The Oslo Terror Bombing and the Utøya Shootings: Where Is the ‘Man’ in the ‘Gunman’?

22 July 2011 was black day for Norway and for the whole mankind. According to police reports, at least 85 youths have been killed by a gunman that opened fire at an youth camp of the Norwegian Social Democratic Youth (AUF/ Arbeidernes ungdomsfylking) on Utøya – an island close to the Norwegian capital Oslo, just hours after a bomb was detonated in downtown Oslo, in the vicinity of the Norwegian Prime Minister’s offices, killing 7 and wounding dozens. The two attacks are the worst to occur in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings in which 191 people missed their lives. The terror attack in downtown Oslo was first assumed by an Islamist terrorist organization, and some European medias had hurried to collectively condemn Islam, such as the Italian Il Giornale that read ‘It is always them who attack us’ (‘Sono sempre loro ci attaccano’) only to alter its main page hours later as new information uncovered that the Norwegian police has apprehended a man whom they suspected was the perpetrator of both attacks (see, in Italian ecco qui).

The main suspect, Anders Behring Breivik (32) is a native Norwegian, residing in a wealthy neighborhood in Western Oslo. A first insight into the main suspect’s background was that he was a lone man that lived together with his mother, who during the past few years has had several companies. His latest enterprise (Breivik Geofarm in Rena) founded in 2009 apparently activated in agriculture, through which he apparently purchased around 6 tons of fertilizers, which seems to have been used to manufacture the explosives in the two bombs (the one detonated in downtown Oslo, and the other one found on Utøya) (in Swedish här; in Norwegian, her). The manner the bombs were made has a strong ressemblance to that used in the attack in Oklahoma City in the USA in 1995 when 168 people were killed. There are speculations that Breivik might have been assisted in his shooting spree by a second person, not yet apprehended by the Norwegian police (in Swedish, här).

As more information continued to be gathered, it was revealed that Breivik had been active in the Oslo western district of the main radical right populist party in Norway the Progress Party (FrP/ Fremskrittspartiet/ Framstegspartiet) since 1999, but disagreed with what he regarded too appeasing an attitude in immigration questions (in Norwegian, her), and was expelled from the party in 2006 for not paying his membership fee. On this regard he was very active on radical right forums where he unveiled his uncompromising stance against what he called the dominating ‘cultural Marxism’ of the Norwegian elites and their constant ‘bashing’ of the nationalist conservative right. Even more so he unleashed a vivid critique against PM Stoltenberg and his Social Democratic Party, talking about ‘Stoltenberg’s jugend’ thus comparing the Norwegian Social Democratic Youth organization to the Nazi ‘Hitler jugend’ (in Swedish, här). A collection of his internet comments on various political issues has been put together and is available on document. no (in Norwegian, her); illustrative are his comments with regard to whom is entitled to be considered a full-fledged Norwegian and his opposition to the inclusive definition of citizenship:

“Everyone who are holders of a Norwegian passport are ‘authentic/full-fledged’ ‘Norwegians’ … Which in other words means that even those Somalis (with a Norwegian passport) who all day (do nothing but) chew khat, do their wives and send half of the social benefits to al-Shabaab should be viewed as fully Norwegian. If anyone in this country DARES to look at these Somalis as something other than full-fledged Norwegians, then they are racists and should be stygmatized publicly. And they say that everyone who disagrees with their extreme cultural-Marxist worldview – the utopian, global citizen definition – are racists?” (my translation, in original in Norwegian, her).

Perplexing, the gender dimension shines with its absence from any media analyzes. It is puzzling that a man in his prime designs such a terror attack on such a scale, not only literally besieging the Norwegian center of power, but also killing a whole generation of future political activists animated by Social Democratic ideals. The questions that flood in on this issue concerns the gendered nature of violence, and the perceived ‘cowardice’ (read unmanliness) of the Norwegian radical right populists that have sold their souls to be accepted by the political mainstream and turned themselves into the puppets of PR firms. Is Breivik the representative of an extreme masculinity that resorts to violence to ascertain its traditional patriarchal masculine values and purify the national body through the physical extermination of those threatening it with a multicultural accommodative project? What sort of parallels can be drawn with the shooting incidents in Finland that I have addressed in earlier blog entries, such as in here? Why was the gender dimension silenced in the media reporting? How far is the ‘far right’, or ‘extreme right’ as the media reported from ‘radical right populism’ that I also wroteabout in here, and here?

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Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 Research No Comments

Call for Papers: Can Others Become Part of Us? Questions of National (Im)Purity. Workshop 19 at XLII Annual FPSA (11-12.03.2010 University of Helsinki & Tallinn University)

In an ever more integrated and diverse Europe, marked by a plethora of interactions between traditions, languages, and ethnic identities, the traditional understandings of nation-states and their role in societal structuring face new challenges. In a world where individuality and flexibility are norm, we witness the twin processes of widening up the traditional definitions of nation, with direct implications on that of citizenship, countered by the inward-looking, conservative attempt to contain and restrict the allowed definitions of the concept. What emerges is a continuous and fluid differentiation of “Us” from the “Other,” emphasized by the dual process of containing the generic “Us” to a coherent, indivisible and monolithic category; at the same time, the “Other” is crystallized to embody its symbolic and ever allusive counterpart.

