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Post details: Long Dark Day in Oslo

Long Dark Day in Oslo

Scores of sons and daughters fell victim to a senseless act of terrorism in Norway, the country known for its consistent neutrality, well funded social programs and tolerant citizenry. The seat of the Nobel Peace Price Committee became a shell-shocked witness to an unexpected lapse of humanity. Anders Behring Breivik, a self described anti-Muslim crusader detonated a truck bomb in the governmental quarter in Oslo and shortly afterwards went on a shooting rampage that killed almost hundred adolescents in a Youth Camp of the Norwegian Labor Party.

I am not a parent so I am not going to pretend that I can fathom the horrors of having to bury a child. It is fundamentally wrong and beyond the pale of reason. A premeditated carnage of these proportions perpetrated by an individual from within the community should always be a cause for an especially deep reflection on its basic principles and common attitudes. Governing a human society is a complex process in which no question should be exempt from hard scrutiny and no answer should be taken for granted. One of the thorniest problems that this tragedy brought to the foreground is that of mass immigration and its attendant evils. Can they be placated by the lofty ideals of religious tolerance and multicultural coexistence?

In a world that is quickly turning into a global village clarifying the rules of social engagement should be on the front burner. After all, the freedom of one ends where the freedom of another begins. On this chaotic planet of ours, an adult discussion of acceptable boundaries is way overdue, whether they pertain to morality, ideology or religion. Crazy people cannot be stopped, but sometimes their acts could be made less likely to occur if their concerns were taken out of a taboo drawer and displayed in the open. Interactions between individuals, groups of people or even whole nations can be very intricate and understanding their dynamics and implications would go a long way towards preventing unnecessary bloodshed.

Imagine two neighbors, the Joneses and the Smiths. They can make friendly visits, they can borrow daily necessities, they can gossip across the fence, they can even laugh at their differences before returning back to their castles. They don't need to share any common values or opinions to get along just fine. As long as they have separate homes their relationships could be nearly idyllic. But imagine a tornado smashes one of the homes and one family asks to move in with the other. That's a game changer. Small things which were irrelevant just a week ago become suddenly points of hot contention. From now on sacrifices and compromises will have to be made.

Culture is hard to define and its demarcation lines are hazy. House rules, personal manners, cherished traditions, unwritten mores, eating habits, religious feelings all fall within its jurisdiction. In some cultures you have to take off your shoes, in some you don't. In some houses you can't leave dishes on the coffee table, in some you can. In some families you can howl in the bathroom, in some you can't. Across sufficient distances incompatible cultures can coexist without much ado, in close quarters, however, the differences have to be reconciled, truces must be negotiated, house rules need to be synchronized. When you live under one roof, even small and seemingly unimportant details will matter. It is crucial that all members of the household are in agreement on what constitutes politeness and civility, because if they don't some crazy uncle may take matters into his own hands and start shooting the guests because he just cannot stand the crumbs left on his beloved sofa every day.

Relationships between nations are similar. As long as we live within our own borders, variations are but a spice of life whose only casualty maybe an occasionally raised eyebrow or an awkward vacation moment. Troubles arise when large groups of people start moving around and settling in foreign lands, whether in pursuit of better economic opportunity or in response to unbearable political oppression. This is where digressions from the norm become widely magnified and a conscious effort has to be made to iron out the wrinkles and turn diversity into harmony - which is neither easy nor spontaneous. The arriving guests need to be observant of the old house rules, while the host nations should give newcomers enough time and space to adjust. That of course is easier said than done. Ideally, different segments of the society would engage in a dialogue to delineate the assimilation process.

Unfortunately, in the practical world this dialogue is mostly formulaic and shallow. The voices most easily heard belong to the extreme ends of the spectrum: the fascist-like xenophobic paranoia barks on the one side and the lethargic Soviet style pseudo tolerance crows on the other. Every issue has two sides, two opposing narratives, but the proponents of extreme views are rarely the best arbiters of the deeply grounded and very often subtle confrontations. In other words, a fuddy-duddy who panics at the sight of a person with a different shirt color won't resolve these sensitive matters any better than a slob who disinterestedly yawns that anything goes.

I think it is time for the mainstream folks to start pondering some hard questions. How do we make the interacting cultures enrich each other without destroying their characteristic idiosyncrasies? How do we prevent our global village from being gradually reduced to the lowest common denominator of a sterile and politically correct crudeness? How do we preserve the cherished values of our ancestors without being hostile towards those who are oblivious of them and yet come in good faith? If we can reason all of this out, the voices on the fringe will have less opportunity to hijack the debate into dark woods of barbarism.

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