t been so easy for the predator to go unnoticed while making bombs and acquiring weapons; if only the security on the island had been present for such a prominent political gathering; and if only a rescue mission had been on alert; then fewer deaths may have occurred or maybe none at all. These all have validity and security has been tightened in Norway 'Hindsight is one hundred percent,' the saying goes. And there is another 'if only' to consider.

After the initial shock and repeated 'if only' laments spanning the news media, I thought about my aunt and what she had said and done some years ago while I was living with her in Oslo. After World War II, women had joined the workforce and became more educated. A few were stepping up to leadership positions. This situation resulted in a lot of necessary and available jobs in cleaning, maintenance, constructing, and other work not requiring a high level of education and responsibility. Pakistan, on the other hand, was brimming over with unskilled workers. When Pakistanis were invited by the government, they came willingly to Norway with aspirations for a better life, if not for themselves, for their children.

My Aunt felt sorry for the newcomers. We had long talks about the Pakistanis and the sometimes positive and sometimes negative news coverage of native Norwegian reactions. She had discussions and arguments with her colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Most of them accepted the new immigrants, yet felt they should keep to their side of the city or return to their own country after a specified time. As long as they didn’t have to be with THEM, it was all right that they stuck to the menial tasks no one else wanted anyway.

Aunt G. felt differently: The Pakistanis must be suffering to have come from such a warm climate to snowy, icy Norway. They must miss the many bright, sunny days in their home country. They must be lonely amidst the cool, reserved Norwegians. They must be gagging at the strange food. Their children were definitely caught in the twilight zone. Already, 'mobbing' or bullying was taking place. The darker-skinned, black-haired children, whose parents barely spoke Norwegian and could hardly protect them, were either tormented or ignored, and all the while the schools were teaching them to be good Norwegians. "Those poor children..." she sighed. So, she decided to join them She found the place where Pakistanis met to socialize A cooking group was formed in the 'foreign area,' and she drove all the way to the other side of town to reach out to them, actually to cook with them My dear aunt was an excellent cook, able to whip up French ├ęclairs, Argentine empanadas, and Brazilian stews besides our well-loved Norwegian dishes. She was eager to share her recipes and to learn Pakistani cuisine.

We used to sit in the living room after dinner for coffee and a smoke She told me about the Pakistani women, their stories, and the spices they used in their cooking She didn’t discuss religion with them. Her ideas were diverse and developed over many years of reading and experience living in several countries Who cares about religion when there's a delicious meal to prepare and savor! She had crossed the ethnic divide to make friends with people who were different from a distance yet pretty much the same up close with feelings of loneliness, anger, frustration, and the strong desire to belong to their new country. Not the least to mention, they were all enjoying themselves Aunt G. was her very own welcome-to-Norway committee.

There are potential angels and devils among us, our religious friends often say. How can we know which is which or who is who? I believe we really should try harder, as she did, not only to know our neighbors but also to know the others, those different and marginalized in our society. We should take heart and talk openly about our feelings and encourage others to do the same. We should have compassion for the lonely and alone, for the different ones, whether by ability, by origin, or by distorted thinking. For the latter, we should be vigilant, especially by attention to those whose anger or obsessions appear abnormal. As a country increasingly diversifies, isolation will only undermine a healthy and safe, democratic society.

It also struck me that just as Christians believe there is an Antichrist, there is an 'Anti-democratist' or Fascist whose goal it is to destroy democracy in every-which way. Clearly, they are polar opposites: fascism vs. democracy, slavery to the State vs. individual freedom of choice For democracy to survive, education is crucial, for example, knowledge of history, sociology, psychology, and anthropology. Along with these disciplines, the humanities are equally important to nurture creative, critical, and logical thinking. Education includes the media, newspapers and magazines along with television, the internet and iPhone Without knowing how to interpret information discerningly and truthfully, any information tool is useless or dangerous.

Two broad personality types require your watchfulness: the unintentional type who is apolitical and indifferent and the 'anti-democratists', who intentionally undermine democracy. The first one shuts out different views by refusing to listen and discuss them. This kind of person, metaphorically 'blind-deaf-dumb,' has lost the point of democratic process. Such people practice avoidance out of fear The second one is the disempowered person who has a deeply ingrained anger directed toward a scapegoat. Such people have developed 'blaming the other' as their life's purpose. Terrorist fanatics fall into this category, whether brainwashed or born susceptible to its creed They are so volatile that inaction, that is, not contributing to democracy (typical of Personality Type 1) will bring them to the fore. Inaction will let democracy crumble, particularly in economic crises and after natural and human disasters, as history has shown.

Fascism in a democracy is considered a mental illness whereas in a fascist society, it is considered normal. Budding fascists are the disempowered children, the abused, the neglected, the silenced and the vainglorious. Fascist Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia have revealed infamous examples, and, sadly, we still can find many of this ilk around the world. Wilhelm Reich explained the fascist-psychosis in pre-World War II Germany, Italy, and Japan, et al. with its roots in authoritarian (fascist) upbringing and political passivity. Fascist-psychotics are in the minority in free, educated societies. However, as soon as basic needs become threatened, they rise like the phoenix out of ashes, in this case, ‘obscurity’ and appear boldly at the surface.

A lone fascist, like the Oslo Youth Assassin cannot single-handedly destroy a democratic government; nevertheless, he can shake it up and even cause other quasi-or like-minded individuals to steer us away from democracy. He can create an uneasy feeling and above all fear, upsetting our basic human need to feel secure in our environment. When a person thinks she’s drowning, as an African tale illustrates, she will jump onto the venomous snake swimming By Who would risk her own safety? Who would risk the safety of her own child, mother, or father? So many children were murdered in Norway, 2011. What can be more frightening than that? This fear is the springboard for fascists, vainglorious as they are, to gain control of people - by assuring safety and stability.

To give a personal example, while studying in Germany, I ran out of money and had to work for a trucking company I sat in a large office with all the desks pointed in the direction of our boss. She would harangue about how safe it was under Hitler and how she missed those days. Totalitarian or fascist governments are all the same; they give the appearance of total safety while, clandestinely, they root out and murder the opposing voices and undesirables, according to their perceptions We must conquer our complacency and fear If we don’t, the fascists will seize power, and then we are all doomed - unless we practice vigilance and above all practice democracy. We can keep asking questions about terrorist acts, or we can rally around to protect our democracy. At the top of my list for alleviating the misery brought on by fascists, for eons now, is the one-on-one level of human communication, best in person and second best via phones and the internet Democracy demands open communication through dialogue, discussion, and free journalism. At the basic level of interpersonal communication, at the grassroots, democracy is strengthened.

Those who were murdered have died the hero's death and the survivors are likewise heroes. The dead are true martyrs of democracy and it is fitting that statues are erected, books written, and music composed to commemorate them We should be reading their names often and not those of the terrorists and assassins. We should keep the following 'what if's' in mind: What if we have frequent small gatherings and invite our neighbors? What if we engage them in dialogue? What if we give each other a safe haven of kindness and compassion? What if we discuss the common good and our freedoms? What if we show respect for the other person and truly listen to what he or she has to say? What if we make the effort to befriend people who are different? What if we sincerely take a huge step further and reach out to the other side – just as one brave woman did in my family?

Grete Roland has a PhD in Foundations of Curriculum & Instruction, Comparative International Education, with a minor in History and Minority Groups. She spent five years among U.S. Native Americans and Norwegian Sami in North Cape for her dissertation research. Grete continues to research cross-cultural education and majority-minority dynamics. Grete has taken on a role of advising FDA and DAPC First Nations policy.

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