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Political InQueery: Mourning in a Busy Internet World

Norway vigil shrine, candles in a heart shape over the Norwegian flagAnyone on Twitter or Facebook this weekend learned quickly that UK singer Amy Winehouse passed away, and speculation about a drug overdose ran rampant over the information highway. The attention, in the United States anyway, dwarfed the other big story of the weekend, that an extreme right-wing man bombed the Norwegian Prime Minister's offices and then killed more than 80 children who were attending a Labour Party summer camp. The total dead currently stands at 93. But just this morning, Glenn Beck, from his Internet compound, said that the camp "sounds a little like the Hitler Youth." Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

"Who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing." —Glenn Beck

Well, the University of Oklahoma, for one. There's a camp sponsored by the Young Democrats of America, the Future Civic Leaders of America, and the Junior State of America, but Mr. Beck's douchebaggery isn't the focus of this article. My issue here is that we seem to be paying more attention to the personality of the shooter, Anders Behring Breivik, than the fact that terrorists come in more types than just Muslim, but I suppose the former is evidence for the latter.

Obviously part of what is abhorrent about Mr. Beck's statement is its disregard for human life, but related to this is an example of the way in which we warp the concept and practice of mourning via the Internet. When not just civilians but children—and dozens of children at that—are killed in a terror attack, what happens to our ability to grieve? When we see images of people leaping out of the World Trade Center, or hear about teenagers diving into a lake to take cover from bullets crafted to do more than average damage inside a human body, how do we handle those emotions?

With more than 300 million people in the United States today, we hear frequently about spree killings and rampage murders. We also hear about men who intend to strike terror into the public's heart—men like Andrew Joseph Stack, who intentionally flew into an IRS building in Austin, Texas; or Joseph von Brunn, who shot people dead at the Holocaust Museum in DC; or Jared Loughner, who shot Representative Gabby Giffords—and we don't frame them as terrorists. We call them other things like madmen, or crazy, or delusional, or something else insulting to people who struggle with mental illness. Mr. Breivik resists a bit of this rewriting with his calm demeanor and interest in his media presence, so reporters rush to focus on his 1,500-page manifesto as evidence of his lack of sanity.

While we ask questions about the shooter, we erase the way in which terrorism operates globally, even in places as presumably safe as Norway. We leave ourselves open to individuals who do terrorism differently than we think terrorism occurs, and vulnerable when terrorists look different than we expect them to, but we keep forgetting to question our assumptions. This goes beyond confirmation bias, and one of the effects is that we have shifted how we mourn in the aftermath of these kinds of events.

Just as Americans got fired up in the days after September 11, 2001, spontaneously chanting "U.S.A! U.S.A.!," so are the people of Norway talking uncharacteristically about wanting Mr. Breivik dead. For a country that actively considers itself peaceful and gentle, such communal anger is difficult for them to process. The wrongheaded tweets and politics-influenced commentary bandied about on the web only slows down a recognition of how and why this happened and where to go from here. 

My guess is, meanwhile, that FoxNews is quietly grateful that Glenn Beck isn't making Nazi comparisons on its dollar anymore.

Previously: Why the GOP Will Fracture, Where the DOMA Ends

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Comments

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"Just as Americans got fired

"Just as Americans got fired up in the days after September 11, 2001, spontaneously chanting "U.S.A! U.S.A.!," so are the people of Norway talking uncharacteristically about wanting Mr. Breivik dead."

I've no idea where the writer got this information, because I can find nothing of the sort in the article linked in this passage. Here within the borders Norway very few people are openly expressing vengeful and blood-thirsty spirits - most of the peole I meet daily are too heart-broken to foster aggression at this point. The general consensus has been to unite to support the survivors and the dead victims' close ones, and to resist violent and hateful reactions.

The venom seems to flow more freely in neighbouring countries like Finland, where racism, xenophobia and - yes - misogyny seem to be basic flavour of the public debate surrounding the attacks. Somehow, even when the murdered was an acceptably Aryan-looking native Christian, it is still muslims' fault this happened. Or women's. Also the linked article has a very helpful comments section if there is more need for victim-blaming and islamophobia.

Also the target of the bombings in Oslo was the oil and energy department, not the PM's office building.

