Renowned professor of social anthropology and Pluto author, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, (Small Places, Large Issues; Ethnicity and Nationalism) appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, discussing the public mood in Norway in the minutes preceding the sentencing of Anders Behring Breivik. Today the Norwegian court unanimously declared Breivik sane, and handed down the maximum-allowable sentence of 21 years in jail for the murder of 77 people, and the wounding of a further 242, perpetrated by Breivik in a killing spree on 22 July 2011.
Professor Eriksen made several remarks in the interview. On the subject of the extent to which such a national trauma will affect Norway, and how much the country may change as a result, Eriksen said:
“We’re going to have to live with this forever. There will be commemorative events every year on 22nd of July, where people are going to tell each other ‘never again’: 22nd of July. The big question is ‘what exactly is that going to mean?’ Some call for more security, more police, armed police on the streets, monitoring of extreme groups and that sort of thing, whereas others are more concerned with looking at the underlying causes of the terrorist attack. To do with changes in Norwegian society, basically, and to some extent, disagreements over immigration, and integration of minorities.”
The interviewer posited that perhaps the public mood has shifted to being ‘more Norwegian’ – more multicultural and pro-immigration than before the attacks?
“Well the answer is yes and no. There has been no perceptible change in the level of hate speech against Muslims. For example, only a couple of weeks ago a politician from the right wing Progress Party announced on his Facebook wall that he hated Muslims, and he was mildly reproached by the party leadership saying that maybe he should choose his words differently… There is still a very vocal and sometimes quite aggressive minority in Norway who feel that things are not going their way; some of them suspect the country is being taken over by Muslims with the government and the elites being complicit in this.”
Concluding the discussion, the interviewer turned the subject of innocence, and the perception of Norway as being an innocent society, and that this was somehow broken by Breivik.
“Yes – and there is some truth to that. It became a cliché very quickly that Norway has somehow lost its virginity or its innocence through the terrorist attack, but there is some truth to it, because it shows and reminds us that we are perfectly capable of producing pure evil without the help of foreigners – which is news to many Norwegians. Also, that we are not invincible, that we are vulnerable just as everyone else, that terrorism can happen here too. I’d just like to add one comment … to do with that grumbling minority of Norwegians who feel excluded by what is happening in society, – the forces of globalisation, transnational connections and immigration – people who feel that things are not going their way, and they will need to be taken seriously in the future.”
The discussion can be found on BBC iPlayer, at approximately 2hrs 54minutes into the programme.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen
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