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The "Oslo Syndrome"
by Jon Gundersen

On July 22, Anders Bering Brevik, a 31 –year old loner, parked a van loaded with explosives adjacent to the offices of the Norwegian Prime Minister and other government officials, killing 9 workers. Two hours later, Brevik systematically murdered 68 young campers on Utoya, an isolated island 40 miles from the capital.

Who is to blame for Brevik’s murderous rampage? In an August 1 article, Barry Rubin identifies two, perhaps three, sources: Brevik himself, the policies of the Norwegian government of Norway, and the “many Europeans” who “accept terrorism against Israelis.” Rubin acknowledges that Brevik acted alone, but asserts that he was nurtured in a nation, Norway, which supports Hamas. Implicitly, therefore, Norway, or at least its Palestinian policy, is partially to blame. While acknowledging that there is “no justification” for Brevik’s act of terrorism, Rubin flatly states that Norway’s “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israeli” policies fostered the psychology that led to the July 22 terror attack. He labels this the “Oslo Syndrome.” In other words, “by supporting the terrorist’s side… an entire country becomes a victim of terrorism.” Rubin also notes that the 68 murdered youth were at a camp run by the Labor Party: “Norway’s left-wing party, lobbying for breaking the blockade of the terrorist Hamas regime in the Gaza strip and for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state without that entity needing to do anything that would prevent it from being a terrorist base against Israel.” A number of recent articles in Israel and elsewhere have echoed Rubin’s thesis.

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I was in Norway on July 22. As a retired American diplomat (and former soldier), I have served and lived in Norway and have worked in the murky world of terrorism and counter-terrorism. For me, the tragedy of July 22 has a personal as well as professional meaning. Therefore, I believe Barry Rubin’s analysis on this singular act of terrorism deserves a considered response.

Is there any truth to Rubin’s assertions? First, let us examine the mind of Anders Behring Brevik. Did Brevik represent something more troubling about Norwegian society than just a lone mad gunman? Was he anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic? Brevik had few friends; he was not connected to any known group in Norway. All political parties instantly condemned his act. Extreme right wing (and left wing) parties have no political base in Norway. In the last parliamentary elections, the two parties with ties to neo-Nazi groups received just 362 votes. In reality, Brevik saw himself as a “cultural conservative” and warrior against the “Islamization” of Europe. In his own perverse way, Brevik even expressed admiration for Israel. He considered himself a crusader against “Marxists” and “suicidal humanists” in Norway and other European societies.

Second, was the Norwegian society in any was responsible for Brevik’s act? Norway is a nation that views itself as a peaceful and tolerant nation. Heretofore, it has largely escaped acts of terrorism. Therefore, Norwegians were singularly shocked by the scope and depravity of Brevik’s act. Per capita, more Norwegians died at the hands of one depraved gunman than the number of innocent victims at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville combined. Like 9/11 for Americans, 7/22 is now shorthand for a day of national tragedy in Norway. Similarly, as in the United States after 9/11, Norwegians, whatever their politics, were united in their grief. Both Washington and Oslo condemned these horrendous acts of terrorism and the actors involved, but they did not seek national scapegoats. The world reacted with support and sympathy. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Israel identified with the “pain and grief” of the Norwegian people. President Shimon Peres telephoned King Harald V to express condolences and praised Norway “as a symbol of peace and freedom.”

Third, did Norwegian government policy, particularly toward Palestine and Hamas, play a role in the massacre? It is true that Norway has been engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict since Norway recognized Israel as an independent nation in 1948. The Norwegian Labor Party has had a close and continuing relationship with the Israeli Labor Party. Both of these parties governed their respective nations for much of the post-World War II period. The non-Socialist parties in Norway have also maintained this close connection with their Israeli counterparts. And, of course, Norway initiated the Oslo Peace process in the early 1990s. In 1994, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to two Israeli statesmen, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres (along with Yassar Arafat). Moreover, at the US behest and with Israeli support, Norway was asked to Chair the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine. As American Charge d’Affaires of the American Embassy in Oslo, I personally delivered this “demarche” to the Norwegian Foreign Minister in 2000. Norway reluctantly agreed. Clearly, our efforts in the region have not always been successful – what has been in the troubled history of Middle Eastern politics? The issues in Middle East politics – Hamas terrorism, Israeli settlements, etc. – are among the most contentious in the world. These issues are also frequently debated in the Norwegian body politic; both the Israeli settlements and Oslo’s policy towards Hamas are controversial in Norway. However, because a government engages with an organization does not, per force, mean it supports the goals or the methods of that organization. Israel, for example, engaged with Hamas in arranging the latest hostage exchange. Does this mean that such debate could encourage a lone terrorist? If so, then every open society, including the United States and, yes, even Israel, would be equally culpable.

So what is the Norway’s policy towards Israel and Palestine? Like the United States and Israel, Norway supports the right of Israel to live at peace with its neighbors and with secure borders. Similarly, like Washington and Tel Aviv, it supports a Palestinian State which recognizes the State of Israel with secure borders as negotiated between the two parties. Regarding terrorism, Oslo has condemned all recent acts of terrorism in the region, including recent bomb attacks in Jerusalem and the Hamas rockets fired into Gaza. Reasonable people can debate specific Norwegian policies (or American or Israeli policies). One thing is certain, however: Norway is committed to an enduring peace in the region. For the past 20 years, for example, over 40,000 Norwegian soldiers have served and continue to serve on peacekeeping missions on the borders of Israel. Several have died in their service.



Mr. Gundersen, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, is the Chair of Advanced Nordic Area Studies at the Foreign Service Institute. In addition to his current position at FSI, Mr. Gundersen is a Senior Associate at the National Defense University, currently conducting a project on Lessons Learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also teaches at the Joint Special Operations University and works for the State Department declassifying sensitive documents..

In his State Department career, Mr Gundersen served in numerous assignments both in Washington and overseas, concentrating on the Nordic Region, the former Soviet Union and arms control and political-military issues. He served as Charge’ d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in a number of nations, including Ukraine, Estonia, Norway and Iceland. He opened the first US mission to Ukraine in 1992 and has been assigned to Moscow, the United Nations, and as Political Advisor to the Special Operations Command and Senior Advisor for Iraqi Reconstruction.

Prior to entering the State Department, Mr. Gundersen was an officer in the US Army, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in Vietnam. In addition, he was a member of the first US counter-terrorism (“Sky Marshall”) operations in the early 1970s and has worked as a Merchant Sailor. He has written numerous articles on Nordic, Russian, and Political-Military Affairs.

Mr. Gundersen is married to Eike Raudzus; they have three children. Today, Mr. Gundersen tutors and mentors inner-city children and serves on a number of local Boards.

Mr. Gundersen has his own consulting firm (Gundersen Civilian-Military Consultants) and can be reached at gundersen5@verizon.net

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