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Dealing with Anders Behring Breivik

25 April 2012

I sat down on the sofa last night with my copy of Aftenposten, turning the pages in hopes of finding something to read that wasn’t about Anders Behring Breivik, or, paradoxically, the surge of immigrants coming to Norway (an increase in 41% from 2005-2009).

“Vanskelig å diagnostisere Behring Breivik” (“Difficult to Diagnose Behring Breivik”)  read a headline that I flipped past, and then, with agitation returned to.

My husband sat next to me on the sofa, peering intently into his iPhone. “Are you concentrating on something?” I asked him. “Or can I tell you what I’m thinking?”

I do this often: use him as a sounding board. He knows that most of the time he is just supposed to listen to me rant, but I know I can trust him to tell me when my ideas have gone completely off the deep end, or when I actually might be onto something.

“Is it possible that we just want to believe Breivik is nuts so that we don’t have to listen to him? Maybe that’s why he is difficult to diagnose. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with him psychologically.”

I was thinking of Foucault’s theory that societies need to categorize people into normal and abnormal to gain power and control; thus, as a society we decide that certain behaviors are psychoses (for more, read Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.) In other words, it serves a particular social purpose to believe that Breivik is crazy, because then we can say: he is not like us. It is much harder to believe that he is sane and could actually kill people for his beliefs. Then we might have to take what he says seriously.

“The guys is nuts,” Aidan responded. “I mean, look, he has deluded himself into believing it was right to kill lots of people.”

“What about the army, then? Soldiers believe it’s right to kill for ideological reasons.” We argued back and forth about this point. I began to believe in neither my arguments, nor those of my husband, which happens often.

Ending the debate with a deep sigh, I shook the pages of my newspaper back into a readable form, and found myself intensely engaged in the court transcripts of Breivik’s interrogation yesterday. No more than ten lines in, I reported to Aidan that I changed my mind: “He’s completely bonkers.”

It doesn’t take a psychologist to see that Breivik lives in a world completely disengaged from reality, a world in which he believes his arguments make such perfect sense, are so logical, that he could surely convince the rest of us of them if only given a platform.

Breivik described to the court his disgust at having to walk through the piles of dead bodies that he himself was responsible for: “I have never experienced anything so gruesome,” he claimed.

He spoke with eerie matter-of-factness about how he tricked a group of youth into believing that he was a police officer:

“It was actually just a coincidence that I saw a head sticking up from behind the pump house. And I realized that there were many people [hiding] there . . . I think I began with: ‘Have you seen him? Do you know where the shots came from?’ And then there were some who pointed in one direction. It was to lure them out so that I could execute them . . . I said there was a boat that would take them safely away, that they must come out now . . . They seemed very skeptical. But there were some, two or three of them, who seemed very relieved. I said: ‘You must come now.” And then there were three who came to me.”

Breivik shot and killed fourteen people at that particular spot on the island.

When asked by the prosecutor whether he had any feelings for his victims, Breivik responded, “I know what I have done . . . but one must remember that I, too, lost my whole family on 22 July, I lost all my friends.”

As spell-binding as statements like this are for giving us insight into the mind of a mass murderer, they divert us from Breivik’s message – a message the government and the press are intentionally suppressing by not televising the trial, and choosing what to print in the papers. After all, Brievik did say that the killings were only the first part of his campaign; he hoped the trial would comprise his propaganda phase.

But what would happen if we actually listened to Breivik’s message, if we could filter out his god complex and listen to the core of what he is trying to say? Would we agree with him that multiculturalism doesn’t work, or at least not in the “let’s all be happy about difference and just get along” way? Would we, too, want to protect Norway from the change that necessarily comes with an increasing immigrant community? (And would anyone dare to agree with Breivik and join the exiled ranks of Fjordman or certain hounded and now back-peddling members of the FrP?)

Norwegians do have very good reasons to be proud of their country, and there is much here that should be protected. Norway consistently ranks first in world indexes of prosperity, wellness, and human development; the Global Peace Index ranked it as the most peaceful country in the world; it is the world’s fourth wealthiest (GDP per capita), and its government has the world’s largest pension fund.

Norway works. It works exceptionally well. But Breivik knows there is more to it than that: Norway works, as long as everyone agrees to be Norwegian.

What does it mean when a country refuses to join the EU and taxes imported cheese to protect its farmers and encourage the purchase of local variants like Nor-gonzola? What views about being “non-Norwegian” are there when, during a butter crisis, people stew for weeks about whether they could/should/would opt for importing foreign butter, or would simply prefer to go without? (And when the foreign butter did arrive, large numbers refused to buy it.) What underlying values are at play when social integration into the culture of Norway is deemed the highest goal, more important, in fact, than learning to read and write in the first grade?

