In tears and torment, a peaceful people stands strong

OSLO: Khalid Hussain is living proof – if anyone should need it – that mass killer Anders Breivik is wrong about what it is to be Norwegian.
Mr Hussain joined the thousands of people who streamed quietly into the centre of Oslo to put flowers and candles outside its 17th-century cathedral.
They stood mostly in silence, rain streaming from coats and umbrellas, laying bouquets on the cobblestones in a growing circle of remembrance.
Mr Hussain had come to offer a single red rose; an artificial one because, as he says so practically, all the others will die soon but his will stay.
He was born and raised in Norway after his father settled in Oslo from Pakistan in 1970. Now 37 and a web designer, he speaks with the same eloquence as his prime minister about what the massacre and the racist ideology of its perpetrator means for this suddenly wounded nation.
“This is a tragedy for the whole of Norway. Whenever anyone tries to harm democracy, it doesn’t matter what skin colour you are or what nationality, it’s every person’s duty to show solidarity.”
But while he recognises the political overtones of Mr Brievik’s rantings on the internet, Mr Hussain does not think the gunman’s slaughter was primarily political: “This person is disturbed. I don’t think any sane person could do something like that.”
Joran Kallmyr of the right-wing, anti-immigration Progress Party on Sunday denied his party had helped form Mr Breivik’s ideas (he had once been a member): “He joined our party to have a platform for his ideas. He was disappointed in our party. We didn’t fit his ideas so he left.”
Mr Breivik claimed to be part of a group that intended to seize “political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda”. He wrote, “it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you reduce the ideological impact of the strike”.
Norway spent Sunday grieving that strike, for the 93 people who died. Queen Sonja arrived at the cathedral in tears and during the memorial service she and King Harald both wiped more away. Survivors sobbed and embraced. Outside, parents lifted small children over the shoulders of the crowd to see the flowers so they could be part of the moment. Henrik Vaaler, 21, visits elderly people who are confined to their homes. He says, “They have said all their nightmares about the war have come back.” He was at the cathedral with his mother, Anne, a doctor. She says, “I have three sons and I’m just so grateful.” She stops, suddenly in tears, and lifts a hand to her trembling mouth.
Dr Vaaler says she is relieved the perpetrator was not found to be a member of an Islamist terrorist group: “It forces us to think harder about ourselves, rather than channel hatred outwards.”
Like Mr Hussain — like most Norwegians — the Vaalers feel disbelief this has happened in their peaceable country.
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.