(Les på norsk). There was an interesting piece on the radio this morning on how Norwegian attitudes to immigration have changed, since the Utøya Massacre last year. Apparently people have become more proud of being Norwegian, but also more accepting of immigration. This is the polar opposite of the cultural war that Anders Bering Breivik hoped to ignite when he committed his atrocities.
I would say that Norway has also ‘won’ in the sense that it has not compromised on its principles or the rule-of-law in its response to the terrorists. Breivik’s 21 year prison sentence seems ridiculously lenient to me… but it is the maximum allowed by Norwegian law, and they have stuck to it. It is admirable and noteworthy that the legal system has withstood such a traumatic shock. What is it about Norwegian culture that they were able to resist the shrill call that “something must be done”?
Compare this to the knee-jerk responses in the USA and the UK. More than a decade after the September 11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, America still imprisons foreign nationals without trial in Guantánamo Bay. Here in the UK Parliament settled on 42 days detention without charge for terror suspects. Both countries allowed panic and fear to set policies that removed civil liberties. We should have been more like Norway, and stood firmer.
Plenty of Sharp-bait in the media this morning. David Cameron will give a speech today criticising the European Court of Human Rights, for going against the laws and judicial decisions of Council of Europe countries.
I’ve argued before, in a post on paedos and prisoners, that in the human rights framework, a judgement that frustrates the populist sentiment is a feature, not a bug. The case of Abu Qatada is cited as an example of a problem, but I see it as the system working well. The man (odious as he may be) hasn’t had a proper trial, and the European Court pointed this out. What’s wrong with that?
The response from the reactionaries is “he doesn’t deserve a fair trial”. This implies a two-tier system of liberty and justice, an Us-and-Them approach which eventually dehumanises certain groups. We need an effective justice and security system to provide some protection against violence and extremism. But it has to apply a consistent set of rules and procedures if it ismto woeffort perky. And we also need an external court of human rights, to protect us from the careless elements in our own society, who are happy to dispense with due process whenever it is not to their taste. it’s a shame that our Prime Minister is pandering to these “careless elements” and I hope the other party leaders, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, do not follow suit.