Last week (Friday 22 July), a man brought a brutal plan to its grim conclusion in Oslo and Utoeya. After years of festering in resentment and roiling with anger, he worked up the conviction to act on his beliefs. He methodically worked out how to make and plant a home-made bomb. He coldly calculated an ambush of young women and men participating in a political summer camp.
He detonated his car bomb and killed 8 people, as well as damaging the prime minister’s office and several buildings in the area. While the city reacted to the terrifying scene, this man calmly made his way to a summer camp on the island of Utoeya dressed as a policeman, armed with an automatic rifle and enough ammunition to carry out an hour-long attack on the residents of the camp. He killed 68 people before surrendering.
Lie No. 1:
As shocking as the attack in Oslo was, it was apparently less shocking than the identity of this angry and violent man. Right-wing media outlets predictably lead with the unconfirmed story that the attack was carried out by Jihadists. But even mainstream commentators and more responsible media outlets ran with the Islamic terror story without evidence and have pushed the angle even after it was revealed that the perpetrator was a white, Christian, “nationalist” from Norway.
Why did the press so quickly and thoroughly misrepresent the story? We can talk about a knee-jerk response or blame faulty reporting, but there’s a simpler and more troubling dynamic at work here. That answer is that “we” expect angry and violent men committing these type of attacks to be Muslim, non-white, non-European.
Even as the true perpetrator of last Friday’s attacks was found and his own racist views made public, the media and the public struggled to accept and understand Anders Breivik because of their own entrenched racism. The hands that commit such violence are supposed to be brown hands, hands that pray to a false and violent God, hands raised in angry protests in far away countries, hands reaching out to choke white victims. Our image of violence reveals the violence of our images.
The blithe accusation of Muslim extremists and the immediate belief that the attacks in Oslo must have been perpetrated by Al-Qaeda, or some other shadowy network, reveal how deeply racist narratives are embedded in “our” understanding of the world.