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Hina P. Ansari

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Tragedy in Oslo: Death and Stereotypes

Posted: 07/23/11 11:49 AM ET

As the tragedy was unfolding in Oslo, where a bomb was detonated in the buildings housing the office of their prime minister, and then inexplicably followed by an unimaginable point-and-shoot style attack at a Labour Party youth camp on Utoya, an island 50 km away, everyone was immediately trying to make sense of it all.

Hours after the devastation, Norway police charged a 32-year-old man: Anders Behring Breivik. A blond, blue-eyed Norwegian.

The gunman's motives are unknown at this time, but all signs point to an unbalanced individual who has tremendous anger towards his Labour Party government. All this was the work of a madman.

But that wasn't what all the TV's talking heads, twitter feeds, and even some newspapers in the rush to be the first one out the door were printing, talking... spreading.

With frightful confidence, the words "jihadists", "Islamists", "al-Qaeda" and "Muslims terrorists" were immediately and forcefully placed as top billing as the culprits of the crime. Case closed. End of discussion. Even before the haze of crushed metal, shattered glass settled and triage centers were established, there were plenty of "without a doubt" and "there is no question" and "all evidence points to" conversation starters buoyed by terrorism experts, ready and on cue, to add to the conversation that had little substance and points solidified on pure speculation before all the evidence was collected.

Sound familiar?

When Timothy McVeigh with the help of Terry Nichols decided to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City the morning of April 19, 1995 it was the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil before the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001.

I remember watching the breaking news reports with TV anchors showing the generic composite sketch of the suspect to their viewers at home as well as to local Oklahoma residents on the street, many of whom immediately came to the conclusion that the face they saw in the drawing was that of a foreigner -- a Middle Eastern man. Strong indicators that people were still understandably shaken by al-Qaeda's truck bomb, which detonated in the North Tower of New York's World Trade Centre two years prior. So on FBI's possible list of suspects included those who may have been backed yet again by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the money-man who financed the New York attack. An intense study of psychological interpretations and racial profiling were born.

Well it looks like some of us haven't learned our lesson. Yes and without a doubt, there were a number of motives as to why Norway would be a target for international terrorism. Most notably, their presence in Afghanistan. Even though it pales in numbers with just around 500 troops, Norway has been involved in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in that hotspot since its inception in late 2001. Al-Qaeda's now newly-minted leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, included Norway in his message in late 2007 proclaiming his list of countries who "participated in the war against the Muslims" and therefore should not be far from their sights.

And of course not helping anyone here, is the fact that two groups with links to al-Qaeda immediately decided to take credit online soon after, which was later proved to be a false claim. And then there's neighbour Denmark, who still is recovering from their cartoon disaster six years ago, laying the groundwork for a guilty-by-association theory.

So with every refresh, new posts would come down the pike, most by journalists and other "experts" continuing to point out remote facts, relying on far-reaching scenarios for substance all in the hopes of their link being forwarded, shared and posted on walls of the virtual world. Even when the police had officially made the arrest of the Norwegian man during the middle of our day, the evening newscasts of American and some Canadian news channels still kept the idea of al-Qaeda on the table with strategically placed open-ended questions, and in some cases with direct references to that possibility.

However in a dignified plea, Labour Party member and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre who visited the youth camp just the day before, expressed that mistakes need not be repeated in this tragic instance: "We've seen in Europe in recent years that politicians have been jumping to conclusions about suspects before investigations have been conducted, and we will not commit that error."

With this epic fail of a front page story in The Sun as an example, I, for one, hope that for the sake of those lost on this day -- we all adhere to his words, regardless of what the "breaking news" may proclaim.

 

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