Breivik claims he was acting to protect his nation of Norway from multiculturalism, from immigrants, from foreign influence. Is it possible, then, that he simply took to extremes the very values that define what it means to be Norwegian?

Might there be good reasons to be critical of multiculturalism and immigration? Might there be good reasons to cling to the country we have now and fear the country it might become in the future? Globalization has coerced us into viewing the world in terms of flux, flow, open borders, dismantled barriers; we are one world, we are citizens of the world. But which of us actually lives as though we can float, problem free, from culture to culture, without ever feeling the blisters from the ill fit?

After I wrote the post titled “Normal,” I was surprised at how many readers resonated with a need for having things just the way they want them to be. We actually like our normal and predictable lives. Is it taboo to believe that in this tiny way we understand Breivik?

[A final note: Because Breivik has wounded Norway so deeply, I feel I must add that I in no way sympathize with Breivik’s thoughts or actions. In this post I merely intended to raise questions about the paradox between being a protectionist nation with strongly-felt patriotism that at the same time points a chastising finger to those with anti-immigration sentiments. I wonder where globalization will ultimately lead us and if it will ever be possible to exist in a world without nations or citizenship. As always, I welcome comments and criticism!]

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Teresa Owens permalink
    25 April 2012 15:45

    Wow, Jena! Thanks for that American sized helping of food for thought! Funny thing: before I left for Norway, a very dear friend of mine, a doctor from Bulgaria, and I were talking about Breivik, and surprisingly, he said he totally understood where Breivik was coming from. This idea of “protecting your culture” for fear that polluting the gene pool (physically and ideologically) will bring your country down seemed reasonable to him…I pointed out how strange that was, coming from an immigrant like himself. But then he qualified it with with the underlying said/not said reality of the true motivation: immigration of brown, non-Christians. So, which cheek was the good Christian, Breivik, turning, anyway? Oh, I should definitely qualify this with the fact that my friend is an avid Faux News listener….you know, willfully ignorant. I’d post a link to your blog on my FB page, but FB is not posting anything I link or write into the newsfeed…don’t know why…Hey, I heard that the other paper, Dagsbladet or something like that?, has a Breivik-free edition on-line?

  2. 25 April 2012 17:20

    Ah! The brave one to comment on an untouchable subject is a fellow American! 😉 … Aidan said didn’t think it wise to write anything about Breivik these days. I really wrote it because I can’t come to terms with my own beliefs. I am an immigrant. I am a problem-causer. At the same time I don’t think multiculturalism works. I am doubtful about globalization.

    But on the subject of Breivik-free news: there is an underlying disagreement in this post with those who refuse to speak Breivik’s name out loud, with those who say, “It’s a pity – we can no longer choose Anders as a name for our children.” It is too easy to demonize him, to say, “He’s a monster” and to shut him out. Yes, he did hideous things. He committed atrocities. That doesn’t negate the fact that he saw a problem in Norway that he felt strongly about.

    Of course what Breivik meant was: we don’t want brown, non-Christians in Norway. Govt. officials have said this as well! (In the form of: we need Western Europeans to immigrate.) But I’m wondering if that such a bad thing to say? (Formally I would have said, yes, that it’s racist, anti-Islamist, etc.) If one is trying to have an society in which every is integrated, then it is much easier to have a system of “likes” vs a mix of likes and not alikes. The fact of the matter is that most Western Europeans have been raised with similar traditions and cultures.

    Anyway, I find that I can argue either way on these things and begin to feel that there is no position I hold to be true.

  3. 25 April 2012 17:27

    Excellent post!
    Much food for thought…

  4. 25 April 2012 18:33

    I think you hit on some excellent points! I am the son of immigrants, but I look like the bulk of the population (white) in my location so it is easier to assimilate. We are all immigrants to some extent as is (arguably) the nature of our species. We are all African if you go back far enough. Now that mobility is more available to people all over the world, what will happen to individual cultures? They will change, but how quickly and to what extent is anyone’s guess. It is my guess that if we don’t destroy ourselves, in about a thousand years we will be one race and one culture with some regional differences and adaptations. Of course, my crystal ball is a little hazy on details and timelines.

  5. 27 April 2012 21:16

    Hi Sue,
    I just wanted to give you a heads up, I’m nominating you for a Versatile Blogger Award!