Clarification

Thanks, loxsoppa. As far as the bombing details go, it looks like the oil department and the PM's office were both damaged. Here's the report I read on the bombing (via The Guardian):

"The explosion at around 3.30pm (2.30pm BST) blew out most windows on the 17-storey building housing prime minister Jens Stoltenberg's office, as well as nearby ministries including the oil ministry, which was on fire."

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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Okay, I was thinking of this

Okay, I was thinking of this article from the day of the bombing http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/article4180673.ece where it says that the police think the oil and energy department was specifically targeted. No matter though.

More interesting than Glenn Beck's douchebaggery and the smug and misinformed comments on news articles is how this relates to the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe, not just Norway, and how also feminism is on the neo-conservative hit list along with immigration policies. So far we women have enjoyed unrivalled liberties in the Nordic countries, but the patriarchal backlash is felt here, too.

Articles from the AP wire

Articles from the AP wire that reran on Yahoo! Over the weekend had quotes from people on the street that said some angry things about wanting to form a mob and kill him on the way to or from court. I've searched all morning and now can't locate the two articles I'm referring to, but they were up on Saturday. I suspect an editor had them removed for incitement risk. But this morning the shooter's father was quoted in The Guardian as saying something along the lines of wishing his son were dead insead of all those people. Grief, being a difficult enough process to handle without a media spotlight, seems near impossible in the glare of one.

I never got to see those

I never got to see those articles, too bad you couldn't find them. However, I wasn't saying no-one here wants revenge or to see him dead, either. I'm certain that I could pretty easily find individuals who do want either of those things. I was saying that the majority of people are to my knowledge concentrating on clearing out the rubble, finding the ones still missing (two young guys from my area, though I hear one was found dead - can't be sure) and burying their dead.

What I am saying is that I haven't seen a society-wide mob with torches hollering and wanting to hunt down the culprit (seeing as he was already captured, as he probably planned to be in the first place) or his possible allies; instead, there is a growing concern about the extreme right and the popularity of their ideas. That is what creates an atmosphere in which a clinically sane person can justify to himself killing dozens of teenagers, not the laxity of gun laws which are already pretty damn strict in Norway, or citizens having too much privacy.

And frankly, I wish people would just quit calling him a nutcase already. Until actual assessments of his mental health are made, no one knows if he is axe-crazy or a self-appointed crusader of a cause. I know it probably is more comforting to try and dismiss this as an act of a madman, but unfortunately there is a political and social context to his actions that is pretty fucking real in Europe and cannot be wished away. It will come back to haunt all of us if it goes uninvestigated and unaddressed. And so far it seems to my immigrant eyes that the Norwegians as a nation are addressing it the best way possible under these circumstances.

Sorry - typing before

Sorry - typing before thinking. Meant to write "*even* a clinically sane person".

And it is in my opinion the right-wing movement that creates a violent atmosphere, not the growing concern about it, in case that came out garbled in the previous comment. He may not have employed any immediate henchmen but he did allegedly plan the attacks for nine whole years, and in spirit he was definitely not acting alone.

Let me be clear; I absolutely

Let me be clear; I absolutely agree that the vast majority of Norwegians are saddened and want to see justice, not harm via a mob bent on revenge. My concern in this and previous series I've written for Bitch involves media coverage, however, especially as reporting converges with technology. Certainly the shooter doesn't represent the whole of Norway, and neither do the calls for his bloody death. But what gets bandied about as newsworthy here? His "apparent" lack of sanity, calls for vengeance. When the Unabomber was unmasked, we were supposed to breath a collective sigh of relief that he was clearly insane. Same for the white terrorists I referred to in this article. Timothy McVeigh was harder to explain away as damaged, but still there were many pieces on whether he was crazy and/or representative of other right-wing extremists.

On the political level, it actually doesn't matter if he's labeled sane or not; what matters is how politicians will legislate against the kind of violence he perpetrated or not, and it would seem, in light of the Patriot Act and formation of the Department of Homeland Security, and earlier, the McCarthy blacklisting crusades, that sweeping restrictions to individual liberty and freedom happen much more often, at least in the US, when the actors of violence are conceptualized as the Other. Further, these terrorists, when they can't be labeled as "other" racially or along lines of nationality or ethnicity, they are presented as broken people who don't have relevance to the rest of us, so there's no need to investigate our own communities and how they may (through the media or not) motivate these or future acts of violence and terror.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

"But what gets bandied about

"But what gets bandied about as newsworthy here? His "apparent" lack of sanity, calls for vengeance."

