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  1. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm |

    Actually, as someone who lived somewhere where folks of a lily white complexion were getting shot and blown up on a regular basis, I recall the response of certain USians was to actually fund the terrorism.

  2. Stella
    Stella August 1, 2011 at 7:32 pm |

    Thanks for this, Emily. I wish there were more people bringing up these issues, and that nuanced views like this were more common. Personally I think there’s no doubt that we’re imperialists, and we have been for a century; we don’t have military bases in over 100 countries and spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined as a public service. And when I read, as I happened to just yesterday, that US drone attacks have killed 2500 people in Pakistan since 2004, 35 (35!) of which were classified by the CIA as “high value targets” (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/07/201172612395401691.html), I can’t possibly believe we’re on the good side either. This isn’t self-defense and it isn’t justice, and it’s entirely predictable that people whose children are being killed by robots from the sky will come to believe that violence is their only way of fighting back. We create our enemies, faster than we kill them.

  3. William
    William August 1, 2011 at 7:42 pm |

    Safiya: I remember a time when in Chicago you could barely walk past a local bar without seeing an ad for when the next “Widows and Orphans” fundraiser would be and I can remember being old enough to drink in bars where old men (some with accents both real and affected, some with just the familiar Chicago slur) waxed nostalgic for the good old days when they were still paying for “patriot’s rifles while buying beer.” I remember going to concerts where none of the bands ever forgot to remind you to make a donation. No one thought of it as terrorism, there are still a lot of people who’d come to blows over that description today, and lots of people made comparisons between the American Revolution and the Troubles.

    Its a struggle even today to shake off the cultural impact. Growing up guys like Bobby Sands weren’t just heroes for the Irish kids in Chicago, my hard-left German-Bohemia hippie of a father held them up as examples of men who made a stand. Its difficult to imagine the people in the crossfire when you’ve imagined the embattled good guys fighting against a story’s villain.

  4. Jadey
    Jadey August 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm |

    This is something that was on my mind even as I was reacting to the events of the 22nd, as I realized that I was reacting much more strongly to the news from Norway than I normally do to international tragedies. I was not just concerned and sad, I was sobbing and shaken. At one point, a friend of mine commented that while they felt it was a terrible thing, they could not really empathize with the people in Norway, and while I was initially aghast at this, I realized that I have often had a similar response to horrific events in unfamiliar places. I feel that it is bad, but I do not personally feel bad, or emotionally wounded. And while I still don’t believe that emotional responses can ultimately be policed in the moment, I do believe they can be reflected upon and critiqued, so I have been thinking about the various reasons for why the Oslo and Utoya attacks struck me so deeply.

    The two reasons I feel comfortable with are the fact that I have family in Oslo (all safe), which is a pretty good reason to take an attack on a completely unfamiliar country personally. (And, to be clear, I am not in any way Norwegian – my blood relatives there are immigrants and not all of them are white, which was another level to my fears for them.) The second is that summer camp has a very powerful association for me, and as a setting for a violent assault, it’s hard to think of something more personal and upsetting than that – when I envisioned the attacks, I couldn’t help but imagine them taking place at *my* summer camp, which is around the time when I started bawling uncontrollably.

    But it would be dishonest of me to claim that there aren’t other reasons for why my empathy for the Norwegian victims was so much stronger than my empathy for victims in other countries. Even though I do not know much about Norway, I do have an assumption that it is similar in many ways to my own country. Because it is Western European, predominantly White and Christian, because it seems like a similar political landscape – because I imagined that everything Breivik did there could very easily have taken place in Ottawa, and that he represents my worst nightmare, my boogy-man, the kind of violence I honestly believe could one day happen to me, my friends, and my family.

