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Are Immigration Issues Behind Norway’s Massacre?

Are immigration issues in Norway feeding extremism? The attack in Norway, killing at least 76 people, sent shock waves around the world. Details about the suspected killer are still emerging but his actions appear to be motivated in part by anti-Muslim beliefs. Could something like this happen here? We'll get local reaction from San Diego's Norwegian Consul and find out how bigoted beliefs become terrorist acts.

Memorial Event

A gathering to honor the victims of the Norwegian attack is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Sunday August 7, at the House of Norway in Balboa Park. A memorial book will be available for those who wish to share their thoughts.

Utoya, Norway

The attack in Norway, killing at least 76 people, sent shock waves around the world. Details about the suspected killer are still emerging but his actions appear to be motivated in part by anti-Muslim beliefs. Could something like this happen here? We'll get local reaction from San Diego's Norwegian Consul and find out how bigoted beliefs become terrorist acts.


Gordon Kovtun, Royal Norwegian Consulate, San Diego,

Dr. Dipak Gupta, Fred Hansen Professor of World Peace, SDSU.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: The man accused of the terror attacks in Norway remained defiant in his first court appearance yesterday. He defended the murder of more than 70 people as his effort to save western Europe from a Muslim takeover. Norway, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, is reeling from this mass murder, as is the Norwegian community here in San Diego. Joining us to talk about reaction to the murders in Norway, and what it means to the larger issue of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe are my guests. Gordon Kovtun is royal Norwegian consul here in San Diego. And welcome.

KOVTUN: Thank you very much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Doctor Depak Gupta is the Fred Hanson Professor of world peace at San Diego State University. Doctor Gupta, hello.


CAVANAUGH: We're inviting our listeners to join the conversation. If you'd like to comment on the tragic murders in Norway, give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. And Gordon Kovtun, may i call you gordon?


CAVANAUGH: Your wife and children are in Norway right now. How have they described the aftermath?

KOVTUN: It began really with a sense of shock and disbelief on the part of the community Of Norway. And as they began to come to grips with what happened and who had done this, they really began to have this outpouring of mourning and sorrow, collectively in the primary area of the city.

CAVANAUGH: And what are they saying? What are the kinds of things that your family is hearing about this incident, this remarkably unusual incident in Norway?

KOVTUN: Well, i don't think people are saying much of anything other than just trying to get through it and to process what has been -- what has happened. It's not as if they're looking for blame or anything like that. It's quite remarkable that they are just bound and very -- they're just very bound with their sorrow in terms of what's happened in Norway.

CAVANAUGH: What have you been hearing here among people who are from Norway, of norwegian ancestry who visit the house of Norway? What kinds of reactions have you been hearing.

By defendant:

KOVTUN: Again it's that complete confusion about how this could happen in their own Norway. It's so odd and unusual for something like this to happen in that country, a country that's so open and so porous and welcoming. It's just very strange.

CAVANAUGH: And has the larger community of san diego reacted with condolences and outpouring?

KOVTUN: Yeah, absolutely. We've received a number of contacts from different consuls, different representatives from different nations, and they have been very good about offering their condolences.

CAVANAUGH: Doctor Gupta, let me go to you. How prepared or unprepared has Norway been for terrorist attacks?

GUPTA: Well, it seems like Norway being a peaceful country, proud of its diversity, really was not prepared for this kind of an assault. But then again, it's very difficult to prepare for such a devastating attack by one single individual or even a small number of individuals. However, are the fact that he was able to park his van so close to the prime minister's house showed a different type of preparedness than we have in this country. And many other countries. It only showed how unprepared in a psychological sense Norway was. It's such a beautiful country, peaceful people, that it -- with very little history of that kind of violence. Therefore they were not that prepared.

CAVANAUGH: As i say, we are taking listener calls about this at 1-888-895-5727. Anthony is on the line from Escondido. Good afternoon, Anthony. Welcome to midday edition.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. Well, i just wanted to comment, i guess. The other day i was listening to a report on what had happened, and the man who's speaking said that he was concerned about how this individual learns how to create these explosives and carry out all these horrible things as he's not a military person or -- and i think that it's important to consider that we need to keep our civil liberties safe. Obviously this is a horrible, horrible thing. And there are certain steps that must be taken to -- yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Let me pose this question to Gordon Kovtun. There have been some people who have been saying that this attack will change Norway's political -- police system, may change the justice system. It's my understanding that Norway's police don't carry firearms. What do you think this may do?

KOVTUN: It's an interesting question because i think they're all now taking stock as they come to grips with what happened, they're going to be taking stock as to what kind of changes might need to be made as doctor Gupta and just you pointed out. The police are largely unarmed other than the special forces. And the primary minister's house, even though the bombing was at the office, but the house is accessible to everyone. And i think that they will be taking precautionary measures as they see fill. I knowledge they will still want to maintain their open and transparent society. And that way of -- that structure of living. But i think they will be looking at those security measures. Again, though, how do you protect against an insane act like this? It's very difficult.

