10 Years After The Utøya Attack

On July 22nd it was the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack that took place in Norway. The anniversary marks the loss that took place but also asks questions about how to deal with the aftermath of the attack. It was a right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, that committed the atrocity. He detonated a car bomb in the government quarters in the capital and then went to the island Utøya dressed as a police officer with a gun. The island was hosting a youth camp for the Norwegian Labor Party. In total 77 people were killed, and many were teenagers that had come from all over the country to take part in the youth camp. The attack echoed through much of the country.

Many people in Norway remember exactly where they were when they found out about the attack, or how their social media feed was filled with updates and worried parents trying to get in touch with their children. News outlets used live video of Utøya, which they probably never would if they had the chance to edit it. The attack is considered a national trauma comparable to Norway’s experience of the second world war when they were occupied. Moreover, a recent study found that about 45 percent of the survivors still have problems related to anxiety and depression, a third also have symptoms of PTSD or similar.

Breivik tried to use the media attention after the attack to promote his beliefs. There was a debate about not giving Breivik any more attention and today it is common to avoid mentioning him when talking about what he did. For example, the Norwegian movie Utøya: July 22 portrays the events on the island, yet in the whole movie, the attacker is only seen in one short scene. After the attack, Norway took the stance that it would remain an open, united, and trusting society.

However, some of the survivors have recently criticized the state’s handling of the aftermath of the attack. One of them is Viljar Hanssen who told the newspaper Expressen that by describing the event as a tragedy and accident, Norway has not dealt with the political thoughts that motivated the attack. After the bomb went off in the capital, when it was still unknown who did it, people who were presumed to be immigrants were attacked. By presenting Utøya as an unexplainable event or accident and avoiding talking about Breivik, Norway has missed the opportunity to ask what made Breivik do what he did. The answer to that might be found in the ordinary rather than the exception.

Norway’s commitment to stand open and united as a community is admirable, but Breivik came from somewhere. Right-wing extremism and white-power ideology are not new in Norway, nor is it gone. Lara Rashid, who survived the Utøya attack told Aftonbladet, “I want to be able to say that the 22 of July taught us much as a society. And in the beginning, maybe [it] did. But then we forgot and moved on.” When depicted, Breivik is sometimes described in a way that paints him as inhuman or a psychopath. Laurie McIntosh points out that, ”These tactics, however unintentional, effectively shift the focus away from the everyday nature of his identity, and spare the reader the disagreeable task of reckoning with the implications for what his identity may reveal about the terms of national belonging.” Today 10 years have passed, and maybe it is time for Norway to take on this “disagreeable task” and start asking some hard questions.

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