Tag Archives: terrorism

Men, Privilege and Violence

Today, one year ago, a young man set off a bomb in the middle of a city, then drove to a near-by island, calmly crossed the water, and started shooting dozens of teenagers.

Today, a couple of days ago, a young man went to a movie premiere, equipped with ammunition he had acquired for months, and started shooting dozens of viewers of all ages.

Today, almost a year and a half ago, a young man went to a local constituents meeting and started shooting the Representative as well as dozens of bystanders.

This list could go on for pages. The Washington Post has a timeline with some of the deadliest mass shootings around the world. What they all have in common is the mostly public setting, the victims who were often unrelated and didn’t even know the perpetrators, and of course the perpetrators themselves who are almost always young-ish males. Continue reading

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Remembering 9/11: A Personal Account

Today, exactly ten years ago, a terrible tragedy happened that would change Western society’s attitudes and mental state forever. The social and political implications of this event have yet to be dealt with; some are surfacing just now, others have occupied us for years. And while this topic may offer all sorts of fodder for conversation and reflection, I find it interesting to reduce it to the most individual level: my own personal account of how I experienced the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

I know that’s not terribly original, but I have never done this before, at least not in written form. And it may mean nothing more or less than that this moment shaped me in different ways for the rest of my life. Everyone old enough to store a vivid memory of what happened will be able to tell you exactly where they were, what they were doing and how they reacted when they first heard the news. Here is my story:

In September of 2001 I was 15 years old and I had never been away from home for more than a few weeks, yet of all the places that I could have been on that particular fateful day I found myself in the United States of America, in a small town close to the Bible Belt but far away from any liberal urbanity that I had grown up with.

I went to high school like every other 15-year-old, and my first class each morning day after day was World History with Dr. Sch., who had German ancestors and immediately took a liking to me, perhaps because I was German, or because I was the only one in the class actually willing to learn something. The morning started like every day: open the book, start reading a chapter and take notes. No one suspected anything, not even when the head secretary came in and went over to Dr. Sch. to whisper something into his ear. When she had left, Dr. Sch. turned to us and said in a casual manner: “Guys, I’m going to turn on the TV. There’s something happening in New York City.”

I found out later that we had been the first class in the whole school to watch the news, because our room was closest to the secretary’s office. The others were informed only later over the speakers. I think I must have watched about ten minutes of live coverage before I had even the vaguest idea of what was going on. And before I was able to process anything, the second plane hit the second tower, right then and there, right in front of my eyes, even though I was hundreds of miles away from where it happened.

I remember watching the impact. I remember watching the towers collapse, a while later. I don’t remember what I was thinking about during that time. But I will never forget my teacher’s voice: “Guys, remember that you are witnessing a historical moment.” He had a sense of pathos, good old Dr. Sch., I thought.

During lunch time everyone was talking about it, but not with fear or anxiety. They were excited, they were giggling. I remember wanting to ask them: “What does this all mean? What does it mean to you, to your family, to your culture.” But they didn’t seem interested. Do you have family in New York? Will the gas prices go up? Are we going to go to war? These questions didn’t become relevant until much later.

Back home after school the TV was on the entire evening. That was nothing unusual, except that the home shopping and cartoon channels and the wrestling championship had been replaced by the news, and nothing but the news. It would stay like this for many days, and I watched the same footage over and over again, while the names of dead people were streamed on the bottom of the screen.

One might have thought that the consequences would be felt immediately, but little did change over the next few months. Sure, some people resorted to hoarding, the sermons in the local churches became more dramatic, and some believed the Antichrist was coming in the shape of Osama Bin Laden, but overall the population in rural America seemed to remain calm. The creeping paranoia evolved much slower and more subtly than one might have expected, but it erupted in sudden irrational reactions, for example when after a near-by gas explosion the high school refused to let us go home and made us stay in our classrooms for hours. Another time my host family started asking me really weird and personal questions about my father. It turned out that they had found strange spam on their computer (“Win a greed card!”) and accused my father of spamming my emails, while he was trying to enter the states illegally.

Other than that things went back to normal very quickly, and I couldn’t say how much those events had affected me, if it wasn’t for two very different things:

I became aware of my own mortality, and it made me paranoid. I’m not sure if it happened long after the attacks or before them, but I know that I have developed a fear, a fear of dying in a terrorist attack, that is slightly irrational and that prevents me from living the carefree life that I used to know. I get slightly uncomfortable in crowded spaces, especially in airports and metro stations. I start noticing people that look slightly “suspicious” in that they seem nervous or carry strange luggage. I get anxious when I find seemingly unaccompanied bags or other items. I have left rooms and other spaces because of that. I have decided to not get on the metro and wait for the next one instead. I know how silly I acted but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t fight the fear.