    And there is another reason, indefensible and shameful, but undeniable (at least if I am going to maintain any degree of honesty with myself): that to some extent violence in non-White, non-Western countries has been normalized to me. Norway was shocking and was televised and reported on as such, and at the time I did not question it. Violence in a place that for various reasons (some reasonable, some not) seems more familiar to me than does Pakistan (or Haiti, or Syria, or Myanmar, or the Congo, and so forth) strikes an especially dissonant chord because I have come to believe that places where I live are places where violence is not normal, with the corollary belief that there are other places where the same kind of violence, however abhorrent and unjust, is somehow normal, or at least familiar. I don’t agree with this feeling, I am ashamed of it, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t happen. I have internalized a dichotomy of “Us” and “Other” that includes a stratification of violence, and the rampant disaster porn isn’t helping (TW for discussion of rape on that link).

    So I do feel bad about the things that happen in these places, but not with all that I am capable of, at least not as easily as I might without someone giving me a reason – an impassioned essay or photo that I can connect with, or a connection with a person from there. I actually do tend to feel more connected to negative events in Pakistan and Myanmar, for example, because I have friends from both countries, which has given me the beginnings of an emotional bond with these otherwise unfamiliar nations.

    The problem is not that I am incapable of empathizing with the people of non-White, non-Western nations – it’s that the bar seems to be so much higher. My empathy is not an endless resource that I can experience with equal potency for every event worthy of it and still remain a functional human being, but clearly I employ it selectively at least in part in relation to how close I feel to a nation and its people, culturally and politically. I may despise this and strive to behave and feel that all lives have equal worth to me, but events like this prove that I am failing. I don’t know exactly what to do with that except at the very least not lie about it. Maybe what I really need is just to genuinely befriend at least one person from every country and cultural group on the planet, but I have a sense that might be a tall order.

  5. Jadey
    Jadey August 1, 2011 at 8:11 pm |

    Although, one thing I will add about perceptions of Norway is that while it’s true that the nation is predominantly White and Christian, there are still many Norwegians, including among the victims in the attacks, who are not. I identified with Norway not just as a White, Christian nation like my own, but as a White and Christian-dominated, multicultural nation with a threatened population of non-Christians and immigrants of colour, like my own. I can’t speak for other people and maybe it had a lot to do with some of my own family there being immigrants of colour, but I think fundamentally Breivik’s attack was not on White Christians, even though he killed many people fitting that description – the self-professed ideological purpose underlying his actions was to take action against Muslims and non-White immigrants, whether by himself or indirectly through changing the minds of others with his terrorism.

    This doesn’t mean that people aren’t still responding with an element of “people who look like us” (indeed, I’ve more than once challenged people who constructed Norwegians in general and the attack victims as exclusively White Christians), but for that very reason I think we should be careful not erase the existence of Muslim and POC Norwegians.

  6. Hugh
    Hugh August 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm |

    Breivik’s attacks were actually in the rich tradition of extremists who spend most of their time attacking the group whose interests they claim to be advancing. The IRA are another good example – they spent more time killing Catholic collaborators than they did Protestants, let alone British police or soldiers (who were generally in the “too hard” box). Breivik’s the same – he killed white christians and atheists who he felt were insufficiently tough on non-white, non-christians.

    (I’d go so far as to say most of the people at Utoya were probably agnostics or atheists – the Norwegian Labour Party has a fairly strong tradition of anti-church activism. Whether or not Norway itself is a christian country is a bit more complex)

  7. William
    William August 1, 2011 at 10:14 pm |

    Although, one thing I will add about perceptions of Norway is that while it’s true that the nation is predominantly White and Christian, there are still many Norwegians, including among the victims in the attacks, who are not. I identified with Norway not just as a White, Christian nation like my own, but as a White and Christian-dominated, multicultural nation with a threatened population of non-Christians and immigrants of colour, like my own.

    The first thing I thought when I heard about the attacks was “please don’t let this be one of Varg Vikernes’ creatures.” It wasn’t much more than 10 years ago that Norway’s home grown terrorism largely came from Satanists and Pagan Reconstructionists looking for street cred for their music. Not all white folk in Norway are Christians, atheists, or agnostics.

