by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Confusion. These are all words that could describe the immediate reaction to the horror of the July 22 sequential terrorist attacks against the civilian population, government, and political summer camp in Norway.
As images of the carnage and details of a sadistic and carefully planned execution of explosives and gunfire began to surface, the world reacted with sympathy, promises of aid, and condolence. Indeed, on July 22, we were all Norwegian; bound together in sadness and eventual perseverance surrounding a tragedy in an otherwise peaceful European nation.
Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist, is charged with exploding a car bomb in Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Oslo at 3:25 p.m., outside the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and other government buildings. The explosion killed eight people and wounded several others, with more than 10 people critically injured.
The world has seen this before. We do not like it, we do not condone it, but we are rarely surprised by it. Terrorist attacks like this often occur around the world. Still, it was the news that this happened in Norway that shocked the masses.
But it is what happened next that would horrify any sane person. Less than two hours later, Breivik entered a youth camp organized by the youth organization (AUF) of the Norwegian Labour Party on the island of Utoya in Tyrifjorden, Buskerud, disguised as a policeman, and opened fire, ultimately killing 68 attendees.
At a July 23 press conference, Stoltenberg and Justice Minister Knut Storberget addressed the country, calling the attacks a national tragedy and declaring them the worst atrocity in Norway since World War II. Stoltenberg valiantly stated that the attack would not hurt Norwegian democracy and said the government's answer to violence would be 'more democracy, more openness, but not naïveté.'
NORWEGIAN LESBIAN COUPLE SAVE 40 LIVES
Heroism and humanity do not know a sexual orientation. There are those guttural and primal moments in time - like September 11, 2001 - when race, religion, and sexual orientation are of no consequence. When the brave rescue workers ran towards the burning World Trade Center towers in New York on 9/11, their orders were simple: save lives. The police and fire chiefs did not tell their men to rescue everyone except for the Gays. After all, at the end of the day, we all belong to humanity.
Such was the case on that horrific July 22 Norwegian day when Breivik went on an hours-long killing spree on Utoya Island. A Lesbian couple is credited as being among those who rushed to the aid of young campers.
Hege Dalen and her partner Toril Hansen were eating dinner in the camping area opposite Utoya Island when gunshots and screaming pierced the air. The two women drove their boat to the island and fished out of the water young people who were injured and in shock and transported them ashore. Bullets came close to hitting the boat several times, but Hege and Toril paid the immediate danger no mind as they forged ahead, returning to the island four different times.
Media reports and witness accounts indicate that the two women saved at least 40 people from the clutches of the killer.
NORWEGIAN WASHINGTONIANS REACT
Seattle and the surrounding area are home to a large and vibrant ethnic Norwegian community. Among them, a visible and proud LGBT community exists. Seattle Gay News spoke to some in that community, to get their reaction to the July 22 attack that has changed Norway forever.
As an ethnic Norwegian growing up in the Seattle area, Erik Bjarne Witzoe was raised with the knowledge and pride of his culture. In the summer, as a child, he would visit his grandparents' cabin at Lake McMurray in a beautiful area known as Norway Park (owned by Sons of Norway). While in elementary school, Erik studied many books and listened to music from Norway, eventually educating himself on the language at age 14. As an adult, his life was changed forever after he traveled to his homeland of Norway to visit with relatives in 2003 and 2009. The trip, he says, connected him with history and generations that came before him.
'When I flew into Gardermoen Airport outside of Oslo in July of 2003, it was an emotional journey landing in Norway,' Erik told SGN. 'I choked up when I realized I felt so connected to this land and it was a feeling I could never really explain.'
Erik took it upon himself to educate other Seattle-area Norwegians to experience that side of themselves, 'especially in the LGBT community. I launched Syttende Gay in 2006, which has more than doubled through the years. I am pretty much the community promoter of our Nordic culture,' he said.
On July 22, Erik would learn of the tragedies that struck the people of Norway and he would learn that it was an ethnic Norwegian who was responsible for it all.
'This domestic terrorist attack is so against the grain of what we are as people: giving, proud, and respectful to others,' he said. 'Despite the immigration issues that face not only Norway, but Europe in general, these current challenges are always handled with civility amongst the people. So this one Norwegian, who decided to ultimately handle this immigration problem with the worst kind of violence, was not of a sound mind and is a greatly disturbed man.'
Erik, alongside many LGBT Norwegians living and working in our community, condemns the violence but stands firm that Norway will endure with dignity and perseverance.
'The one man who perpetrated this act does not change our culture and all the wonders of Norway and its people. & It's a culture of caring and it is those good attributes that will lift us up in this time of great sorrow,' he said.
Paul Simenson, a Norwegian-American who served in the U.S. Army and now lives in Seattle, also condemns the July 22 attacks on the people of Norway. 'My heart goes out to Norway, and the people's response to this tragedy has made me more than proud,' he told SGN.
Simenson says that, in particular, it is the government's response that it would meet this crisis with more tolerance and democracy that he is most proud of.
Kelly Hughes spends her time promoting the cultural study of Vikings in Seattle, and explained to SGN, 'In the Nordic community, we are closely knit with the thread of traditional culture, so when tragedy hits one of the Nordic countries, we feel extra touched by it.'
Kelly is Icelandic-American.
'It's hard to really know why one of our own would commit such an atrocious act,' she said. 'However, we need to simply know he was a human with a very serious mental health issue. It was a greater issue that went beyond race, creed, or culture.'
'The tragedy itself is beyond words on such a horrific level,' Doug Miner, a local Gay Seattle resident of Norwegian descent, told SGN. 'The Norwegian people and their spirits are beyond words on such a positive level. Over time, their world will balance back out.'
Doug says he knows people who were directly affected by the shooting and he 'can't even begin to fathom how to cope with such a loss.'
'It's not even that it was a loss, but how these kids were slaughtered that makes it even more sad,' he said.
The staff of Seattle Gay News would like to offer its condolences to those touched by the violence and wishes the people of Norway all the best.
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