  6. kutubuku permalink
    30 April 2012 11:52

    At some point, I would say I could follow Breivik’s train of thoughts (but let me clarify that I am not a supporter of him, his way, his belief and his method). I suppose we all have the feeling of nationalism somewhere deep inside and have to some extent problem to see our country “invaded” by other people that don’t know our culture, custom and everything.

    I should probably add that I’m an immigrant in my own country so I know how hard it is to be one and this is probably why I could see it from “both sides” of the issue, that a country, especially a rather isolated one like Norway (in terms of geography) could not rely on their 5 million people alone to do things that are necessary, hence the anti-multiculturalism argument fails in practice.

    To put it in an extreme way – you have to eat bitter pill in order to get better, so if people who have share the same thinking as Breivik has (perhaps not enough to actually go out and kill people) want Norway to stay pure, they will also have to be practical to see the benefit of immigration (and naturally multiculturalism that follow the immigration).

    • 30 April 2012 12:01

      Hmm. Should have let you write this post! Thanks for your comment. I think immigration is a fact of our current world and we can’t simply ignore it and say we don’t like it. We *have* to deal with it? But how? One of the places where multiculturalism works best is Toronto — I heard an interview awhile back with the mayor of Toronto. He was asked: How do you make this work so well? And his response was that Toronto never had an identity of its own that people came into. It was always seen as a place in the making by its large immigrant community. So I take that and say: he’s right. That’s the key. But then does that mean it can’t work unless we get rid of all ideas of nationhood and nationalism? *sigh*

      • kutubuku permalink
        30 April 2012 12:53

        Right. It’s always easier with “newer” places like Canada or the States and more difficult in “old” places like Europe.

        It’s a huge issue and honestly I don’t know how to deal with it either. As you probably know how things are in Denmark and how rules are designed to keep immigrants out there, but as someone who gets pissed off by the rule I am aware that there are indeed immigrants who “abuse” the system (as well as the Danes, for sure) and don’t want to blend in with the rest in order to create harmony.

        I mean, for me integration means having a job, paying tax, speaking the language following local custom that can be followed (aren’t too weird for my taste) – and up until that point I would only go, but I see others who want to keep their own (extreme ways) even when they realize their ways don’t fit in their new lives anymore.

        Problem is, as a human we tend to generalize and the mistake that Denmark makes is to clump these people into a group and put them in a box, labelled ALL immigrants or ALL muslim immigrants. Just like Breivik did, and he also killed some blue eyed blonde Norwegian kids just because he thought they were being brainwashed.

        I swear to you, I get headache myself thinking how to solve the problem without discriminating certain countries or ethnic, because like I said, we just can’t generalize – people are people, no matter what race and ethnicity you have, there are good and bad people all around. Sure some people might have weird (in our point of view) customs and culture than others, but as long as they’re not against the law, it should be OK for them to do it.

        Now I’m talking in circles because I start to get headache. LOL

  7. Life's travails permalink
    4 May 2012 20:52

    Xenophobia comes in many shapes and forms. Multiculturalism is a relatively new concept in Norway – they have much to learn yet As for the shape of Breivik’s mind – I feel he is more narcissistic than he is passionate about subject. I’m not sure the red roses do it for me though. Maybe I spent too many years in the real rainbow nation.

    • 10 May 2012 20:11

      I agree about the narcissism. As for the red roses — I guess I feel the same way about them that I feel about everyone getting together to sing the rainbow song. We can all sing the praises of multiculturalism, but I think it might be more important in the coming months and years to talk about the ways in which it doesn’t work as well.

      • Life's travails permalink
        11 May 2012 12:08

        You put that so much better than I do Jena. Yes, it is a wonderful show of support and solidarity but I’m not convinced that it is enough to send the message through to those who really need to understand it. It will take more pro active steps to deal with the issues at hand.

  8. Alyssa permalink
    19 June 2012 08:22

    Jena, I can’t tell you how happy I was to read this.
    I read the article in the paper about it as well, and tried to express my sentiment (very similar to yours, only not expressed so well) to an expat friend from the UK. When I saw the fire in her eyes about how I could possibly, even remotely, understand Breivik’s point of view (even with the disclaimer that I think he was terribly wrong in his actions), I knew that I should never speak of it again. It’s nice not to feel like the only one that has given this more thought….

    • 19 June 2012 08:33

      Thanks so much for your comment. I received a few not-so-nice emails about this post, including one that accused me of sensationalism – which was so very far from my intent! I really do hope that more people can divorce themselves from our natural feelings of repulsion towards him and his actions to really start asking questions about how and if multiculturalism works, especially given the project of nationalism.

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