Saturday, 23 July 2011

mine kondolanser, norway

as with everyone else, i'm absolutely gutted about the news in norway. it's appalling attack and a terrible tragedy for the people of that country. i started writing this post last night, but it's such a difficult one to write. so i'm going to apologise in advance if there's anything here that could possibly imply that the people of norway deserve anything less than our full sympathy and support.

there are some things that are bothering me about the way this issue is being reported. it's hardly an original thought for me to point out that the use of the term "madman" to describe the terrorist who carried out these attack is hugely ablist and damaging to those with a mental illness. the conflating of violence with mental illness is not backed by any research anywhere, and perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

more than that, to imply that the man responsible for these horrendous attacks was not fully sane is to absolve him of some of the responsibility for the attacks. it is to deny the deliberate and calculated nature of these attacks, that were well-planned and so sadly efficient. this is not the work of someone who has lost their mind, but of someone with the full use of their faculties and a full understanding of what he intended to achieve:

Mr. Breivik was also believed to have posted a video on Friday summarizing his arguments. In its closing moments, the video depicts Mr. Breivik in military uniform, holding assault weapons. Rarely has a mass murder suspect left so detailed an account of his activities. The manifesto describes in detail his purchase of chemicals, his sometimes ham-handed experiments making explosives and his first successful test detonation of a bomb in a remote location on June 13.

by failing to call these attacks exactly what they are ie a full-scale act of terrorims directed against people with a shared political ideology, we shift away the focus from where it needs to lie. it needs to lie with those groups that mr breivik was associated with and it needs to lie with the people who are creating an environment where a person can feel justified in carrying out such an action.

there is no doubt that the environment in europe has become increasingly anti-immigrant, with an extremely negative focus on muslims. as the new york times points out, this kind of thinking is not just in the private arena, but has become an increasing part of the political environment:

The success of populist parties appealing to a sense of lost national identity has brought criticism of minorities, immigrants and in particular Muslims out of the beer halls and Internet chat rooms and into mainstream politics. While the parties themselves generally do not condone violence, some experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.

... Groups are gaining traction from Hungary to Italy, but it is particularly apparent in northern European countries that long have had liberal immigration policies. The rapid arrival of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of them Muslims, led to a significant backlash in places like Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party has 25 out of 179 seats in Parliament, and the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom won 15.5 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election.

... Both the Danish and Dutch right-wing parties are backing precarious minority governments while not directly participating by having ministers, and inching toward mainstream acceptance in the process.

the norwegians were totally undeserving of these attacks. it is a cruel crime against those directly or indirectly affected. what i'm seeing in several comments around the traps is that the norwegians are particularly undeserving victims. i think that's unfair on all those innocent civilians who have suffered from bombings and terrorist attacks around the world. each of those are equally undeserving of the violence that has descended on them. any attempt to mark out degrees of victimhood is repellent. can we not offer our support to the norwegians at this time, without the unnecessary comparisons? they're unhelpful and don't actually indicate any higher degree of concern.

it's hard not to look at this act, in conjunction with other acts of violence happening around the world, and feel a sense of despair at the polarisation of hate groups and their increasing power. how on earth do we counter something like this, and where do we even begin? any attempt to lower the hatred or to encourage a toning down of hate-filled rhetoric is quickly lost in "freedom of speech" arguments. the fact is that hate groups around the world - regardless of religion (or lack thereof), ethnicity, nationality - have always managed to gain a high degree of political success by targetting minorities or some conveniently framed other. despite the incredible violence such a tactic causes, human beings fail to learn from history and we fail to adequately counter this particular tactic.

unfortunately, i don't have any answers in my own mind. if a cure for this kind of political and social illness was possible, then i'm sure it would have been applied by now. all i can do is express my sadness, and ask that people name this act correctly. it's not madness, it is terrorism.


Faycin A Croud said...

Every time something like this happens, the mentally ill take a hit despite the fact that the majority of persons with mental illness are nonviolent. Most mentally ill people know right from wrong and most of us choose not to do wrong, in spite of the wrongs that are unthinkingly done to us all the time.

Hugh said...

While I agree that throwing around terms like "madman" isn't very helpful, I don't think we can be 100% certain that this wasn't the act of somebody mentally ill. We know very little about the alleged perpetrator, and the possibility that he has some form of mental illness cannot be ruled out. So while I think it's hasty for the media to declare him insane without any access to his psychological history, I think it's equally hasty for them to declare him sane - again, without any access to his pyschological history.

Scuba Nurse said...

People need to believe that someone has to be "other" or "different" in some way to commit truly horific crimes. No one wants to admit that they hold a tiny spark inside them capable of any kind of violence toward others.
The problem is when that blinds us to the real issues and causes, because we dont want to look too hard. Those that suffer ARE the different and other, and that cannot help anyone.

katy said...

First of all, while I want to talk about the politics of this awful situation I want to absolutely affirm that it is not my intention at all to imply that these attacks should not be absolutely condemned. The people of Norway must know they have our full and total support.