  8. Feministe! – Our responses to terrorism depending on its victims, Fat visibility, and Beauty labour + feminism «

    […] “Norway and terrorism as a daily event” – this post is about the fact that many Westerners are much more forthcoming in our sympathy and concern when terrorism occurs to ‘people like us’ than when it occurs to ‘people not like us’ […]

  9. Sid
    Sid August 1, 2011 at 11:52 pm |

    Worth Reading re: non-white victims of Norwegian attack

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/world/europe/02norway.html

  10. Raja
    Raja August 2, 2011 at 2:28 am |

    Hugh:
    Breivik’s attacks were actually in the rich tradition of extremists who spend most of their time attacking the group whose interests they claim to be advancing.The IRA are another good example – they spent more time killing Catholic collaborators than they did Protestants, let alone British police or soldiers (who were generally in the “too hard” box).Breivik’s the same – he killed white christians and atheists who he felt were insufficiently tough on non-white, non-christians.

    (I’d go so far as to say most of the people at Utoya were probably agnostics or atheists – the Norwegian Labour Party has a fairly strong tradition of anti-church activism.Whether or not Norway itself is a christian country is a bit more complex)

    Al Qaeda is the same; many of their attacks have been aimed at their fellow Muslims rather than at Westerners which I think people forget sometimes. In Iraq; they spent a great deal of time killing their own particularly Shia than Coalition troops. Their ideology calls for a purifying of Islam first before going out and destroying the Far enemy (which is basically us and any other non muslim country) From what I read of Brevik’s manifesto it seemed like a christian version of Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, a book that you can arguably say heavily influenced Al Qaeda’s idealogy though you don’t nesscarily need it as Wahabhism/salafism does the trick enough and is most prodominant in the country which *gasp* we get most of our oil from; Saudi Arabia.

  11. matlun
    matlun August 2, 2011 at 4:23 am |

    How much attention we focus on different tragedies is an interesting and fairly complex issue. News worthiness of the incident means that much more attention will be focused on this incident in Norway than a corresponding level of violence in Afghanistan.

    Also, the amount of empathy we feel with the victims is a very subjective thing and depends on how much we can identify with the victims and their situation.

    I think we have to accept the above as natural.

    Who could really feel the same kind of emotional impact from the yearly death toll of traffic accidents as for the much smaller number of dead in terrorist attacks?

  12. maruja de lujo
    maruja de lujo August 2, 2011 at 5:13 am |

    Thanks for this post, Emily. and thanks to the commenters for the thoughtful comparisons with other terrorist killings and the nuanced observations about who those who are supposedly on the right side but who are killed for not being right-thinking enough.

    It’s good to see someone tackle the unspoken but obvious assumption by the mainstream media that white people’s lives and deaths are more interesting and worthy of column inches and TV time than everyone else’s.
    When a white gunman killed about 30 people, most of them white, in Tasmania, Australia, in the mid nineties, it made plenty of news in the US, even though the state of Tasmania is so little known to most Americans that newsreaders couldn’t even pronounce it. In the UK there were editorials about how Tasmania had “lost its innocence”. Tasmania is the island state where Europeans exterminated the entire full-blooded aboriginal population (between 3000 and 15,000 people) by the middle of the nineteenth century. But those lives don’t count!

  13. Sid
    Sid August 2, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  14. UnFit
    UnFit August 2, 2011 at 8:16 am |

    To me, perceptions of the region play into it, too, though.