Distinctions and borders are construed across various dimensions, and “purity” is a poignant concept for the definition of national, in-group belonging. Hierarchies of gender are elaborated to enforce heteropatriarchies as sole domains of national intelligibility. In this context, fears of masculine feebleness or sexual deviancy, thus failure to accomplish the task of national reproduction, are seconded by that of national “pollution,” of allowing the infestation of national body through the inclusion of male immigrant “Others.” Another dimension is that of a vaguely defined common European identity, which comes forth to strengthen European national specificities. These are projected as “European” and thus belonging to a transnational common “Us,” and embody a set of stable “traditions” and a “pure” culture that needs to be preserved against menacing, yet ubiquitous religiously different and racialized “Others.”

Paramount to all these dimensions is a preoccupation with maintaining an illusory “purity,” of a constant fear of “pollution” that is used to justify an ever closer policing of hierarchies, borders and bodies.  These fleshes out problems raised by a type of “second class of citizenship” allotted to immediate “Others,” based on differences of language, religion, ethnicity and race, and last but not least differences of gender and sexual orientation. With this in mind, authors are encouraged to submit papers inquiring into the apparently dichotomous distinction that separates the categories of “Us” as opposed to “Others,” as constitutive lubricant narratives of political discourse. Analyses of how gender and sexuality, ethnicity, religion, race, and obsessions of national preservation and reproduction are intersecting to create (new) mythologies of purity and pollution are particularly welcomed.

Kewords: (im)purity, nation, Other, Us.

The workshop will be part of XLII Politiikan tutkimuksen päivät/ XLII Annual Meeting of Finnish Political Science Association to be hosted by the University of Helsinki (Finland) and Tallinn University (Estonia) (11-12 March 2010). For information on the FPSA conference (updated constantly). The workshop is planed to take place in Helsinki, Finland. The language of the workshop panel will be English. Interested authors should submit their abstract (max. 300 words) accompanied by 5 keywords to the panel organizer by 29.01.2010:

Ov Cristian Norocel:  cristian.norocel(@)

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Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 Research No Comments

Of Fathers and Obsessions

The Containing Father (Lövin-1988)

The Containing Father (Lövin-1988)

A Sunday afternoon visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm (Moderna museet) turned out to be very rewarding, and not only from a purely aesthetic point of view but also because some of the pieces, in particular one of them, seemed to call upon a strong connection with the title of the present blog.

The aforementioned artwork is Björn Lövin’s sculpture titled The Containing Father (Den kringgärdande fadern) (1988) that reminds, not only through its title, of Lacanian scholarship on the topic of language, infancy, mothers and fathers.

At 280 cm tall and 120cm wide, the sculpture is almost intimidating. The solid, darkened surface of the wood does not appear at all hospitable, let alone friendly. There is a certain warmth in it, but one needs to be willing to look for it, and find it there where others would simply feel distance and coldness. the sculpture rests on three feet, two of them projected outwards like some sort of giant embracing arms, ready to contain and not let go.

Strangely, one may walk closer to the sculpture, willingly subjecting herself or himself to the father’s embrace. Time appears to be frozen in this open embrace. The feeling of containment comes not from the arms not yet fully closed, rather from such potentiality once the embrace may be led to fruition. The figure is tempting, it is open; at the same time, one may sense the size and the open embrace as intimidating, a promise of a possibly disciplining action yet to take place.

I find the piece a masterful and powerful translation of stereotypes and idealized pictures of masculinities, especially that of strict, intimidating, disciplining fatherhood. Now I can only wonder, how can one further deconstruct these?

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Thursday, July 16th, 2009 Miscellaneous No Comments

Investigating Radical Right Populist Discourses: Conceptual Metaphors.

Lately, I have been working on a paper titled ‘Conceptual Metaphors at Work in Radical Right Populist Discourses: Romania Is a Family and It Needs a Strict Father.’ My intent was to flesh out how certain metaphors were consistently employed by the two presidential hopefuls from the Romanian radical right populist parties in their 2004 televised final confrontation. The two were Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party (PRM/Partidul Romania Mare) and George Becali of the New Generation Party (PNG-CD/Partidul Noua Generatie). The conceptual metaphor of the STRICT FATHER (i.e. the power to take care of the family members in need; the Messianic ability to read and interpret holly texts; the capacity of deciding who belongs to the family and who is excluded; the commitment to enforcing the set rules; and the ability to punish wrong doers, and bring justice to the defenseless) made direct reference to that of the NATION IS A FAMILY conceptual metaphor. The way these metaphors were used underlined a deeply heteropatriarchal structuring at work in the radical right populism in Romania. The discourses were obsessively structured around male figures, and their possible male contenders; women were almost invisible, and when their existence was acknowledged, they were presented merely as some subordinated beings. From this point of view, I think that a closer look from a feminist perspective at how such metaphors structure the reality these parties put forward and want to make people take as given is a worth doing enterprise.