"what i'm seeing in several comments around the traps is that the norwegians are particularly undeserving victims."

This seemed particularly the case in those initial few hours when a "jihadi" (self-described) group had claimed responsibility and so the political context for it was being analysed in a different way. It was during this period that this piece was written but the discussion of how we view "our" violence vs the violence of "others" is thought-provoking, particularly in relation to Norway's involvement in the bombings in Libya.

The writer makes the prediction (added once it was known that it was a "domestic" terrorist) that American interest in the attacks will disappear should it become apparent that the perpetrator was not Muslim. Will be interesting to see if his prediction is correct.

stargazer said...

@ katy: thanx for the link. i thought gordon campbell was really good on this as well.

@faycin a croud: i totally agree.

Anonymous said...

@Scube: I got somewhat ostracised in my sixth form year when I tried to argue that there is a shadow's width between each of us and the most heinous killers.

I think it was an "event" a year earlier that made me realise the darkness within. Scared the hell out of me.

All it took was studying MacBeth (I think) and when we were talking about how MacBeth had murderous intent regardless of his wife's pushing, I felt as though I drifted out of myself, turned around and looked back into me. And saw a dark swirling tempest. Something of such potential malevolent force.

It was pretty much that point that I realised just how close we are to committing terrible acts. That to find out what a murderer looks like, we just need to look in the mirror.

And while Breivik may or may not suffer from some form of mental illness, it is harmful and extremely unhelpful to continue to refer to him as a madman, a nutter, or as @P0TUS was doing on Twitter, an RWNJ. The Norwegian leaders - I can understand it - they had just suffered an horrific attack. But the MSM - no such excuse.

There was one arsehole in the twitter chat about how the stats show most rapes in Norway are committed by "non-Europeans". Finally tracked down

Hugh said...

Brievik's lawyer has stated that his client is insane.

stargazer said...

as he would hugh. it's not exactly an unknown defence technique, and there aren't that many options open to the defence team.

Hugh said...

Sure, it's not evidence that he definitely is insane. That is for the court to decide if it's part of his defense. But I still think it's premature to declare him sane.

stargazer said...

FFS, you have no evidence that yet he's that he has any form of mental illness, no evidence that he has ever been diagnosed or visited a mental health professional, but we shouldn't complain about baseless speculations that he has a mental illness? until we have proof otherwise, it's plainly discriminatory to randomly use words like "madman", "crazy" etc, and a tactic used by many to diminish the the nature of this terrorist act.

the position you are taking is that people should be assumed to have a medical illness unless they have somehow proved sanity. that's just bizarre, besides being hugely problmatic.

Hugh said...

I'm saying that if people claim that they have a mental illness - and we can assume that he is instructing his lawyer to make this claim - we should take that claim seriously. No, we shouldn't believe it just because of the assertion, but neither should we deny it either.

Taking their claim seriously doesn't mean absolving them of criminal or moral responsibility for their actions. It just means not denying that they are mentally ill, or dismissing their claims of illness as simple legal maneuvering.

And I'll say that I am against the use of terms like "crazy", "madman", "lunatic", "nutter" etc etc for anybody, mentally ill or not, because they are ableist.

Joley said...

"and we can assume that he is instructing his lawyer to make this claim" - Why?

Hugh said...

"and we can assume that he is instructing his lawyer to make this claim" - Why?

Because a defense lawyer is obliged to act under the instructions of his client in constructing a defense, and failure to do so is a major breach of legal ethics that would probably result in removal from the case if not actual disbarment?

Anonymous said...

"I do not know what drove Anders. But, unfortunately, I do not think he is crazy.

"It would have created a comfortable distance between us if I thought he was.

"Nothing I know about him from our school days or what I have read in his so-called manifesto suggests that.

"Rather, he is cold, intelligent and calculating.

"The Anders I knew was not a monster.

"And as the saying goes, he was not an island. He was product of our society. He was one of us. "

stargazer said...

i thought this piece is really good on some of the points i was raising in the post. particularly:

I am not especially interested in the intimate psychology of Anders Breivik. It goes without saying that there is something horrifyingly wrong with anyone, whatever their ethnic and ideological background, who thinks that butchering teenagers is an appropriate response to political expediency. Breivik's precise mental robustness is of importance to nobody but his defence lawyers. What matters more is the speed with which so many have rushed to claim, and loudly, that he must be mad, as if madness automatically placed one outside the realm of political and personal responsibility.

Significant parts of the political establishment seem frantic to believe, as Sam Leith wrote in the Evening Standard, that "Norway was about madness, not politics"; that the events in Oslo and Utøya were "so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics", in the words of Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. Few have been prepared to examine the far more frightening possibility that the killer may simply have taken to a violent, bloody extreme ideas that, while hateful, are entirely current in mainstream political debate.

Suzanne said...

A very interesting piece in the latest New York Review of Books: