Yesterday’s events in Norway will have sickened everyone. We have become almost accustomed to bomb attacks, but the mass shooting of young people, that still has power to shock in a way that nothing else can. As we pray for those who died, those who survived and those who must cope with the aftermath, we naturally ask questions about the perpetrator. What kind of mind could conceive of such horrors, let alone carry them out? Our first thought is usually to say, he must be deranged or a fanatic. If he is mentally ill, unable to judge between right and wrong or unaware of the link between action and consequence, what can we do but grieve, for him as for the dead? But if he is a ‘fanatic’? What do we do then?
Fanaticism is zeal gone wrong. Indeed, the origins of the word, from the Latin fanaticus, meaning ‘of a temple, inspired by a god’, show very clearly both the energy and the essential unreasonableness of the fanatic. You cannot argue with someone who does not admit the constraints of being human, of living in society, who does not consider himself bound by the rules. The irony is that Norway has been, until now, one of the most open and tolerant societies in the world. Will it remain so?
Some will no doubt speak of a loss of innocence but there is something darker still: a loss of freedom, of confidence, of humanity itself. Global terrorism has made us suspicious of one another but it takes time to recognize the threat from within. ‘Security’ is now the watchword at our airports and public buildings. We must expect as much in Norway henceforth. Something else died yesterday in Oslo and Utoeya: trust in one another.