Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Understanding Norwegian terrorism

I had a feeling of déjà vu as I watched the news coverage of the attack on the Norwegian government buildings and Labour Youth Group camp on the island of Utoeya.  The scenes reminded me of recent Scandinavian crime fiction:  the novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson or the Danish TV series, The Killing.  This was not just because I wish there were the comforting screen of fiction between me and the dreadful tragedies for so many in Norway.  Scandinavian crime fiction has consistently returned to themes and story-lines considering intolerance and prejudice.  Stieg Larsson's day job was that of a left-wing journalist fighting prejudice and intolerance, a sub-plot in The Killing revolved around the failure to understand what motivated suspicious behaviour on the part of Rama, the Iranian-born teacher. 
The British author Dick Francis wrote a much earlier crime novel, unusually for the time set in Norway:  Slay-Ride.  This 1973 novel picks out the continuing festering of an old political wound which is common across Europe, the ways in which the country still didn't seem to have come to terms with commonplace collaboration with Nazi occupation.  It seems to me significant that this was what leapt out at a popular crime novel writer about Norwegian ways of thinking in the 1970s. 
In the 1960s, Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich made an analysis of post-Third Reich Germany which suggests that in refusing to accept a burden of guilt and appropriately mourn their past, to let it go, Germans became melancholic and began to behave in ways which were not rational or constructive.  Peter Gay's study of Weimar Germany suggests that it was the search for coherent identity which led many Germans to subscribe to the dreadful ideology of National Socialism:  nothing so efficient in bringing us together than collective hatred of some other group of people.  
As information emerges about the perpetrator of this dreadful crime against humanity:  this anti-humanist set of actions, it is clear that he felt his national identity was threatened, not only by Muslim immigrants but by left-wing traitors from within the country who with their democratic egalitarian values are opening the doors to what he viewed as destructive forces they didn't understand.   
I hope that out of what is clearly a terrorist act, committed by someone who is white and Christian, we can come to understand that focussing on Muslim people as terrorist threats and irrational opponents to liberal scientific values only serves to feed into neurotic right wing fantasies of pure identity in racialised and religious communities of many different kinds. 

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