CAVANAUGH: Another thing, gordon, that americans i think have been taken aback with a little bit is that we have heard that the maximum sentence this suspect could get if convicted is 21†years. ; is that correct?

KOVTUN: I have read that myself. But i do understand that there are other provisions to add 20-year sentences to that.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So it could be more than 20†years.


CAVANAUGH: I see. Doctor Gupta, i know that you do a lot of work with the idea of how multiculturalism is being accepted in various kitchens around the world. Do you have an indication about how widespread there may be a reaction to multiculturalism? In other words how widespread are anti-immigrant or anti-muslim sentiments in Norway?

GUPTA: Well, it seems like all over Europe, and even in this country, there has been a resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiment. If you notice our debate here, people were using a lot more vitriolic words and phrases that they didn't used to do before.

CAVANAUGH: You mean in our debate in america about immigration?

GUPTA: Exactly. And what we see is that when there is extremist ideas, it cysts into the mainstream politics. As a result of that, we have seen that extreme right wing racist groups are gang ground in france, in england, in germany, and in Norway, in the netherlands. So it is symptomatic of what is going on in the world today. One extreme act leads to another. Also we have to understand that in this world, it is really becoming a global existence. As a result of that, people in every country, they feel threatened because their old ways are disappearing. The people who they're neighbors with no longer look like those they knew when they were growing up. And this can be very threatening. And so we are seeing some of these reactions to the other side of globalization.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And if this happens here in the nation of immigrants, how much more of an impact might that be in a society that's not used to seeing people that look radically different, perhaps calling themselves norwegian or french or really sort of settling into this new country?

GUPTA: Yes, absolutely. You grow up with your culture, your food, your religion, and all of a sudden, you see people are on the street who don't share the same historical precedence. They don't come from the same cultural stock, therefore you feel threatened that we are going to be disappearing from the face of this earth. And if you look at the spread of any radical ideas, whether it's the kkk or the nautas, or any other groups, you will always see this fear, the fear, the primal fear of being wiped out, the existential threat to our existence. And that's a very infectious idea.

CAVANAUGH: Gordon, i want to ask you, are you aware of anything that the norwegian government, many policies it might have to diffuse prejudice and discrimination against muslim immigrants?

KOVTUN: I don't know specifically of any policies they have. I know that they have a very immigrant friendly set of policies that allows people to emgreat readily and provides whatever social services they may need.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of grieve counseling, if you know anything about what's going on in Norway, is going to be taking place after this incident? I would imagine there are many people shaken to the core in Norway after this.

KOVTUN: I don't know any specifics, but i do know that the prime minister was exceptionamy concerned about all the survivor children who witnessed that massacre on that island. I would origin they're going to have some fairly robust counseling efforts. I will say for the norwegian community here in san diego, there is 81ab a memorial at the house of Norway, in balboa park, august†7th.

CAVANAUGH: And doctor Gupta, for San Diegans hearing about this story, what can we take away from this? Is there anything that we need to be concerned about or perhaps look inside of ourselves about?

GUPTA: Oh, i absolutely believe so. I think that when we hear talks of prejudice, when we hear generalizations, vile generalizations about another group of individuals, we have to be on guard, we have to teach our kids, our neighbors that it's not okay stoexpress our views which dehumanize another group of people. Remember that this is the same idea that propelled this guy Brevic as well as people like Jared Laughner, our -- Nadal Hassan, the gentleman who -- the army major who shot up fort hood texas, or Timothy McVay. They are filled with hate red for another group of people. These are groups of individuals they have never met individually, ever. It's just they had an idea of this incredible evil, quint essentially evil other group. And that is something must come from within ourselves. More than any other security measures that we can take. We have to teach our children and everybody around us.

CAVANAUGH: Doctor Gupta, as you've described this sort of broiling imbalance of that multiculturalism can bring in in the very beginning, people questioning their culture, being concerned about what they know about their countries, do we expect we could see more of this type of attack as the world continues to change and more people move throughout other countries?

GUPTA: I am absolutely certain that -- this is not the last of these kinds of senseless violence. Ideas are moving across the internet at an incredible speed. Paul revere in today's world would not have to ride in the cold night it is. He would have just twitted. And therefore we are seeing mobilization of people which used to take years in the making. We see that there are instances where people can get mobilized and press fair collective action. And it is really a double edged sword because in repressive societies, such as in Egypt and the middle east, the Arab Spring was the result of the sudden mobilization. And then in other areas, we hear new words such as flash mob. It's like a flash flood where people just appear from nowhere else, from nowhere, and they create riots and mayhem, perhaps the kind we saw in vancouver after a hockey match.

CAVANAUGH: Right, yes.

GUPTA: So it's a double edged sword. On the one hand, it destabilizes stable societies. On the other hand, it also is the vanguard of change in repressive societies.

CAVANAUGH: Doctor depak Gupta of san diego state university, i want to thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rih1: You're welcome.

CAVANAUGH: And gordon Kovtun, norwegian consul here in san diego. Our condolences, of course, and thank you for coming in and speaking with us today.

KOVTUN: Thank you very much.

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