Don't know if it hit your radar screen last week, but Norwegian Anders Breivik was convicted on 77 counts of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 21 years in prison. Last summer, Breivik indiscriminately bombed a Norwegian government building -- killing nine people -- and then went on a shooting spree at a summer camp for Norway's Labor Party youth -- gleefully murdering 69 more, most of them teenagers.
In Norway, the nation deemed Breivik’s fate a humane and just sentence.
To the American sensibility, this seems an outrage. The death penalty should have been invoked, or at least life in prison without parole. Where's the justice?
The point is, that's the point. Having lived in Scandinavia for years, and having traveled there many times since my return to the US, the Norwegian reaction to this horrifying incident is entirely consistent with their worldview and beliefs. Their response was comprehensive, measured and humane. Certainly, Breivik has utterly decimated Norway's sense of security, but not the nation's sense of self. This is not to say that there have been no expressions of emotion, furor and wrath; on the contrary, Breivik is easily the most despised person in Scandinavia, arguably, since Adolph Hitler. His anti-Islamic rants and posturing have stretched Norway's societal benevolence to the limit.
But again, that's the point. Norway's system of justice is based upon rehabilitation, not punishment. To both Breivik's satisfaction and to the relief of the survivors of the victims, he was not found to be insane. Breivik wanted to make his point as a political terrorist, not as a crazy man; and the families sincerely want to rid this man of the evil that he effectuates. An insanity plea would have robbed both perp and survivors of the satisfaction of his complete marginalization, a total "standing apart" from Norwegian society. With the verdict and sentencing, Norwegians keep their society and beliefs and humanity intact, and Breivik gets at least 21 years free of any contact with outside cultures or religions or people of color. Unless the unrepentant murderer can show a complete rehabilitation (which is not likely, given his lack of remorse and anti-societal rhetoric), he'll likely remain behind bars -- and forgotten -- for the remainder of his life.
There is a public park in central Oslo called Frogner Park. It displays 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland, a Norwegian. These statues, completed in 1940, portray Norwegian -- indeed, human -- life in all of its many guises -- love, work, family, toil, anger, lust, pettiness, poignancy. Every sculpture can be enjoyed, even caressed, by passersby in the park. Every statue is unblemished by graffiti or damage. When we were there last May, I asked my Norwegian friend why this was; I shared my opinion that if the park were in the US, it'd be trashed or behind lock and key.
Her answer? "This art and these statues belong to each of us, as Norwegians. Why would we deface anything of our own?"
Humane. And just. Norway abides.