Trying to Comprehend What You Can’t: Norway, Martyrdom and Reaction

On July 22, explosions went off in the center of Oslo, shattering windows and projecting debris into nearby streets. Employees were evacuated from office buildings near the assumed targets, the Norwegian government headquarters, as well as VG Nett and the Norwegian oil and energy department. The destruction left seventeen dead and countless more injured, an act that sent the media into a speculation of who was behind the attacks.

No more than two hours later, reports began emerging of a gunman, disguised as a police officer, opening fire on the island of Utoya, an island housing a camp for young adults involved in the Workers’ Youth League (the youth division of the Norwegian Labor Party). Witnesses on the island were reported to have said that the man would approach people, convincing them of his authority, only to shoot them as soon as they were close enough. It took police over an hour to reach the island due to its isolation, a fact that brings the worst to mind as hundreds attempted to flee or hide, with no real place to escape. When the Beredskapstroppen (Norway’s specialized police division) was finally able to come ashore on Utoya, they were met by Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian man, who willingly gave himself up. At the time of his arrest, it was thought that more than 76 people on Utoya had been murdered, to which Breivik admitted complete responsibility for, yet denied any criminal culpability.

Breivik is currently in custody, under charges of acts of terrorism, a sentence that only carries a maximum of twenty-one years in the Norwegian legal system. Information began to leak out about his life and extreme views: a white, “Christian” identified male who deeply believed that the fabric of Norway was being undone by multiculturalism, he had authored a military-minded manifesto proclaiming such “truths” as the threat of Islam to the West, feminism’s damaging influence on Europe, and finally, the “cancer” that was immigration. The Norwegian courts saw the danger in giving Breivik a platform for his ideologies and decided on a closed court trial. The decision portrayed a fluency in understanding the all-too-real dangers of making a spectacle of extremist ideologies and the ease at which Breivik would be able to freely promote them simply by being on trial.

Similar to the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh,whose actions shook America in the ’90s, Breivik saw the political establishment as the root of all social problems. It was the Norwegian government that was too lax, that promoted multiculturalism, threatening the existence of the dominant white Norwegian culture. It was not just the immigrants he felt were destroying his country, but those who believed that Norway belonged equally to them. Both McVeigh and Breivikreivik  prescribed to ultra-nationalistic ideologies, stemming from deep-seated far right militarism, both simultaneously expressing care and disgust for their nation. In Breivik’s case, we can see the reflection of this time’s current social issue, immigration and the perceived threat of Islam as well the fear that Euro-centric life, (in this case, Norweigian culture) is becoming extinct.

Like the emergence of the Tea Party during the 2008 election, extremism often comes in a time of social change, mostly as a resistance to the changing fabric of “the way things were.” One can only assume that the evolving ethnic makeup of Norway threatened Breivik’s extreme identity politics and in turn, possibly alienated a person who had been rewarded for genetically winning a cultural lottery, undoubtedly giving him a particular type of entitlement. While sometimes this just manifests itself in blind privilege or greed,  Breivik’s had taken a turn for the utmost worst, as it coasted past misspelled signs demanding immigrants to go back where they came from and straight into an act of terrorism causing a deep, countrywide trauma.

As the events in Norway spread, so did the reactions of those watching. “He’s nuts! Crazy! Lunatic!” It would be easy if it were just that simple, if we could somehow use that to pinpoint to the senseless deaths of 79 people. To say that Breivik was or is crazy is dismissive. It dismisses the thought and planning he put into his actions, it dismisses his act to being out of his control, as opposed to the calculated act of terrorism it is. Finally, it renders those who died in a space where they were expressing their political beliefs to just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Crazy is not applicable here as it is not applicable when describing a familiar anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism rhetoric we know here in the States. It is what it is and there can be no relief or further understanding in calling it something it simply is not.

The idea that anyone whose own extremist cultural misunderstandings and  idealogies automatically qualifies them as a terrorist is not arguable in the least. But to say that fear mongering and baiting language can not lead extremist thinkers to social violence is one that we would have to be absolutely blind to miss. This logic seems to skip over known agitators like Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin, who to this day swear that their own hands are somehow free of blood. C.I.A. officer Mark Sageman points out in the New York Times, “This rhetoric,” and the infrastructure from which it thrives, “is not cost-free.” One only has to look at paid conservative aggravator, Glenn Beck, and his most recent comments likening Utoya to a “Hitler youth camp” to understand the allure of stoking of inflammatory verbal garbage as an attempt to cash in on the fear and delusion that exists in the makeup of almost all extremist prescriptions.

This attack was meant to incite the feelings that many extremist or disenfranchised persons have for so long carried around, condensed in a formula most simplistic: you will pay for giving in to “political correctness.” You will suffer for being at ease with your evolving place in the world. It is not just the extremist idea of wanting everything to be the same, it is one of wanting culture to recess back to the days where there were no apologies necessary for enslaving a man because he was black or beating a woman or regarding everyone who was not like you as simple and savage-like. It is a demand to return to monoculture and to let it be lead by those who are biblically deemed to rule in the way they like.

This is the most frightening aspect of reactionary politics, that that they do, indeed, appeal to logic. Whether or not that logic is sound is often incredibly debatable and  it more than often proves itself to be biased, based in fear mongering, emotional manipulation and xenophobia and racism. But it still presides in this person’s reality as logic. There is no undoing of that. It is now the larger question of how we keep continuing on living with violent action against those who can and want to live in a different world.



One thought on “Trying to Comprehend What You Can’t: Norway, Martyrdom and Reaction”

  1. This is a great article.

    I keep noticing acquaintances and peers on the far-right that keep saying how ‘tragic’ this is, and how ‘terrorism has no place in this world’, and I just want to say, ‘really? Have you read about this guy? His views are almost identical to yours. You just didn’t go out and kill anyone.’

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