Yeah, I get that, and in a way I understand the editorial preference for good solid carnage instead of all those uncomfortable feelings and moments of national introspection. What kinda chaps my hide here is how cross-the-pond media coverage also seems to have this shared basic principle that because of of 9/11 and the Unabomber, Americans are somehow natural experts on political terrorism and massacre.

In this way it's also kind of interesting to see the cross-Atlantic viewpoint, but it's also very uninteresting in the sense that a lot of American media and certainly smug tools like Glenn Beck seem to completely ignore that this is, in fact, not 9/11 or the Unabomber. There are similarities, especially re: Unabomber, but eventually this is not about *them*. The issues at play behind this massacre are different and stem from a different culture and a different history.

"On the political level, it actually doesn't matter if he's labeled sane or not; what matters is how politicians will legislate against the kind of violence he perpetrated or not, and it would seem, in light of the Patriot Act and formation of the Department of Homeland Security, and earlier, the McCarthy blacklisting crusades, that sweeping restrictions to individual liberty and freedom happen much more often, at least in the US, when the actors of violence are conceptualized as the Other. Further, these terrorists, when they can't be labeled as "other" racially or along lines of nationality or ethnicity, they are presented as broken people who don't have relevance to the rest of us, so there's no need to investigate our own communities and how they may (through the media or not) motivate these or future acts of violence and terror."

It looks like the rest of the entire paragraph is in contradiction to its first sentence. You seem to say that whether he gets written off as a lunatic or not certainly has real political consequences over how this sort of violence and the societal developments behind it will be addressed in the future, after saying that it actually doesn't matter. I may have misunderstood, but the point is that how these things are dealt with in the US does not necessarily mirror how this is goint to be dealt with in Norway.

What I'm picking up is a heightened awareness and keenness to actually investigate our own communities, but that may of course be wishful thinking, as it so often is. I'm not gonna stop wishing or trying, however.

Absolutely there are

Absolutely there are differences between what transpired in Norway from violence that has occurred stateside, just as this is different from the incident in the 1980s when one man shot and killed more than a dozen female students in Quebec, Canada. These moments all have their historical roots, but I'm not trying to compare the historical or societal awfulness or temporality of these moments, I'm asking about how they get picked up by the US media and the US political machine.

Yes, the first sentence seems somewhat contradictory, but I think I only really failed in expressing nuance. Comments are a bit off the cuff; however you're bringing up a really useful discussion so I'd like to engage you in it. I'm just trying to say that in "reading" these moments of violence as their own text, the tendency in the US seems to be to disregard white-enacted violence but get up in arms about violence perpetrated by brown people. How this will or will not translate to the response in Norway, I'm not making a guess. I only suggest that if Norwegians dismiss this moment as the act of a lone gunman, which is the mistake we keep repeating in the US, they may leave themselves vulnerable to the next extremist with dum dum bullets.

"These moments all have their

"These moments all have their historical roots, but I'm not trying to compare the historical or societal awfulness or temporality of these moments, I'm asking about how they get picked up by the US media and the US political machine."

Well, it's not close enough to the US to warrant any real grief or introspection, and I can only guess that the US being such a vast country with millions of people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and a pretty fresh colonial history, major thought-control institutions like mainstream media, Hollywood, and the political machine (to name a few) tend to go for the smallest common denominator approach in order to maximize their ratings. Everyone understands violence, anger, and vengeance, whereas more subtle facets of the events are not brought up so eagerly. This is not based on any research and is pretty much my personal opinion, though.

"I only suggest that if Norwegians dismiss this moment as the act of a lone gunman, which is the mistake we keep repeating in the US, they may leave themselves vulnerable to the next extremist with dum dum bullets."

I certainly hope that won't happen. Europeans seem to be taking right-wing extremists more seriously now after this massacre, but on the other hand blindly rounding up and tagging everyone who identifies with the extreme right isn't going to fix anything any more than treating every Muslim or brown-looking person like a potential terrorist has helped to fight actual terrorism.

