In 1936 the Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg was asked by the chairman of the Norwegian Student’s Society to write a poem that could serve as a motto for its members. The result was 14 stanzas that Grieg called Til Ungdommen, ‘To Our Youth’. Seen in the light of its time, with fascism emerging around the world, it is no surprise that the leitmotif of the poem is that if you feel you are surrounded by human beings who threaten you with hate, force and violence, you should fight back with love, freedom and peace. If you can make your enemy go through life carrying “sunshine, bread and spirit” he has no hand free to carry the sword, is Grieg’s message to the youth.
Grieg died as a war correspondent in 1943 but his poem is still sung to the melody of Danish composer Otto Mortensen today whenever Norwegians, Swedes or Danes gather to exercise their democratic right to protest against something. Almost too often, if you ask me. Early last week it was sung by 30-odd Danish protesters raging against the felling of a bunch of half rotten firs in Østerild Plantation to make room for a wind turbine testing facility, half of them in mourning over the “massacre of nature”, the other half full of woe and despondency at the prospect of having the view from their houses disturbed by a few wind turbine blades.
But only a week later, after the incomprehensible tragedy in Oslo and on the island of Utøya last Friday, the poem has regained its rightful proportions. If you watched any news coverage of the event, you’ve probably already heard it. If not, here’s what it sounds like when 200,000 Norwegians insist on fighting terrorism by “protecting the beauty, the warmth, as if we carried a child gently in our arms” at the town square in Oslo last Monday (Grieg’s original poem, a somewhat bland attempt at an English recreation, and a literal translation can be found here):
The message of the poem and the attitude of the Norwegians was rammed home by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in his speech at the memorial ceremony at Oslo Cathedral:
“We are a small country, but a proud people.
We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values.
Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naïvety.
No one has said it better than the Labour Youth League girl who was interviewed by CNN:
“If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create.” “
I don’t care if he’s a Social Democrat and I’m not. I want a Prime Minister like that in my country.
Unfortunately I and my fellow Danes are not blessed with politicians of such stature. Not because of a general inadequacy in our gene pool, but because we, the people, don’t possess the intellectual refinement it takes to recognise true courage and fruitful reason when it’s right in front of us.
Our internalisation of Grieg’s poem furnishes an incisive example of that. In Denmark, the song isn’t known by its title, but by its first line, Kringsatt av fiender, ‘Surrounded by enemies’. And its point about standing firm in your belief in the power of good when facing evil has gone completely over the heads of the Danes.
Two hours. That’s how long it took from the death of 76 people in Oslo and on Utøya on July 22nd until Danes began to use the absurd tragedy to once again assure themselves that this was just another example of how Denmark was the best country in the world. Our 24 hour news channel, TV2 News, saw no reason to wait for the actual facts of the event before they constructed the narrative. Instead of using the airtime to talk to people who actually knew what was going on, like say Norwegians, they invited two Danes to the studio: the historian, Scandinavia whiz and royal family connoisseur Lars Hovbakke Sørensen and the TV station’s own ‘terror expert’ Niels Brinch.
Both of them quickly and briskly determined that these horrible acts had the unmistakable watermarks of Al Qa’ida and were the inevitable result of Norway’s “naïve and political correct resilience against enhanced border controls and surveillance of the lives of civilians”. They got so caught up in their own misconstrued version of reality that even when the first descriptions of the tall, blond Norwegian-speaking perpetrator started to roll in, they still held on to their theory explained by Hr. Brinch as “an example of Al Qa’ida’s new strategy of using home-grown Muslim converts who are able to operate under the radar of homeland security”.
Later the next day when the identity, motives and inspiration of the culprit were known as being respectively: 1) Christian Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, 2) killing as many as possible of those responsible for ‘the Muslim invasion of Europe’, and 3) Denmark’s attitude towards immigration, Danes had the choice between self-examination or construction of a new narrative that could reinstate Denmark to its natural position as the envy of the rest of the world. You’ve probably already guessed the chosen path.
In the latest ISSP International Values Survey only 24% of the Danes disagree with the postulate that one should defend one’s country even if it’s doing something wrong. So when everyone could read in Breivik’s Manifesto that “Of all the Western nations, Denmark has mounted the strongest popular resistance against Islamisation” and “In contrast to Denmark’s defiance, other Scandinavian countries surrendered to Islamic pressure as fast as humanly possible”, 76% of the Danes had a problem.
The solution was this: Breivik wasn’t inspired and encouraged by the deeds of the Danes – he was just completely misunderstanding the words of the Danes.
So that’s the situation in Denmark right now. We are not in any way discussing the 24 revisions we’ve made to the Immigration Law since 1984. We are not discussing why Denmark heads the list of countries voicing agreement with the ISSP postulate that “interaction with foreign cultures is a threat to our own”. We aren’t discussing if limitation of immigrants’ right to vote is counterproductive to successful integration. We are not talking about the implications it has for our national character that we calculate the income and expenditure of different ethnic groups in our national budget. We are not debating the reasonableness of punishing Danes who fall in love with non-Danes. We are not confronting our government ministers when they tell us that “certain nationalities only come to Denmark to lay a burden on our society”. We are not discussing the validity of our conception of ‘difference’ as ‘hostility’ and how it constantly constitutes the paranoia of being ‘surrounded by enemies’.
The only thing we’re talking about in the wake of events in Norway is that we are defenceless victims of Anders Behring Breivik’s misinterpretation of the frank and open debate culture that is the envy of every other country in the world.
I disagree. Words don’t kill. Opinions in the hands of undisputed ignorants kill.
Let me exemplify this by sharing my opinion about what should be the destiny of the killer from Norway.
I don’t want him to rot in Hell or whatever kingdom of death his sick and twisted belief system provides him. Here’s what I want for Anders Behring Breivik: I want him to rot in the Kingdom of Life. I want to make sure he stays alive long enough to comprehend the scale of the evil that he has perpetrated. And for the rest of his, hopefully, many living days I want him to witness the fruitful interaction of different views and ways of as many cultures, nationalities, political parties and ways of life as possible. But whenever he looks one of us in the eyes I want that useless piece of shit motherfucker to see only this: The expression of disgust at one man’s deeds mixed with the firm belief in the goodness of mankind, as demonstrated by Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway.