Besides being a safety net guaranteeing the general public’s well-being, a robust state welfare can also be like a cushion that helps absorb shock from violence.
The prosecution of the mass shooter in the Norwegian capital of Oslo is a great example of it. The people there have paid more attention to how young people in the country are growing up, instead of how to punish the perpetrator.
In July 2011, a summer camp of the Workers’ Youth League was attacked by 32-year-old, ultra-right supporter Anders Behring Breivik. He declared himself anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, therefore he targeted this young generation’s camp advocating social equality. The shooting rampage killed at least 68 people. If combined with his earlier bombing attack, there were more than 70 people dead.
Sustarum Thammaboosadee, a former researcher of Oslo University’s Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, said state welfare might not be a universal solution to every problem. However, this incident showed it could be the first step toward every solution.
He found that the Norwegian public had very little understanding of right-wing movements before the attacks. He said there were many factors, including the influence of the Labor Party and decades of public-driven state welfare development. On the surface, Norway seemed like a utopian country where cutthroat capitalism was weakened and perfect social equality was achieved. However, the public awareness of those who “despise” equality remained quite low.
After the 2011 mass shooting, Sastarum saw Norwegian society try to reshape its understanding that the far-right supporters were not only limited to ultra-conservative, obsolete old people. It could also be a young person who seemed intelligent, charming, articulate, persuasive, and able to rally a lot of followers. Breivik himself was influenced by a right-wing blogger exceptional in building up anti-immigrant rhetoric by cherry-picking academic research that would support the argument.
Following the tragedy, young people from both the left and right wings have become more politically active. The government favored it as it believed this would lead to an expansion of public discourse.
Sastarum said no one in the past nine years could guarantee such a degree of violence would not occur again. However, there has been a continuous effort to grasp the circumstances of the incident, therefore it was evident that the country has been trying to reduce the risk of it repeating. It also didn’t spitefully punish the shooter, but instead tried to understand the contexts of what happened. Later, it improved the school curriculum, social environment, including public communication to be more comprehensive.
Academics and observers found there were many indicators of the shooter’s tendency to violence. That included a failure in childcare service that let an ill-tempered mom raise a child alone, although Breivik was reported to be emotionally troubled from a very young age.
He was arrested for spray-painting a wall and charged with vandalizing. The guilt caused him to cut all contact with his father who had divorced his mom since he was a little child, losing the very last meaningful human relation he had from the age of 16. He became obsessed with himself, leading to his infatuation in bodybuilding, plastic surgery, and eventually white supremacism.
Several factors were taken into account to how to move the society forward, and a remark of a public prosecutor from the case showed an incredibly positive approach.
“It is very important for the Norwegians, or the Oslo residents. When you’re talking about that monster, we have lived in the same society, studied the same schools, gone to the same hospital, let our children play in the same playground. As you all know, our country is a welfare state. Over 90% of our population live under the same state service. A Norwegian criminologist told me this is something that would force us to look back at what has gone wrong in our system. We all have the same experience. If he is a monster, we would all have that monster inside of us.”
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