Terror is a personal thing. It touches everyone, one way or the other. In a country of 5 million especially, in a country that used to believe it was an exemption – that it «can’t happen here» – with an even more devastating force.
How has Norway reacted? There is the official version that has been fed to the international press and that foreign journalists have been happy to embrace. I have seen very few, if any, critical questions being asked what made this native son run amok against what should have been his own people.
The official version came with a downside, that it was the right wing that was to blame, that their words sparked or inspired the deed. This right wing is Western and global, thus the full force of this accusation hit everyone whose texts Breivik stole and included in his Manifest. Suddenly, 22/7 was international, not only in its enormity, but also for ideological reasons. It shook intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic, scaring them. That their texts could have been exploited and taken hostage by a massmurderer seemed beyond imagination. This could only be possible in the internet age.
22/7 raises some very serious questions about responsibility for one’s words.
But the most vehemt accusations came from people on the left and liberal left whose rhetoric includes past calls for violent revolution and support for liberation movements and terror in the name of justice. The debate in Norway has glossed over this disingenuity, for the simple reason that Norwegian media are staffed by the very people who used to worship Mao and/or read Marcuse and Lenin.
Why have the international media so easily and readily transmitted the official version? Because 22/7 is a shock and eruption that touches on what I will call the crisis of the liberal mind.
The crisis of the liberal mind means that all the assumptions one has held as self-evident, evaporates, it is painful and one clings to cherished ideals.
Norway is unique in one respect, it can afford to pay for its assumptions, due to its excessive wealth. But when assumptions turns to illusions it becomes an investment with a bad return.
One year after two forks in the road delineate itself:
One was the report by the official commission: it was a devastating denouement of lack of preparedness at every level. Especially the police, but going right to the top of government, including the prime minister. This was a devastating blow: the Labour party has been the regarded as the bulwark of stability and safety. The report states that the government didn’t really take the terror threat seriously. It was a theoretical possibility. One had time. To stall and wait.
The report was a terrible blow to the Labour party, who has had a vested interest in ruling the country. They regard themselves as the party with the mandate to rule. The oil wealth is theirs in a sense. It is theirs to manage, to oversee. That the people are the real owners are in name only. The power this brings has not really sunk in. The Labour party has an authoritarian streak that stems from traits in the national culture and socialist thinking. One is rather anti-intellectual and management-oriented. Most things can be managed.
But not 22/7. 22/7 was a black swan. One had a desperate need to understand and explain to oneself what happened.
The prime minister said last fall: I take full responsibility.
Then came the commission report that laid the blame at his door.The editor of a partyloyal paper wrote: he and his government could not even protect their own children.
The government should have resigned, in order to heal the wounds and let the recognition sink in. But this proved too much. The party now changed it’s tune: taking responsibility means staying in power to ensure that something like this never happens again. The truth was too bitter to swallow.
Ten days later came the verdict in the district court in Oslo: it found Breivik accountable, by his senses, and laid the blame at a rightwing subculture. The court hade to choose between psychiatry and politics as explanations, and it chose politics. An unanimous press was triumphant, their campaign had proven more successful than they could have possibly imagined. The court bought the arguments of some very heavy leftwing experts and unabashedly said so.
They seemed totally unaware that they waded into a political territory full of loopholes and traps. One could say they started digging a hole for themselves.
The media triumphantly declared that the case was closed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Breivik acted on a ideological pretext, and the court answered him on an ideological note. What was squeezed in between was legitimate political debate.
During the trial internet figured prominently. But it was spoken of as a sinister place where dark forces gather, unrestricted. It was apparent that the court knew nothing about the debate that goes on online, and the image that was conjured up had a clear luddite character. The freedom of the web was something menacing. It has to be brought under control. Since the site I represent is the largest with some 50.000 readers monthly, we were targeted repeatedly. Calls for censorship and the death penalty was heard, in a country that prides itself of being the most tolerant in the world.
22/7, the acts and the Manifest, unnerved Norways political and cultural class. It hit them, and they reeled. They tried to regain balance, and the only way they knew was to look in the rear view mirror: where they see fascism. They discover that fascism is on the rise once more in Europe, and they will reenact the historical battle. The purpose is noble, but the words sound hallow. Where are the fascists?
Today the leading newspaper carries a story that even Edvard Munch had nazi sympathies. An art historian of some sort has found symbolic animal figures in a few paintings, and he painted Nietzsche, didn’t he? Digging up hidden nazis has become a pastime. Turns out there are fascists everywhere.
How do common people react? They hunker down.
Why the vehement campaign against a dangerous but vague rightwing? In order to drive serious voices of dissent off the stage. I consider we have been libeled not because we are extreme, but because we are moderate. In this panopticon moderates pose a greater threat.
Haunted: the generation in power and their descendants don’t wanna know. They instinctively feel that 22/7 is their day of reckoning. They built today’s Norway. In modern literature it is a theme of sins of the fathers, of the chicken that comes home to roost. But not for them. They want to be an exemption. They are above history. They want to make history, and be the arbiters of justice. To dispense it, but not be judged themselves.
In today’s world this is a house of cards. Unsustainable.
22/7 speaks of a society that have changed beyond recognition, and whose elite has taken their own success for granted, and confused it with society’s.
The ideological showdown they cling to has already had a dangerous fallout. It feeds right into conflicts that are rampant and growing: since Breivik’s acts were directed against islamization of Europe, the response must be an even greater tolerance towards muslims. Thus the hijab is now permitted in the military, customs, health service. We hear that tv-presenters in Egypt for the first time are permitted to wear the hijab. So what happens in the Middle East is happening in Scandinavia. One may pretend that there are no similarities or connections, but reality does not go away. In Sweden the artist Lars Vilks cannot leave his house without security police. No gallery wants to exhibit his art. Tolerance for one means intolerance for another. And yet the worst part is that one dare not speak of this cause and effect, even if every sane person knows it to be so. We live in societies where «everybody knows», but things are not spelled out. This does something to us, to our language, societal climate, to our selfperception and in the end conscience.
We have lost our sense of direction. Security is not about security systems, vetting, and control. It is understanding what is going on in society. A society where one dare not speak up, becomes and reflect a fragmented society. I don’t think truth will vanish. That is near to impossible in the internet age. But a frightened discourse is a discourse that does not beget democracy. It slowly bleeds to death.