And the analogy I used is

And the analogy I used is actually pretty fucken idiotic. My sincere apologies - it's been a long day.

"And frankly, I wish people

"And frankly, I wish people would just quit calling him a nutcase already." I don't think you necessarily need to have a mental evaluation to know that somebody believes in crazy things. I agree that there are social and historical roots to most acts of terrorism, but people who think blowing up buildings or flying airplanes into them are NOT sane. A sane person doesn't go on a killing rampage. That's why so many counterterrorism operations involve hiring experts who specialize not only in the psychology but the historical and social roots of terrorism. To me there isn't much difference between a terrorist and a madman, they're one in the same.

Well, Anonymous, if only

Well, Anonymous, if only seeing "craziness" were so easy. You can't imagine a scenario in which a reasonable person would fly into a building? I call that a lack of imagination, not a foray into mental illness.

You're also conflating the legal concept of sanity/insanity with psychology's nuanced understanding of a myriad of diagnoses, and a pop culture, dismissive use of "crazy" and "madman." These things are not the same. The criminal system of jurisprudence is only concerned with whether an individual can be held responsible for his or her actions, not the specific nature of any mental illness. Psychologists and analysts would say that there are significant differences between anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and psychopathology/sociopathology, which is broadly considered a lack of empathy in juxtaposition with reduced fear response and increased risk tolerance.

The very statement, "A sane person doesn't go on a killing rampage" is erroneous to assert, because if every spree killer were found insane, the US legal system would never convict anyone of the crime. But I would also argue that people who have no mental illness do kill other people sometimes. What happens and who is served when we equate terrorists with madmen? What gets erased? Also, what happens when we let ourselves believe that terrorists aren't like the rest of us?

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

"Also, what happens when we

"Also, what happens when we let ourselves believe that terrorists aren't like the rest of us?" That's actually not what I was trying to say at all. My point was, people who committ mass murder are insane because they committ insane acts, I wasn't trying to say that they are all some seperated "other" that creates a seperate class of humans. Perhaps Aslak Sira Myhre writing in the Washington Post seems to have described what I feel much better: "But there are two kinds of madness: psychopathic and political.These days, when a mad person with a Muslim background commits an act of terrorism, it is seen as a result of his or her religion. The clinical madness needed to be a killer on this scale is explained through the political madness of fundamentalism. But when a non-Muslim, right wing extremist.. commits the same acts of atrocity, the political maddness is said to result from clinical maddness."

"To me there isn't much

"To me there isn't much difference between a terrorist and a madman, they're one in the same. "

The path that starts from writing these people off as crazies is a dangerous one, as was already noted in the thread. The reasons why people want to do this should be discussed. Why do you think "terrorist" and "madman" are effectively the same, and why and when does one's mental health become more important as a factor than, say, a political agenda?

*Sigh* I'm obviously doing a

*Sigh* I'm obviously doing a piss poor job at getting my point across. I'm not advocating we "write them off as crazies" I'm saying that their methods are crazy and saying a muslim terrorist isn't crazy to think he'll get into heaven for blowing up Americans is not compared to a narcasistic fundamentalist Nordic man is maintaining a few that when white people kill it's because they're nutts and when brown people kill it's because they're evil. My point is that they're all nutts.

But maybe Aslak Sira Myhre writting for the Washington Post says this better: "These days, when a mad person with a Muslim background commits an act of terrorism, it is seen as a result of his or her religion. The clinical madness needed to be a killer on this scale is explained through the political madness of fundamentalism. But when a non-Muslim right-wing extremist, such as the terrorist of Oslo and Utoya or the Oklahoma City bomber, commits the same kind of atrocity, the political madness is said to result from clinical madness."

Thanks, that clarified it for

Thanks, that clarified it for me - we seem to have been making the same point from different sides of the problem. I'm just exasperated by people, some of them capable of critical thought, trying to end the conversation by saying things like "who cares, he's just madman" as if this was just a single incident and not a symptom of something nasty cooking in the back alleys. But that's what privileged white people, mostly dudes, do best - close their eyes whenever things like race and class come to play.