I find myself noticing suspicious people, but they are not necessarily Arab, not necessarily “foreign-looking”. However, it wasn’t until 9/11 that “Arabs” or “Muslims” entered my mind as some sort of category. I used to be familiar with immigrants, with the Turks living in Berlin, but I never thought of them as a particular group of people in terms of culture or religion. I didn’t know any personally and so they never entered my radar. I understand that this naiveté was based on ignorance but also on a certain innocence. Not having an opinion meant at least I didn’t have a bad one.

All of a sudden they were everywhere, those “Arabs”, those “Muslims” with their strange laws and customs and religion, but now they had become dangerous, a constant threat. Careless ignorance had developed into suspicion and hatred.

Today, I find myself defending “them” (as if they were a homogenous group, but unfortunately they are often being presented as such) against islamophobic bigots, racist immigration policies and critics of multiculturalism. Even though we seem to have so little in common. Yet somehow I know that there is something more important at stake here. Something that not only threatens our security, our well-being, but our basic humanity. 9/11 didn’t cause this. 9/11 triggered certain sentiments that had been brooding for a long time. 9/11 has done a lot of damage to us all, but it has made me the person that I am today: anxious, worried, but also angry and reflective and striving to change things, while not letting fear get the better of me.

Feel free to leave your own story in the comments.

Norwegian Psycho? – Anders Behring Breivik as Everyman

I doubt that I need to repeat here the details of the events that happened in Oslo and Utøya last week, when within a couple of hours a car bomb exploded in front of a government building and an assassin shot into a crowd of people participating in a political youth camp on a nearby island. Almost eighty people were killed, many more were injured or pronounced missing.
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During the immediate aftermath, bloggers and activists were quick to point out the premature judgment of some of the biggest news sources in the world, who hastily concluded that Muslim terrorists must have been responsible for these heinous attacks, even though no evidence whatsoever had been released by the police or witnesses. Turns out the perpetrator was a man who goes by the name of Anders Behring Breivik, and whom the New York Times chose to describe as “an ethnic Norwegian, a blond, blue-eyed man” (the statement has since been redacted).
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So, like, the exact opposite of a Muslim, right? Who could have guessed?
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And this aftermath, the media response, is part of the whole tragedy for me: the shock, the disbelief and the defensive demeanor at the fact that a white middle-class European could have done something that we normally attribute to those barbaric, medieval Islamist extremists. Which is why the media tends to describe him as a killer, a mass murderer and a homicidal maniac, but not a terrorist. If we can agree on a basic definition of a terrorist as a radical who commits violent acts for political, ideological or religious reasons in order to provoke fear (terror) in the general public, then Breivik can easily identified as such.
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Thanks to his extensive “legacy” in the shape of a ca. 1500 pages long essay and Youtube videos, we can all find out exactly what his motivations were, just as he intended to, and learn that this man has some very strong convictions and opinions, and he knows how to justify them, too. How strange, then, that the public was quick to condemn him as a sick freak, a lunatic, in short: a social aberration. As though what he believes in, supports and, eventually, killed for was completely ridiculous, crazy, unheard of. Sure, he may not be an historian or political scientist, but he’s no Jared Lee Loughner either. He read his news, some Marx, some Spengler probably, some political commentators and he voiced his opinion on Facebook, on blogs and in forums… In short: He is one of us!
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We may or may not agree with his views (I know I certainly don’t) but we have to understand that this person cannot be dismissed as a crazy obsessive, a social accident. To do so would be dangerous. After all, his views on society are not the product of a madman, they are very common these days, especially in Europe, and they have become perfectly socially acceptable.
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narcissism, megalomania, aggression...

Breivik is in many ways the everyman of today’s Western society, a society in turmoil. Being a white, middle-class heterosexual male he is at the pinnacle of privilege and power, or at least he should be, right? But all he can see are violent and criminal immigrants, reducing the notion of being Norwegian to having a passport, Muslims imposing their habits, even their laws, on him and his nation, and women being STD-carrying sluts when they should be having blond babies. Losing privilege hurts those the most who have the most. Which is why it is mainly those with privilege who can call Breivik’s concerns legitimate, proving once again how “normal” he really is:
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His views regarding immigration and the loss of a nation’s identity are perfectly compatible with a lot of conservative parties in Europe, in fact, with the new far-right movements and political pundits, which have been gaining momentum for a while now. Of course, the owners of the names Breivik drops in his so-called manifest are trying to distance themselves; they have to. It would be outrageous if they didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that they share a system of beliefs, one that is inherently racist, often classist and sexist.
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Breivik is also a classic antifeminist, alarmed by society’s “moral decline” and “ladies” who don’t know their place anymore (at home, making babies). He can thus be easily related to the chauvinism and misogyny of Men’s Rights Activists, another fairly recent but increasingly popular “backlash” in Western societies. Add to that some homophobia, the fear of political correctness and anti-progressivism and you have a European version of a Tea-Partier.
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This is not too say that any of these people who share Breivik’s beliefs will end up going on a shooting rampage and bombing government buildings, but fear-mongering can lead to hate which can lead to violence. It doesn’t take a psychopath to do the math, and if it does, we are all potential psychopaths.
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the white male in crisis?