Observant readers may have noticed that I have not yet written about the horrible murders that hit Norway a week ago today. There is a reason for that, and that is that I try to stick to a fairly narrow field of interest in this blog – Catholic news from the Netherlands and the countries around it. But I also don’t want to pretend that Catholic news is segregated from other news. So attention to the gruesome events that left 77 people dead does seem warranted. After all, I did so as well when other types of disasters – natural ones – hit Haiti, Japan and New Zealand. But there is one obstacle with two sides that kept me from writing: the fact that I know not nearly enough about the political leanings of the murderer, which do play a major part in the story, and that other writers have written about it much better than I can.
But one part of the entire story did present itself to me these past few days, and I think that that is well-suited to be discussed here. It’s the effect that the perpetrator of the attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, had on Catholic media and Catholic blogs over here and abroad.
The first example of Breivik’s twisted thoughts and acts affecting a fellow blogger came to me a few days ago. Father Dwight Longenecker discovered that Breivik read his blog, via a link from a Norwegian website that the killer contributed to. The comments that Breivik made about a post by Fr. Longenecker were
“nothing extreme or weird in itself.
Nevertheless, to think that my blog is out there as part of this new global publishing phenomenon and that anybody at all can read it is always amazing. To think that this madman read at least one post on my blog was disturbing at first. Naturally I wondered if I had written anything to prompt such hatred and violence.
I don’t think I have.” [Blog post Creepy and Disturbing]
Fr. Longenecker concludes that all we can do is “be silent and pray”. Which is a bit harder when the link between the murderer and you becomes even more personal, which happened to Catholica editor Tom Zwitser and contributor Erik van Goor. The politically conservative and Catholic orthodox writers both received the 1,600-page manifesto that Breivik had e-mailed to what he assumed were ‘kindred spirits’. Zwitser seemingly shrugged it off, although he does conclude that Breivik consciously tried to harm him and other conservative authors and politicians, since the list of recipients consisted of people Breivik did not know personally, but who are now linked to the criminal acts of 22 July. On 27 July, Zwitser wrote on Twitter:
My email address is public. Breivik, who has never read a word from me, thought that I would have any interest in his twisted ideas. Should I now start tweeting and blogging in Norwegian that I have more in common with a proper Muslim than with a dangerous liberal/neocon like him?
For Erik van Goor, the link between Breivik and him was even more of a surprise, and the consequences go farther. As he writes in an announcement, when the attacks happened, Van Goor was on vacation, and only upon coming home did he hear that his name was among those to whom the manifesto was sent. He writes:
“Even though many people, among them numerous friends, have assured me that I don carry any blame (my email address appeared and appears to be circulating freely on the Internet), this whole affair is to me a continuous stone which does not simply go away. The association between my name and the events in Norway may be reasoned away, but emotionally it makes me sick.”
With the ensuing flood of media attention for him, Van Goor decides to step back for now as contributor to Catholica and focus on his duties as husband and father until this storm abates.
And so, on an unprecedented large scale, Catholic bloggers and writers are hit by the backlash of one man’s gruesome actions. I don’t know why Breivik selected Fr. Longenecker, Tom Zwitser, Erik van Goor and all those others to be inspired by or to drag into his ‘project’ (for it does seem to be a well-planned socio-political endeavour), but it does make them into victims, especially since more than a few people now do exactly what Breivik wanted: linking them recipients of his manifesto to the horrible murders committed by him, as if to show that a certain school of thought automatically leads to murder.
I agree with Fr. Longenecker when he says that all we can do is be silent and pray. But while we, as Catholics, as bloggers, as people who made a small corner of the Internet their own, do that, we can take a lesson from all this. Our writings are out there for the world to read. And sometimes they are read – even commented on and written about – by people who do stupid and terrible things. But as long as we take the following words by Pope Benedict XVI to heart, I don’t think we need to worry about that too much.
It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). [Message for the 45th World Day of Communications].
But all the same, such events do affect us personally. We may be able to reason much of it away, but they are a small cross we nonetheless bear, at least temporarily.
As Norway mourns and buries her dead, and as Anders Breivik goes to meet his earthly judgement, may all those unwillingly linked to horror and death be given the time and chance to process all of this.
Photo credit:  Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay