In the news coverage of the Norwegian tragedy perpetrated by
Anders Breivik much has been made of Norway’s open society — something that made
it all the easier, apparently, for Breivik to carry out his shocking and insane
plot against his own countrymen.
In another context, Norway is one of those Scandinavian
countries which are often lauded for their social security and even “family-friendly”
policies. But it appears from this tragic episode that there are some things
social welfare and openness do not guarantee.
They do not, for example, guarantee a happy family life,
which is the thing most likely to provide a person with security and safeguard
their sanity growing up. The editor of MercatorNet has commented on this aspect
of the killer’s life in his article
on the main page.
London Telegraph blogger and teacher, Katharine Birbalsingh,
has also homed
in on Breivik’s broken family background and in particular on the absence
of his father from the time he was one year old. She has been attacked by
commenters for finding the origin of his problems in his father’s lack of
responsibility towards his son (among others), as though she were excusing his
crime. She is not. The editor of MercatorNet is not. But I believe they are
right to draw attention to the broken family factor in Breivik’s withdrawal
into the online world and madness.
The 32-year-old grew up in a
Norway in which marriage rates were falling and divorce and cohabitation
increasing. According to a recent OECD
report on the wellbeing of families Norway is doing just fine regarding
poverty and female employment, but it is one of the developed world’s leaders
in out of wedlock births — more than 50 per cent of children were born to
parents without a marital commitment in 2007.
The fact that it shares these trends with many other
countries does not mean they are not bad for children. The fact that family
breakdown is bad for children does not mean they will grow up to be criminally
insane. But Norway would do well to reflect on all possible factors in the Oslo
tragedy and ask whether it is really doing the best for its children.