We didn’t hear about the explosions in downtown Stockholm last night until we read email this morning — I had two messages from different friends asking for updates, and I had no idea what they were talking about.
It turns out they were talking about a failed suicide bombing attempt, failed in the sense that the bomber killed himself without killing anyone else. It sounded almost farcical. We found it incredibly puzzling that this would happen here in Stockholm, which seems so calm and open. I am very interested to hear what Matt’s colleagues will say tomorrow.
Disbelief was my dominant feeling when we first read about the attack this morning. But we’ve been talking about it off an on all day and my thoughts have morphed along with our discussion.
I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., and worked near the Pentagon; the 9/11 attacks color everything in that city, and I often bemoaned the fact that the powers that be felt the need to station snipers atop most federal buildings when I lived there. (I have no idea if that has changed since the Obama administration began, but I assume it has not.) I started thinking about the Maryland-D.C.-area snipers, which freaked people out, perhaps in the same way that people living in Malmo were feeling recently, where a sniper was targeting “immigrants” (he murdered one person and attempted to kill 7 others). Living with this kind of paranoia is no fun.
Stockholm, Sweden, seems so calm, so lugn, so lagom, that it seems nothing bad can happen here (confession: I have not read any books by Stigg Larsson yet). Despite the thought that something horrible could have happened in our new hometown last night, Matt and I headed down to that shopping street today, without trepidation. We had already planned to visit a nearby plaza (Hotorget) that has an outdoor market almost every day of the week and check things out.
After we made our purchases, we walked down the street looking for what we thought was the spot. We decided that a woman in a pink wool hat speaking earnestly to a policeman standing outside a British-style pub must have been at the site of the explosions last night. It was weird to walk down that street (we considered eating at the pub, which turned out to be closed), but it was empty aside from those two people (and the t.v. journalist and cameraman filming from afar).
The main shopping street was rapidly filling with people. Two police cars were parked in obvious spots on the walking mall, and police were walking by every few minutes. Matt and I talked about how apprehending anyone suspicious, considering the dominance of big down puffy coats on passersby, would be close to impossible. The cashier at the register of the restaurant where we had lunch said that while she knew about the attack because a friend from Spain had called her, she did not know that the explosions had occurred so close by.
Terrorists have chosen better targets than a shopping street in order to cause mass panic or confusion, such as the metro bombings in London and Madrid. I suppose assassinations are even more effective if you want to eliminate someone with a certain ideology. None of these options actually get anything done.
People still take the metros in these cities. Wars still happen. And whatever this guy thought he would accomplish by wounding people shopping on a Saturday night in downtown Stockholm seems so … small, a pittance, a pathetic gesture — one of his email bullet points was to remove Sweden’s 500 soldiers from Afghanistan, for example.
Why would a government change its behavior because of this violence? Why kill people, including yourself, to make an illogical point? Why not live and carry on a cause, and even try more traditional, effective or proven routes to change? (I just read Non-Violence by Mark Kurlansky, the guy who wrote Salt and Cod, and his slim treatise on directed, peaceful resistance certainly continues to impact my thinking.)
The only conclusion? This guy was crazy.
Perhaps to be a terrorist or extremist of any kind, something has to be short-circuiting in your brain. I keep thinking about this movie we recently saw, Four Lions, that was truly a mockumentary of a “homegrown” terrorist cell in Britain: it mocked its subjects mercilessly. Their ineptitude is amusing at points, but it’s an uncomfortable movie to watch. It also colors my view of terrorists: I now think that they have to be complete idiots.
That said, I still feel numb to the fact that there was a terrorist attack in Stockholm last night. Matt commented that he was surprised it would happen here before, say, a city in the U.S. And in the end, I can see that any terrorist’s aim is to engender fear in places where people feel safe.
I still feel safe here.