Minneapolis singer-songwriter Kevin Steinman is abroad in Norway right now visiting family with his wife Ina. As the horrific Oslo attacks were taking place, Steinman was an hour away from the city, watching and waiting for the news as it all happened. We spoke to Kevin via email about his experience in Norway, and he was generous enough to shed some light on the situation for us--as well as provide us with a very unique perspective on the attacks.
First of all, how are you and Ina? How far away are you from Oslo, and where were you when you heard about the attacks?
Ina and I are fine, thanks. It's been a very disturbing few days, at times overwhelmingly sad. But we have been personally safe at all times. When it happened, we were an hour east of Oslo on her family's farm where we got married, surrounded by Ina's aunts, uncles, mom, her grandmother, and cousins. It was, all in all, the best place in the world for us to be. Had we been in the States when it happened, I'd have been much, much more upset.
These attacks have been called the worst in Norway since World War II. Can you describe the Norwegian sentiment in the aftermath?
I'd agree with that assessment. The response of the Norwegian people has been incredibly impressive. First of all, there was no speculation about what caused the explosion on the news. In the hours before it was determined to be a bomb, it was exclusively called an explosion. Also, there was no speculation on the TV or radio that the explosion was the work of Muslim extremism. Even after it was known to be a bomb, after the shooting started, this strict refusal to speculate governed the news' portrayal of the events.
In fact, every person I spoke with in the time before we knew the identity of the man who has been apprehended spoke openly about their hopes that this atrocity had *not* been perpetrated by a Muslim. That's 100 % of 12 people. They hoped very much that it had been one of their own. This speaks to people's wishes for tolerance in their society.
In the days since the events of the tragedy have become clearer, there has been a strong recommitment for an even more open democracy. Yesterday 150,000 Norwegians gathered in Oslo, wielding roses against this terrifying violence. My wife's aunt, uncle, and cousins were there. There were so many people, they couldn't parade. They had to just stand. They commented that in the city that morning, people greeted each other, looking everyone in the eye, and smiling.
Crown Prince Haakon, in his speech before the enormous, silent throng, asserted, "Tonight the streets are full of love. We have chosen to meet hate with togetherness."
Another leader said:
"We will penalize the criminal as a people. Our penalty will be more tolerance, more love, more democracy."
There were marches like this in every major city in Norway.
I was living in Berlin the day the Wall fell, in November 1989, and I stood on top of the Wall that morning at Brandenburger Tor with thousands of celebrating Germans. Though it sounds strange, the only thing in my life that comes close to matching that sense of unity and celebrating freedom is this moment in Norway. It's terrible that it's come about this way, but it is really quite similar in feeling. People are so determinedly optimistic about the future they intend to create. They are confident it will be a better working democracy than before, and it was pretty damn good before.
I rarely hear of extreme violence of this kind happening in Norway. Can you break down the current political climate in Norway?
I'd say before, there was a general movement in public opinion toward the Right. Now, I'd say something quite different is happening. It's not a political party that's gaining momentum right now, but rather a strong, strong re-commitment to the more general principles of open democracy. People are signing up by the thousands for a FB group asking Norwegians to make the next election the one with the most votes in history. Leaders of the most major conservative party, FRP, have said publicly that today we are members of the AUF, the youth labor party group which was attacked. There is an incredible feeling of solidarity among all people, regardless of political stripe.
One example of how this has impacted the political process: for local elections held in September 15 campaigning would normally have started at the very beginning of August. Now they have been delayed to begin on August 15, and the parties have agreed to make sure that the debates are as civil as possible.
Mock elections held in high schools have decided, instead of normally bitter debates in schools, to just set up information booths, where students can read about the positions of different political parties. So overall there seems to be a very conscious movement away from politicizing this event. At the huge country-wide gathering on Tuesday, the police asked people to refrain from bringing signs that expressed anger or anything political. People complied, carrying candles and roses instead.
Thanks, Kevin. One final question: What does this mean to you, as an American? And how are you feeling about all of this personally? How has this impacted you?
I am both deeply saddened by this tragedy, and inspired by Norway's response. It's been nearly the only story on the local news for a week. Right now, the names of the victims are coming out. This country is so small, every family knows someone who is affected. The loss of life is sickening.
As an American I've been impressed by the restraint and straightforwardness of the Norwegian media's coverage of this unfathomable crime. They've asked simple, but empathetic, questions, like "How did you experience this event?" and, as I said before, they have largely avoided speculating beyond what is known. I would love to see more of this in American reporting. The Norwegian embassy in DC received more than 500 letters from Norwegian children and adults saying Glenn Beck should apologize for comparing the slain youth to Nazi Hitlerjugend. The embassy said this was a first.
A teenage girl who survived the attack on Utøya, in which she lost her mother and several friends, said, "Instead of hating the murderer, love those you care about more." This response struck me to the core. That, in the midst of such tragedy, such profound kindness could emanate illustrates the enormous depth of human spirit. I've begun thinking about how I could be kinder towards those I disagree with politically, and I'm excited to re-open a respectful dialogue with some of my more Right-leaning American friends. I can only hope that the world will learn from Norway's love and togetherness across party lines, and that we Americans will do our best to base our arguments on facts rather than assumptions.
For more on Kevin's thoughts on what's happening in Oslo, follow him on Twitter at @kevinsteinman.
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