If you want still another vignette or perspective on 9/11, I’d suggest a stroll down Henrik Ibsens gate in Oslo, Norway. If the palace grounds are on your right, then the U.S. embassy will be on your left, literally just across the street.
The palace and its grounds are tranquil, idyllic and wide open, watched over only by the ceremonial King’s Guard. The four-story American embassy is a monument to fear, with a 10-foot iron fence around it. (Across the street on the Ibsens gate sidewalk, the Oslo police have hammered together a sort of observation tower, maybe 12 to 15 feet high, as their part of the vigilance.)
To compound the contrast, another 100 meters or so down Ibsens gate are the administrative offices of the Nobel Peace Institute. A bronze bust of Alfred Nobel is on the lawn at the entrance to the institute; if Alfred could glance just a bit to the left, he’d see the fortified embassy and wonder about the fruits of his peace prize.
Joan and I and a Norwegian friend took the stroll a few days before the 9/11 anniversary and about six weeks after Norway had been terrorized by Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in the bombing of a government building in Oslo and shooting of young people at a political retreat on nearby Utoeya island.
The visual contrast between the embassy and palace grounds is only heightened by walking past Oslo’s city hall, the Norwegian parliament and other Norwegian government facilities in the neighborhood. No guards, no barricades — just an occasional statue of a famed Norwegian and more than occasional statues of nudes near fountains. Delivery vans routinely come and go; pedestrians are unimpeded.
“See that guy, there?” our Norwegian friend asked. Turned out he was Minister of Finance Sigbjørn Johnsen, the second or third ranking person in the national government and it was his building that was Breivik’s target. He was getting out of his car in an alleyway, accompanied by two young people, no guards, and on his way to work — parking where he did because of the repair work under way at his building. Casual as can be.
Yes, it is apples and oranges to liken Breivik’s lunacy to the scheming of Osama Bin Laden and the terrorists of 9/11. But in Norway Breivik was recognized for what he was, a deranged thug, and, in the U.S. Al Qaeda and Bin Laden were accorded almost state, or governmental, status, and as engaged in an act of war not murder. Those different views helped shape the contrasts evident in the walk down Henrik Ibsens gate.
The U.S. wants to move its embassy into the suburbs away from proximity to other embassies and to Norwegian governmental offices. That’d be some distance from where the embassy can best serve and represent U.S. interests, but presumably it could better cope with its fears, real and imagined. Norwegians in the area of the proposed relocation and others strongly oppose the idea.
Surely, we can do better; we can be wiser — if we weren’t so frightened. Norway’s King Harald said as much to his nation in the wake of the tragedy, “I cling to the belief that freedom is stronger than fear.” That view is evident in the stroll down Ibsens gate.