Sunday, May 24, 2015

One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Åsne Seierstad translated by Sarah Death

Åsne Seierstad is a nonfiction writer and foreign affairs journalist who had never written about her native Norway before she was asked to cover the case of Anders Breivik, on trial for mass murder in the city of Oslo and on the island of Utøya. She found herself uncertain how to explain the Breivik phenomenon after listening to ten weeks of trial testimony and decided to go deeper.

To Breivik’s story she adds those of three Breivik killed (Simon Sæbø, Bano Rashid, Anders Kristiansen) and one he did not kill (Viljar Hanssen). The only thing missing from this history are photographs, which I try to supply here.

Anders Kristiansen & Simon Saebo

Seierstad goes into great detail about Breivik’s personal upbringing which may be of use to some who think they can find a key to his behaviors as a 32-year old man. I am no expert on these things, but it didn’t help me to understand: what I did conclude is that family or community might be a more of a curb to deviance if they just spoke to the individual about their observations or concerns about their more anti-social behaviors. But this path may suppose those family or community members to have a well-developed sense of self, and of right and wrong.

Bano Rashid

Breivik spent a great deal of time and money organizing and preparing for his big moment. He rented a farm, had tonnes of fertilizer delivered, and purchased many items online. It took months. He wasn’t stupid, exactly—he just didn’t listen to opposing views. The novelist Karl Ove Knausgård points out in a recent New Yorker article that the bonds, constraints, differences and fellowship of ordinary community around the world are breaking down and allowing folks to feel themselves distanced from neighbors, countrymen, fellow humans.

Viljar Hanssen

Knausgård argues that Breivik was not exceptional in any way: “Breivik’s history up until the horrific deed can more or less be found in every life story…he was and is one of us.” Seirestad says that this is a story of community: “this is also about looking for a way to belong and not finding it.” Breivik found groups he liked and who liked him throughout his development but gradually he was dropped from their ranks. So he made up his own international “Knights Templar Europe” of which he was Commander. All alone by himself.

Island of Utøya

Having just finished a remarkable novel by Christie Watson, Where Women Are Kings , about severe child abuse and the damage it wreaks, I am inclined to think parenting may be the most important thing we should do well if we are going to participate in the world. It is not enough to have one’s own career and provide food and shelter. Even the indigent and refugee communities can do that now with government help. It takes more, much more, to create a home, or to run a school.

One of the more horrible (and horribly funny) portions of Seirestad’s account was how the police reacted to news of what they thought was the first major terrorist attack on Norwegian soil. A reader is simply undone by the Keystone Cops manner of their response. The police, living as they had in a civil society unused to such horrors, were extremely polite with one another and inefficient in the extreme. Every moment they delayed, another child was being shot. We are left with a vision of ten heavily armed police in a dangerously overloaded red rubber dinghy attempting to motor three kilometers to Utøya but getting stuck after a couple hundred meters offshore because the motor gave out when the craft was swamped. Rescued by a local holidaymaker, the dressed-to-kill warriors then overloaded the rescue craft.

We must realize, once again, that our protection must rely on us, the body politic. And I don’t mean we should arm ourselves. What I mean is that we are responsible for teaching the children about the meaning of community.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores And

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