I will present it within the workshop titled ‘From postcommunism and transitology to non-teleological change. Present and future research on Eastern and Central Europe.’ organized by Associate Professor Ann-Cathrine Jungar, research leader at CBEES, Södertörn University College, Stockholm.

The workshop is arranged by the CBEES (Center for Baltic and East European Studies) theme ‘Society and the Political’, and it aims at ‘at bringing together junior and senior scholars in the social sciences and humanities (political science, sociology, economics, ethnology and history) doing research on the political, economic and social developments in Eastern and Central Europe.  The workshop is divided into thematic slots, which are introduced by senior scholars with experience in the specific research area and in which the participants are invited to present their ongoing research. A special session is devoted to issues of fieldwork in the area.’ (quoted from a more extensive workshop description; for more details, please read here).

I am very curious about the feedback I will get from the other researchers on Eastern Europe, especially since mine is very specific a reserch topic and it is undertaken from a consciously chosen gender sensitive perspective. In general populists managed to present masculinity as the norm, and I wonder if this would be accepted as such or discussed critically. I think it will be a very interesting workshop.

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Thursday, June 4th, 2009 Research No Comments

When Finnish Masculinity Shows its Teeth

Sometimes I am amazed by the virulence of masculinist heteronormativity in Finland. I am well familiar with the impregnable steadfastness of the Finnish man, or the way media feeds people with this myth. Or is it like they say: patriarchy feeds insecurity so that to born more patriarchy?

In this case, the CEO of the Alma Media trust, Mr Kai Telanne, had a sudden change of mind. As such, he decided to cancel Mrs Johanna Korhonen’s appointment as the editor-in-chief for the Rovaniemi-based Lapin Kansa even before she started her job. Mrs Korhonen previously worked as the editor-in chief for Journalisti, the newspaper of the Finnish Union of Journalists.

Her sins allegedly are first that she lives in a registered partnership with another woman. And second, that her partner is politically involved. It appears that Alma Media suddenly discovered irregularities and dishonest remarks made by Korhonen during her job interview and thus decided it could not allow her to be at the helm of the news paper in northern Finland. According to Korhonen, the CEO offered to the already-dismissed-future-editor-in-chief a severance contract worth some EUR 100,000.

The English version of Helsingin Sanomat has a very different take on the issue- here- and reveals that political engagement cannot be a reason, since the spouse of another editor-in-chief of an Alma Media-owned newspaper is politically active at local level. This despite that Mr Telanne underlined the requirement of neutrality on behalf of the editors’ spouses. In a later article in Hufvudstadsbladet- här- Alma Media’s leadership evasively argues that there will be no consequences for the editor-in-chief (a man in this case) whose spouse (a woman) is involved in local politics. So then, why a woman who is in a registered partnership with another woman is punished for her partner’s involvement in politics? Is male-dominated business deciding who is allowed to be politically active in Finland? Will it allow lesbians, and other lgbt persons to do that?

A second comment comes from the acting editor-in-chief of Lapin Kansa, Heikki Tuomi-Nikula, in an interview given to YLE (see web article in Swedish här; Finnish link disabled). While being very critical to Mr Telanne arguing even for his resignation, he perplexed with another remark. Concerning Mrs Korhonen’s official coming out, he manifested his skepticism arguing that a lesbian editor-in-chief of a newspaper like Lapin Kansa will have a hard time to prove that she is not only representing the newspaper, but the whole Finnish Lapland.

Now I must confess I am very confused. So a middle-aged Finnish man can claim that during his work at the helm of a newspaper in Lapland- and he has been there since 1984- he has represented the whole region. A region with quite a diverse population, with both men and women, and most probably both heterosexuals and lgbt persons, to keep the dichotomy at a very simplistic level. So I am wondering how a middle-aged straight Finnish man can represent the whole (!!!) Finnish Lapland? And then what does a lesbian woman – otherwise a successful journalist and former editor-in-chief at some other newspaper- lack so that she cannot represent the aforementioned region? To my mind the notions of hyper-inflated masculinist pride are tightly connected to some sort of national northern messianism and give room to comments like the one above. Otherwise why would be a straight middle-aged man more representative than a lesbian woman?

I wonder what would happen if all lgbt people and their families and friends in Lapland would decided that Lapin Kansa’s present editor-in-chief no longer represents them and decide to stop buying the newspaper. How would Mr Tuomi-Nikkula solve this issue?

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Friday, October 3rd, 2008 Miscellaneous No Comments