On 22 July 2011, the right-wing Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 8 people in the Government quarter in Oslo and 69 people at Utøya, most of them young people attending the Norwegian Labour Party Youth’s summer camp. The terrorist promoted the Eurabia theory, proclaiming that people with different cultural backgrounds cannot coexist and that Europe is slowly taken over by the Arabic world, with the help of leading politicians in European countries.
Since 2011, such conspiracy theories have not gone away. On the contrary, they have persisted online and even gained sympathy in public debate and even mainstream politics. Even more worrisome is the support for and reference to Breivik’s actions by others, such as the terror attacks 15 March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. The threat of violence carried out by militant Islamic movements still prevails in many European countries. At the same time, the increased support for far-right extremist ideology and the mobilisation of extremist movements, are of grave concern.
Education, both formal and non-formal, is recognized as an important, long-term, preventive antidote to anti-democratic forces and extremism. Equally important, one of the main aims of education is to foster future democratic citizens with democratic values, skills and attitudes. In the wake of terror, countries often struggle with this balance between preventing extremism and terror and building or promoting inclusive societies based on democratic values and human rights principles.
The starting point is the learning centre at Utøya in Norway, which was established after the terror attacks 22 July 2011. Today, Utøya carries a strong testimony of why values such as tolerance, equality and diversity cannot be taken for granted. It serves as a powerful example of young people’s response and resilience to terrorism and violence.
In the national curriculum in Norway, 22 July is explicitly addressed within the subject curriculum of social studies. However 22 July is relevant in many of the other subjects, particularly in the transversal topic of democratic citizenship in the core curriculum. To learn about 22 july and at the same time explore and discuss what democracy means, threats to democracy today and how we all can contribute to a democratic society, is connected to one of the key aims of education – to foster democratic citizens.
Every year, students and teachers from Lower Secondary Schools from all over Norway participate in the national component Learning Democracy at Utøya. Throug peer-learning activities more than 8000 students participate in annual program activities.