    When the earthquake hit in Japan – and I have relatives there – I was eager to make sure everyone I know was okay, but somewhere in th back of my mind, it also said, this is Japan. That’s where earthquakes happen. And typhoons and tsunamis and volcanoes, you name it. That doesn’t make it okay, or any less horrific to the people directly affected, but over here in safe and cozy Europe, I’ve just gotten used to the calls and emails from my father saying, “yeah, there was an earthquake last night… broke some windows at your uncle’s house, but we’re all fine”
    (Fukushima of course added a whole other dimension to the clusterfuck)

    But at least in Europe, there is that notion of the Scandinavian countries as being affluent, parochial, maybe a little old-fashioned, and most of all safe.
    So while it doesn’t personally affect me at all, I still had this initial reaction of, “NORWAY!? Really!? Is there no safe place anymore?”
    And a lot of reactions I’ve heard from people were similar.
    You’re used to hearing terrible news from the middle east and Africa, and you’re used to thinking of northern Europe and the US as the places people from there (try to) run to, because they’re safe.
    So even for the people I know who definitely don’t value a Norwegian life higher than an Afghan or Somalian one, it shook up their concept of the world a little bit.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not saying that anything about this state of affairs is okay, or that Norway somehow deserves to be safe than Iraq, or that any of the shock and awe is rational. I’m just trying to observe what’s going on in the back of a lot of people’s minds.)

  15. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 2, 2011 at 9:53 am |

    William – Hence Bono, for whatever else he’s ever said or done, will always be ok with me for stating exactly what he thought of such romanticism:

    “And let me tell you somethin’. I’ve had enough of Irish Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home…and the glory of the revolution…and the glory of dying for the revolution. Fuck the revolution! They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution. What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the glory in bombing a Remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day. Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead under the rubble of the revolution, that the majority of the people in my country don’t want. No more!”

  16. DP
    DP August 2, 2011 at 11:15 am |

    Two points, though I largely agree with your thesis (our media has ‘normalized’ violence in Afghanistan/Pakistan/the great Muslim mass of nations.”

    1) In some of these regions violence is more normal, though not less tragic. A bombing in Kabul is one of hundreds in the region or the city each year, though the victims are no less murdered or mauled or mourned. News is by its nature driven by novelty – the ‘old dog bites man barely rates a mention, man bites dog is A1 news’ cliche. We are surprised to read about Norway because it is the most concentrated violence the nation has seen since WWII, I think.

    2) I disagree with the phrase “In the West, we seem to have at least a double standard when it comes to violence and mayhem” because I believe it should read “As a species, we seem to have at least a double standard…”

    People in Kenya or India are probably little concerned with violence in Norway, though hegemony and syndication of the news means you might be able to read about Breivik in Nairobi or India. I believe it’s human nature that people are socialized to care about the tribe, however that’s defined. Some white people will care more about fellow white people, some men will care more about other men…and some Hutus will care more about other Hutus, Pakistanis will mourn other Pakistanis but not Indians, Chinese people may not care about Japanese tsunami victims.

    We tend towards tribalism around the world, it’s just that The Global West is one of the bigger, stronger, more powerful tribes.

  17. Lasciel
    Lasciel August 2, 2011 at 12:58 pm |

    Emily Hauser: with this as well. There is absolutely an element of “is nowhere safe?” that fails to take into consideration what it must be like to live with that unsafety every day (for sake of comparison: If I were to have a huge earthquake in my Midwestern American town, vs. those who have suffered time and again in Japan).

    I guess the truth is that nowhere is safe. Japan and other regions have very high risks of earthquakes, any coastal nation or area typically has risk of hurricanes, areas in the U.S and Australia seem to be plagued by uncontrollable and deadly fires more often, and tornados occur in much higher rates than in other areas. Not to mention flooding… which seems to occur everywhere but is exacerbated by infrastructure problems in some nations.

    It is interesting how people outside of the disaster-type susceptible areas perceive those areas… I have no particular beliefs on the matter, though it does seem like people may become more desensitized to the disaster. Hence the “meh” attitude of those tornado alley denizens around me when a tornado is spotted versus the alarm I’ve seen of people from areas not susceptible when one is spotted in their area.

    re: Norway… it’s a low-crime country, and one of the happiest/highest standard of living in the world. Homicide is more unusual there than in the U.S and… even lower than in stereotypically-crime less Japan. I’m not really interested in the novelty theory; or in mainstream news reporting (both online and off) the way news is reported and presented fills me with complete disgust.

