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Anders Behring Breivik

When I wrote last week about the two terrorist attacks that had taken place in Norway, I was also making the point that these were not especially significant in terms of the Norwegian relationship with Sri Lanka. I was indeed worried that some Sri Lankans might see this as an opportunity to vent their resentment at Norway for the encouragement it was thought to have extended to terrorists, and I wanted to make it clear that I felt this would be inappropriate. In fact, though there have been one or two regrettable pronouncements, by and large the reaction has been suitably sympathetic.

Obviously there was some sort of link, in that Sri Lanka had suffered appallingly for terrorism for a long time, and Norway had been involved in trying to help us to overcome this, though as I have noted, their involvement was not always of the wisest. That however was in line with the attitude of some Sri Lankans too, so we should not blame them. On the other hand, a few recent pronouncements, after the LTTE was destroyed in Sri Lanka, seemed unnecessarily provocative, and I believe Erik Solheim in particular spoke out of turn some months back. However he too has been more sensible recently, while the Norwegian Foreign Ministry has by and large behaved circumspectly, in a manner I had thought indicated its comparative professionalism, as opposed to the ambitious Mr Solheim.

Utøya Island - Norway

So, despite the occasional continuing dissonant voice from Norway, balanced by the recent arrest of one of the more extreme characters trying to revive the LTTE, I thought it necessary to preserve a distinction between our own victimization by terrorists and what Norway suffered last week. But I was shocked out of this position when I saw an aerial view of Utøya Island, where the main tragedy happened. It is shaped exactly like Sri Lanka, even down to a small peninsula at the top and an indentation on the East Coast which looks like Trincomalee Harbour.

And then I read, in the article to which the picture was attached, the last quotation, of a Norwegian girl who said, ‘It is unbelievable that a Norwegian guy could do this to his own country.’ That phrase struck me then as symptomatic of a whole mindset about terrorism, which needs to be adjusted, if we are to get rid of terrorism worldwide, or at least reduce its impact.

First is the assumption that terrorists are alien, not like us, and they harm others, not people like themselves. This is obviously a part of the truth, because terrorism thrives on othering, on hardening distinctions between those who act and those against whom they act. This has been encouraged by the dichotomizing the West engages in as a matter of course, in terms of its own dialectics, and I suspect we would all be much better off if we had a more oriental view of our relations, in which we thought in circles rather than straight lines, in terms of overlapping inclusivities rather than oppositional compartments. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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