How Much Love We Could Show: Norway's response to terrorism was to call for more openness, more democracy and, yes, more love. When it comes to the power of government, Thomas Jefferson warned, "the people themselves are its only safe respositories".
THE UNITED STATES Department of Homeland Security, dangerously overloaded with surveillance and interception powers, could not save the Boston Marathon. But, then, no one could have saved the Boston Marathon. Short of imposing a monitoring regime of Orwellian proportions – one which would utterly obliterate all civil rights and democratic freedoms – no state can promise its citizens absolute safety.
The world is a dangerous place.
Assailed by its dangers, the most important thing a government can do is make sure that by its actions it does not contribute to the world becoming a less free or a more oppressive place.
When New Zealand experienced its last terrorist attack – the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 – the first response of the David Lange-led Labour Government was not to bring down a series of draconian “security” measures. His instinct was to allow the NZ Police to get on with their job.
Note that: the NZ Police. Not the NZ Security Intelligence Service, and certainly not the Government Communications Security Bureau. Those agencies had proved completely worthless as protectors of New Zealand’s national security.
In spite of our membership of the UKUSA Agreement, and after years of loyal (some would say sycophantic) service to our Cold War “allies”, not one of them saw fit to warn us that a French “Black Ops” team was about to launch a deadly attack on a British registered vessel moored peacefully at an Auckland wharf.
A Deadly Blow: Neither the SIS, the GCSB, nor any of New Zealand's so-called "allies", provided the New Zealand government with the slightest warning that the French were planning to attack the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior when it docked in Auckland. The culprits were identified by the NZ Police - aided by the New Zealand people.
And the NZ Police – magnificently assisted by a host of Kiwi sticky-beaks – did a splendid job. Indeed, if our Aussie “mates” had held the French “getaway boat” in Norfolk Island (as the New Zealand authorities had requested) then we would have nabbed the whole gang.
Why were the Police so successful? Because New Zealanders trusted them. When the Police asked for help in apprehending the people who had done this (because, let’s not forget, French saboteurs’ bombs had taken the life of Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira) everyone who harboured even the slightest suspicion of “Swiss” newly-weds, or who’d noticed anything remotely out of the ordinary on the night of 10 July 1985, did not hesitate to call the cops.
No gang of terrorists can escape the surveillance of an entire nation. “National Security” only has meaning if we are all, collectively, determined to preserve it.
In 2011, the Norwegians gave the world additional proof. The response of Norway’s government to the shocking slaying of 77 of its citizens – many of them teenagers – by a right-wing racist terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, was very different from that of the United States Government in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
At a memorial service in Oslo Cathedral, the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, declared: “We must not allow this attack to hurt Norwegian democracy: the proper answer to such violence is more democracy, more openness … No one has said it better than the [young woman] who was interviewed by CNN: ‘If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together.’”
And stand together they did. In Oslo, on 25 July 2011, more than 200,000 people gathered to show their solidarity for the victims of Breivik’s savagery, and to demonstrate their commitment to Norway’s proud traditions of social and political democracy.
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone”, wrote the author of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. “The people themselves are its only safe depositories.”
How depressing that John Key, so strong an admirer of all things American in every other respect, should place so little value on the words of America’s most illustrious Founding Father.
How unfortunate that the example of his own country’s, and Norway’s, democratic response to terrorism has been lost on him.
How disappointing to see our liberties sacrificed to the Prime Minister’s reactionary notions of security.
And, how extraordinarily insulting to hear Mr Key justify empowering the GCSB to spy on his fellow citizens with some uncorroborated story about Weapons of Mass Destruction. (As if that alarmist excuse had not failed its deceitful fabricators’ once before!)
It was Benjamin Franklin who wrote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Another American Founding Father we’d all do well to heed.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 April 2013.