Norway's 9/11?

Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of Norway's Peace Research Institute Oslo, explains why the Norwegian capital might have been on a terrorist's shortlist of potential targets.

Foreign Policy: We don't know much about this bombing yet, but who would have been interested in attacking Oslo?

Kristian Harpviken: The only concrete supposition that would emerge in a Norwegian context would be al Qaeda. There has been specific mention of Norway [in its communications], alongside a number of other countries that have been part of the war on terror [and] part of the war in Afghanistan, including on one occasion fairly recently after the killing of Osama bin Laden. That is the only concrete angle there is to it -- but the police have not yet indicated anything in terms of where they are looking, as far as I understand it. There's still quite a bit of work to be done before they have an overview of what happened, or even an overview of the extent of the damages and the number of people killed and injured.

FP: What are the most important questions to be asking at this point?

KH: The immediate question that comes up of course is whether anti-terror preparedness [in Norway] has been of a sufficient scope. It's clear that Norway has significantly strengthened its intelligence and other warning capacities from 2001 up to the present. In fact, last summer, about this time of the year, a different plot was revealed by the Norwegian authorities. It still isn't entirely clear what the aim was, but probably it was Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that published the caricatures [of Prophet Mohammed] in Denmark, that was the target. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of debate about that, of whether Norway's preparedness is any way behind comparable countries.

FP: Tell us about the back story to these threats in Norway -- there was the al Qaeda incident last summer, the Mullah Krekar case, and now this.

KH: You already mentioned the two key incidents. There has been a long parallel story in Norway about the publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. [The Danish cartoon] was published by a largely unknown newspaper called Magasinet, and they came under severe threat. This was in parallel with the same threats being issued against Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen. The outcome in Norway was very different from that in Denmark -- I think for two reasons. One is simply that the extent of the Islamist radicalism in Norway has been fairly limited. I think in Denmark you have several much stronger militant radical Islamists groups represented. That's been very limited in Norway. So obviously dealing with this in Norway is not as complicated as it would be in Denmark. But the other reason is just as important: In Norway, this was handled very differently by a number of key institutions both within the government and in civil society. The government was very clear that it understood the reactions to the publication of the caricatures, but also that it is a society where there is freedom of expression and that therefore there was nothing it could or wanted to do to limit it. But just as importantly, in civil society we were building on a fairly long-standing institution of multifaith dialogue, something called the Interfaith Council of Norway, where the religious leaders of different denominations -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, as well as a number of other faiths -- came together and issued common declarations condemning the threats of terrorists.

FP: So there was a sense that this was something that had been dealt with well on the social level in Norway and that this was really an external threat rather than an internal threat?

KH: Yes, it was much more an external threat than an internal threat. This was picked up by a couple of radical elements in Norway, but they did not convert that into concrete threats. The concrete threats came from groups based outside of Norway.

FP: Obviously, it's still very early in this incident, but does this bombing change the calculus in terms of how Norwegians perceive the threats against them and what needs to be done to contain these threats? Do you see that being up for discussion?

KH: Absolutely. This is about the only thing we can say with certainty at the moment. That is that this going to change the debate about international terrorism and counterterrorist measures in Norway. It may even be that it will have a serious impact on the local elections in the fall.

FP: What is the plausible political fallout of all of this?

KH: It's a bit difficult to tell the political fallout in part of course because of what we learn in the next few days, and in part it will depend on how the government is able to deal with this incident and how it is able to communicate with the Norwegian public. It is of course one concern that this can drive a wedge between at least parts of the immigrant population and the majority population in Norway. Now the debate about integration of the Muslim minority in Norway is -- although not as complicated as [in] other European countries -- a major challenge. I think this can also lead to a quest for further border control, further anti-terror measures of various kinds, but of course it is also not unlikely that this can raise questions about Norway's engagement in the world. Afghanistan, in particular, has actually undermined Norway's national security rather than strengthened it.

FP: How does Norway's participation in Afghanistan play into the picture?

KH: When Norway has been specifically mentioned -- always alongside other countries, but sometimes in lists consisting of as few as two or three countries -- by leaders of the al Qaeda network, it has been with explicit reference to Norway's participation in the war on terror and the war in Afghanistan. So it's clear that that is one of the elements that will come up.

FP: How would you characterize Norway's debate over civil liberties versus security in dealing with terrorism? Has it been a rancorous one, as it has been in other countries, or are people generally in agreement as to where you draw that line?

KH: I would say that this has not been a very divisive issue in Norway. In part this is because we have a government now including the Socialist Left Party which is historically the party that has been the most diverging voice on foreign and security policy issues. And they have, as a member of government, in fact been responsible for these very [security] policies, so I think that has in many ways diffused some of the tension that would otherwise have been in the public debate. But there also haven't been major attacks in Norway. In November 2010, the newspaper Aftenposten conducted a poll, and only 11 percent were very concerned about the prospect of a terrorist attack. Thirty-three percent were somewhat concerned. I assume that if you ask that question tomorrow, those numbers would be very different.

Thomas Winje/AFP/Getty Images


Interview: Alice Walker

The author and activist, who is setting sail for Gaza on a humanitarian mission, says Israel 'is the greatest terrorist' in the Middle East.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker will join the flotilla of ships next week that will try to break Israel's maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. She says the goal is to bring supplies and raise awareness of the situation there. Last May, during a similar attempt by activists, Israel raided six ships. On one, clashes broke out and Israeli commandos killed nine people.