  18. William
    William August 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm |

    William – Hence Bono, for whatever else he’s ever said or done, will always be ok with me for stating exactly what he thought of such romanticism

    I’m hesitant to call it romanticism because I’m not sure that accounts for it all. Ignorance, sure, but I think its more complicated than that and I think theres a lot to be learned about the quiet supporters of terrorism from what exactly seems to have been going on in those bars raising money “for the widows and orphans.”

    I’m well read, intelligent, critical. I was better read than most of the people in my neighborhood even when I was in high school. I sought out news, I looked for differing opinions, I was genuinely intellectually curious. I also just flat didn’t know that the IRA weren’t the good guys (or that good guys and bad guys wasn’t remotely the right frame to be thinking in) until college. I lived in a community where you were used to people in authority lying to you and where the word of someone you knew carried a lot more weight than a news report. Chicago was the kind of place where political corruption that would end in prison time in a lot of other parts of the country was considered keeping your nose clean. Its the kind of place where even today theres an inside story, theres things in the news paper and “how it really played out.”

    I think thats important because when I grew up and a story came out about the IRA doing something atrocious everyone dismissed it as English propaganda. We were so used to people in authority lying to us and used to the news being bullshit that the assumption was that any fact not verified by someone you knew was a lie or partial truth. Meanwhile you had guys who had been there “telling you how it was” or someone relating a story that had happened to their cousin or a band with a thick brogue singing a song. The methods the community had for telling truth from falsehood were off and more than that people wanted to believe in freedom fighters standing against the English. Thats what drew my father into the myth, its what appealed to me, its what led to some spectacularly bad judgement on my part when a British official visited my high school. In the end it wasn’t callousness or hatred that kept money and guns flowing to the IRA from Chicago bars, it was the odd combination of ignorance, romanticism, a plausible story, and a complete (and well earned) distrust of authority.

    I saw a similar pattern amongst gun culture after Oklahoma city. I’m seeing it now in some of the responses to the Norway attacks, and I’ve always imagined that a lot of the support terrorists get in the middle east boils down to a similar situation. I think one of the things we talk about least is all of the otherwise normal, upstanding, generally good people who end up supporting causes they never imagine to be terrorism. How many people in Norway do you think are out there thinking to themselves “well he went too far but…” or “I can see his point even if I don’t like his methods…” or even “maybe he’s right…”? Terrorism without community support is just a lone gunman.

  19. Tony
    Tony August 2, 2011 at 8:52 pm |

    And oh look, Muslims in America are the most pacifistic religious group, the least likely to believe that military violence to civilians is justified, and least likely to believe that terrorist violence to civilians is justified. I suppose when you empathize with the perspective of regular violence, it appears more clearly horrendous.

  20. Sifr
    Sifr August 3, 2011 at 4:42 am |

    Thank you for this. One could just easily look into the numbers of.. for example, Iraqis dead daily to, uh, compare our reaction. It’s really sad.. seeing news like this :

    http://original.antiwar.com/updates/2011/07/28/thursday-20-iraqis-killed-46-wounded/

    ..and having little emotional reaction. It’s heartbreaking.

  21. Arkady
    Arkady August 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm |

    William, thankyou for the US perspective on the IRA (it’s not a subject I know much about, tho I can remember my parents muttering darkly about the US money backing the IRA after 9/11 when US officials made comments about going after the sources of terrorist funding). At 25 I’m just about old enough to remember when ‘2 dead in London bombing/Manchester city centre demolished by truck bomb/man shot in NI in front of family/Orange parades riots resulting in deaths of children in burning house’ felt like a regular, commonplace item on the evening news, it’s depressing how when such things are regular in some ways means you start caring less about them, even when they’re occurring in the country you live in…

    (Conversely, once we had a few years of peace then suddenly after 9/11 the ‘War on Terror’ our politicians suddenly redefined terrorism as a far greater threat, involving draconian new laws that were never neccessary during the ‘Police action’ against the IRA. I just don’t understand people sometimes)

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