Oslo. The killing spree of Anders Behring Breivik. A photo of teenaged girls huddled together, crying.
I feel their pain. About 30 years ago, in Evin prison in Tehran, my teenaged friends and I huddled together almost every night for about two years, listening to the sound of bullets that ended the lives of our friends - and we knew that the next night, it could be our turn.
For years, the execution of teenagers in Evin continued nightly, and the world did not react. Maybe the world didn't know. Maybe it didn't want to know, or maybe it was more convenient for it to look the other way. I don't know what the world was doing when I was in prison, because my friends and I had been cut off from the world and we were too busy trying to survive with no place to run, no rocks or bushes to conceal us, no lake or sea to jump into. And not only did we have to deal with constant executions, but we were also tortured and raped.
Some of us died. Some of us lived. Now, 30 years later, people are still tortured, raped and executed in Evin prison. And sadly, different forms of government-sponsored violence are not unique to Iran. All over the world, kids are dying violent deaths.
Since the events in Oslo and Utoya Island, there has been speculation and analysis from every corner of the world. Some journalists have compared Mr. Breivik and his twisted way of thinking with Osama bin Laden and the jihadists. Yes, there are similarities, and there are differences. But at the end of the day, we have to remember one thing: Our world has been caught in a senseless cycle of violence for thousands of years. Fanaticism is fanaticism, whether Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Marxist or anything else. Self-centred people and political groups who seek power will mould ideologies into something that suits them. If they can't find one, they create their own.
The question is how to stop the violence and how to free ourselves from its terrifying grip. First, we have to remember that this is not going to be a quick, easy journey. It's going to be a long one, in which every little step taken by every average citizen counts. This is not a battle that governments, armies, bombs or tanks can win. Violence fuels violence. After every atrocity and mass killing, there's a sense of shock that gradually turns into fear and anger, which, in turn, usually lead to revenge and more violence - and the perpetrators try to justify it. But violence cannot be justified. We have to stand up to it and loudly condemn it, no matter who commits it and why.
In Oslo, after the killings, Norwegians did the right thing: They filled churches, cathedrals and streets. They stood in silence, carried roses and lit candles. They publicly condemned these terrible crimes. And by "they," I mean the people of Norway, not just their leaders. The same thing needs to happen everywhere and by followers of every religion, including in the Muslim world. When an act of violence is committed in the name of Islam, Muslims need to fill mosques and streets and condemn it as loudly as they can. We can all stand against violence, regardless of our religion, skin colour or nationality.
Marina Nemat is author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran.
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