Foreign Policy reached the author of The Color Purple in Greece, where she is preparing for her departure.

Foreign Policy: Why are you taking part in the flotilla mission?

Alice Walker: In 2009, I was in Gaza, just after Operation Cast Lead, and I saw the incredible damage and devastation. I have a good understanding of what's on the ground there and how the water system was destroyed and the sewage system. I saw that the ministries had been bombed, and the hospitals had been bombed, and the schools. I sat for a good part of a morning in the rubble of the American school, and it just was so painful because we as Americans pay so much of our taxes for this kind of weaponry that was used. On a more sort of mature grandmotherly level I feel that as an elder it is up to me and others like me -- other elders, other mature adults -- to look at situations like this and bring to them whatever understanding and wisdom we might have gained in our fairly long lifetimes, witnessing and being a part of struggles against oppression.

FP: How long have you been involved in Palestinian activism? What drew you to it?

AW: It started with the Six Day War in 1967. That happened shortly after my wedding to a Jewish law student. And we were very happy because we thought Israel was right to try to defend itself by pre-emptively striking against Egypt. We didn't realize any of the real history of that area. So, that was my beginning of being interested in what was going on and watching what was happening. Even at that time, I said to my young husband, well, they shouldn't take that land, because it's actually not their land. This just seemed so unjust to me. It just seemed so wrong. It's really unjust because in America we think about Israel in mythical terms. And most of us have grown up with the Bible. So we think that we are sort of akin to these people and whatever they're saying must be true -- their God is giving them land and that is just the reality. But actually the land had people living on it. The people were in their own homes, their own towns and cities. So, the battle has been about them trying to reclaim what was taken from them. It's important, when we have some new understanding -- especially adults and mature adults -- we must, I think, take some action so that younger people will have a better understanding of what they are seeing in the world.

FP: Is the goal of this mission, though, to just raise awareness, or is it to actually deliver supplies?

AW: Well, our boat is delivering letters. So what we're trying to draw attention to is the fact that the blockade is still in effect. On the other boats there will probably be supplies. I haven't checked but probably things like sewage supplies.

FP: But Egypt has partially reopened its border with Gaza. So, couldn't you get supplies in through there?

AW: No, you can't. You can get two suitcases. Not only that, they closed it. They opened it and then closed it. So, that has not been worked out. I know people like to rally around what they think is a positive thing, but it's not that positive yet because it's not firm. They limit the number of people. They close it. They say two suitcases. You can't build a sewage system with two suitcases.

FP: Israel's ambassador to the United Nations said the stated goal of "humanitarian assistance" was a false pretext for your mission -- and it's actually designed to serve an extremist political agenda, and that many of the groups participating in the mission maintain ties with extremist and terrorist organizations, including Hamas. Your reaction?

AW: I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world. And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves. If you go to Gaza and see some of the bombs -- what's left of the bombs that were dropped -- and the general destruction, you would have to say, yeah, it's terrorism. When you terrorize people, when you make them so afraid of you that they are just mentally and psychologically wounded for life -- that's terrorism. So these countries are terrorist countries.

FP: How is the United States a terrorist country?

AW: It is. Absolutely, it is. It has terrorized people around the globe for a very long time. It has fought against countries that have tried to change their governments, that have tried to have democracies, and the United States has intervened and interfered, like in Guatemala or Chile. I feel that it is so unreasonable, and I don't quite understand how they can claim everyone else is a terrorist and they are not when so many people right this minute are terrified of the drones, for instance, in the war in Afghanistan. The dropping of bombs on people -- isn't that terrorism?

FP: Of course Israel and the U.S. aren't the only ones that use bombs. Hamas has fired rockets at Israel in the past.

AW: Yes. And I'm not for a minute saying anybody anywhere should fire rockets. I mean, I would never do it. Nor would I ever supply such a thing to anyone. But it's extremely unequal. If people just acknowledge how absurdly unequal this is. This is David and Goliath, but Goliath is not the Palestinians. They are David. They are the ones with the slingshot. They are the ones with the rocks and relatively not-so-powerful rockets. Whereas the Israelis have these incredibly damaging missiles and rockets. When do you as a person of conscience speak and say enough is enough?

FP: Are you concerned at all that your trip could be used as a propaganda tool for Hamas?

AW: No, because we will never see those people. Why would we see them?

FP: You don't think you're going to see anyone from Hamas?

AW: No. I don't think we would. If we manage to get through with our bundle of letters we will probably be met by a lot of NGOs, and women and children, and schoolteachers and nurses, and the occasional doctor, if anyone is left.

FP: But doesn't Hamas control the security apparatus of Gaza?

AW: They may well control it, but we're not going to see them. It's like everyone who comes to D.C. doesn't see the president.

FP: I have to ask, since the previous flotilla trip ended with an Israeli raid on one of the ships and nine people dead. Are you frightened?

AW: Sometimes I feel fear. And the feeling that this may be it. But I'm positive -- I'm looking at it as a way to bring attention to these children and their mothers and their grandmothers, and their grandfathers and their fathers, who face this kind of thing every day. I grew up in the South under segregation. So, I know what terrorism feels like -- when your father could be taken out in the middle of the night and lynched just because he didn't look like he was in an obeying frame of mind when a white person said something he must do. I mean, that's terrorism too. So, I know that feeling. And this is what they are living under. And so, if you ever lived under terrorism yourself -- you know terrorism USA, Southern-style -- then you understand that people don't like it and they should not be subjected to it anywhere on the planet.

Monica Morgan/WireImage