Dehumanization – Preliminary Lessons of the Oslo Attack

Not much is new in all of this – innocents have been massacred by arrogant, deluded, self-important failed humans since time immemorial. Now Oslo and Shanksville are neighbors in a global world and a global failure.

It is difficult to make sense of the events in Oslo where almost 100 innocent people were murdered by one man, a man filled with hatred, self-delusion, and barbarism. Events such as this can only fill the hearts of civilized people across the globe with deep sorrow, compassion for the victims and their families, and for the people of Norway, but even more so for the ongoing failure of humanity which the attacks and murders in Oslo represent.

The Oslo killer not only murdered guiltless children and attacked the government there; his was an assault on civilization itself as all such attacks always are. Watching the internet feeds, viewing the horror of it all leaves one almost completely numb – totally horrified that a member of our species could be capable of such cruelty and malice.

But there must be some way to respond to this event other than numbed silence. The Prime Minister of Norway’s early reaction to these attacks was to declare that Norwegian democracy will emerge stronger as a result, that nobody can bomb Norway into being anything other than Norway. This was strong leadership amidst crisis, and he should be commended for it, but it remains to be seen what this horror will bring to Norway and the nations of Europe.

In the United States we are reminded of 9/11, and of Oklahoma City and all the terror attacks we have suffered over the last several decades. We think of our fallen fellow Americans lost in these horrors and wonder if it will ever end. Events in Norway suggest that there is no end in sight; now – that abominations and dehumanization are possible from people holding any political or religious views, no matter what the essential credos of those political or religious ideologies might instruct vis-a-vis the appreciation and protection of innocent human life. Ours is an ugly world of terror and brutality, nothing new about that, really – except for the scale and the instruments of murder deployed.

What do we do with the numbness and confusion that all decent people across the planet feel today as we try to comprehend in some small way our failures and the ever increasing challenges that failed human beings like the Oslo killer present to us? Is there some way that we can learn from these events?

The Oslo killer with his 1500 page anti-multiculturalism and anti-Islam manifesto now making its way onto the internet has obscenely strong political views… views which apparently motivated his murderous inhuman actions. Now that he has done these horrible things, do his political views matter?

A human being can only be judged by his/her actions; the murders of 93 innocent people in Oslo can only have been done by an insane person. The cold-blooded, methodical hatred of the killings can only be illustrative of insanity or evil in action (regardless of whatever cogency might be found in his 1500 pages).

We have seen so many times, certainly in the 20th century and, more recently, cold-blooded savagery given the cover of some rational or faith-oriented explanation or defense; some calculated moral inversion that justifies, as the Oslo killer likely did as he killed young people in cold blood, the most savage and venal anti-human actions imaginable.

This event of abysmal horror, so beyond comprehension – could be a “fork in the road.” One can only hope that something good – something not heinous can come from these events in Oslo on the 22nd of July, 2011.

We cannot comfort the families of those who were taken so horrifically taken from them, there is no punishment suitable for the perpetrator of these vile acts – there can only be a collective mourning and an attempt, poor though it might be, to comprehend and to prevent such things from ever happening again.

At the heart of the Oslo nightmare is the core of the failure of humanity in all its endeavors where interacting with others is concerned – the belief that some are superior to others and that those who are not superior are therefore inferior. Genocide is based upon this concept of the dehumanization of “the other” by failed people.

Where do we go from Oslo? Where do the roads from Oslo, Washington, Tel Aviv, Shanksville, Madrid, Jerusalem, Mumbai, London, Paris, Beslan, Bali, Kenya, New York City, and so many other cities, towns and private dwellings – all victims of vicious hatred and dehumanization – lead?

For the sake of all those who live on this planet, and all those who will follow us – and for the sake of the memory of our heroes who fought evil in their time so that we could live in peace and prosperity – surely we must come to a new place. This new place must be founded upon the idea of the essential value of human life. In that place intolerance will not be tolerated and ideologies and belief systems that dehumanize others and that condemn those who do not share in the same concepts will themselves be condemned.

There is no Utopia; there is only the ever growing challenge that we all must meet to appreciate the linkage that we share with all people and yet have zero tolerance for those who refuse to live within the family of humanity.

There will always be individuals who fail – people who “fall under the radar” and commit heinous crimes. Such failures are the fundamental reason why governments exist. We should always be vigilant against such human catastrophes such as the Oslo killer.

More importantly still we should be vigilant too against ideologies, governments, and any other organized thought system whose essential creed is the superiority of themselves in relation to “the other” – and the horrific things they feel justified in doing to those who do not adhere to their beliefs and are thus “inferior”. This is not to suggest that all ideologies or beliefs are equivalent, they are not. However, there must be an acknowledgement and acceptance of differences founded only upon our shared humanity.

In this hour of numbness and our almost universal revulsion and shock at the horror, and irreparable loss in Oslo, Norway and the ever on-display depravity and venality of some humans there is still hope that we can change. It is a small long-planted seed of a hope, but it is there – our tears and our determination to overcome our failures can only help it to grow.

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