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Summer Newsletter 2016

Photo: Soukéïna Felicianne @ Flickr

News from the NECORE team

Due to a maternity leave in our research team, NECORE will be stretched to the end of 2017 rather than end in 2016.

This summer, five years have gone by since the terror attacks in Oslo and at Utøya. This is a fitting time to reflect on what the events actually mean in our society, as the attacks themselves become more distant – and in a world where similar events sadly keep occurring.

 

PhD successfully defended

Mareile Kaufmann successfully defended her PhD thesis, Resilience - Governance and in/security in interconnected societies, at the University of Hamburg this spring semester. Her article “Resilience 2.0” was for several months one of the most-read items in the high-ranking journal “Media, Culture and Society”. You can read the article here.

 

Negotiating collective identities

Every second year, practitioners in the field of integration and diversity gather for a conference at Maihaugen in Lillehammer, Norway. At this year's conference, with about 600 participants present, Marta Bivand Erdal and Rojan Tordhol Ezzati spoke about how diversity affects unity, and vice versa, in everyday negotiations of collective identities.

 

Five years since the 22 July attacks

As the sad commemoration for 22 July approaches at the time of writing, NECORE is taking part in discussions in the media and elsewhere. Among these is an article about how Islamic terrorism has pushed the attacks of 22 July into the background. It was first published by NTB in several Norwegian newspapers and news outlets, including here on NRK (in Norwegian).

 

Publications

Odin Lysaker (2016) "Å bli seg selv gjennom andre: Axel Honneths politisk-etiske ytringsfrihet" [Becoming oneself through others: Axel Honneth's political-ethical freedom of speech], in Terje Mesel og Paul Leer-Salvesen (eds.): Moralske borgere: Refleksjoner over etikk og samfunn [Moral citizens: Reflections on ethics and society]. Kristiansand: Portal Forlag 2016.

Here, Lysaker applies the thought of philosopher Axel Honneth in order to illuminate which conception of freedom, namely a negative one, that seems to underlie much of the discourse on free speech. As a contrast, by adopting the Honnethian notion of ”social” freedom, Lysaker attempts to challenge this discourse by underscoring how freedom is contingent upon mutual relationships of recognition.

 

Henrik Syse (2016) "The Difficult Ethics of Communication and Difference: How to Uphold Human Dignity in the Face of Disagreement", in Martin Palous (ed.) The solidarity of the shaken: a debate on Jan Patocka's philosophical legacy in today's world. Prague: Vaclav Havel Library.

Syse discusses and categorizes the different forms of agreement and disagreement that can exist between members of a society, from the most trivial to the most dramatic. He suggests how, as individuals and as a community, we can distinguish between the different forms of disagreements, and how we should react to the most extreme forms of hate speech or to blatant lies. The chapter will soon be made available on NECORE’s web site.

 

Henrik Syse and Odin Lysaker (2015) "Å tolerere satire: Ytringsfrihetens moralske ansvar" [To tolerate satire: The moral responsibility of freedom of speech], Sosiologi i dag 45(4): 38-66.

Syse and Lysaker discuss the relationship between satire and free speech. They strongly defend a robust and wide freedom for satire, in an analysis of the kinds of moral responsibilities that may nonetheless attach even to satirical expressions. You can read the article here.

 

Henrik Syse and Asbjørn Bjornes (2016) "Memory and Conflict; Reflections on the Abuse of Memory – and on Finding Community through Memory", in Mikalsen et al. (eds.) Modernity - Unity in Diversity. Oslo: Novus Forlag.

This book chapter analyzes how memory should not only be seen as a potential source of conflict, but also as a means of community and reconciliation. This is a highly topical issue as we commemorate dramatic events, since the commemorations as such may create fertile ground for conflict and anger. How is it possible instead to find common ground in shared and similar memories?

 

Research reflections

 

Framing the UCLA shooting event

Wednesday June 1st was my last day of Spring Quarter teaching at UCLA. At 9:50am, a BruinAlert trickled into my inbox announcing "Police Activity at Engineering Building 4. Avoid area until further notice" and a few minutes later "Shooting at Engineering 4. Go to secure location and deny entry (lockdown) now!" I did not notice, as I was busy preparing for my review lecture at 11:30am; I also did not see the flood of e-mails from students starting at 10am saying: "I just heard there's a shooter loose on campus and I'm staying home". At 10:15am, NBC interrupted its regular programming to announce that a shooting event was reported in progress at UCLA; the news helicopter was already on the way.

The narrative of the school shooter is by now so familiar that it was enacted without question by the police, the whole campus, and the media. It was the last week of instruction, and many classes had finals. Some of my colleagues were handing out exams when the alarm went, and they had to improvise barriers to their classrooms. The social media rumor mills were intense: there were four shooters in black, one of the gunmen was in the dorms, on the other side of campus; other gunmen had tried to force entry into a classroom. At 12:17, the police issued the all-clear; there was in fact no shooter event, but a murder-suicide. A little before 10am, two people with gunshot wounds had been found dead in Boelter Hall; a former graduate student had murdered his former professor.

In the week following the tragic incident, we scrambled to reschedule exams and make allowances for traumatized students, who had been led to believe their lives were in danger. Around 40,000 students were affected; the massive police show of force accomplished in effect nothing, and the intense media coverage distilled down to a "UCLA murder-suicide". The police response could be justified from a precautionary perspective, yet at the same time the event illustrates how the pattern of school shootings have now become the default interpretive frame, imposed at great cost to the community even when entirely inappropriate.

In attributing blame for the inadequate response of the police to the July 22nd shootings, we might want to bear in mind that the police must necessarily respond to a new event using familiar frames. At Utøya, the police failed to realize the vital importance of immediate intervention to save lives; at UCLA, the police were confronted with a regular murder and applied the logic of a school shooter event, needlessly traumatizing thousands of students. Both miss the actual target, like the Norwegian fairytale’s "Good day, man! Axe handle!": a response that simply does not fit the event. We need skilled police to attend to signs of a particular narrative or event structure, and to be trained to respond accordingly. Constructive criticism will need to take the narrative structure of crime into consideration – all the more given the fact that mass shootings are often explicitly staged as media events, a topic we will return to in our next newsletter.

Francis Steen

 

Negotiating collective identities

The 22 July attacks, now five years ago, bore horrific testimony to what an ideology of exclusion and hatred, at the hands of one man, can do. Whilst the terror was of such a scope that the moment called for a unified response, ideological cleavages along the Eurabia, anti-Islam, and anti-immigration lines soon re-emerged in public debate and on social media.

Meanwhile, the conundrum of how collective identities and shared understandings of who 'we' are as a democratic society, post-22 July, remains. The reality of our multicultural, diverse society is lived on an everyday basis, though unequally distributed, across the country and within cities like Oslo.

The resilience of shared collective identities, reflected in the post-22 July 'rose marches', remains within Norwegian society. The immediate unity, as a response to the 22 July, was arguably in its widest articulations a fragile unity, one based around an understanding that what we share, at least, is that we do not condone the terrorist's actions, and we want to change our society through democratic means, and not violent ones. That was reflected in the focus on openness, on democracy.

As Norwegian society, much like other European societies, stumbles on and is pushed, reacts, and is nudged in its ways of being a diverse society, the 22 July attacks' aim of specifically targeting this diversity lies there as an uncomfortable backdrop. One recent story serves to illustrate some of the current struggles of maintaining meaningful collective identities in Norwegian society: the case of a Labor Party local politician who ordered a traditional Norwegian folk costume ('bunad') – with a matching hijab. She and the manufacturer got targeted by threats, and the subsequent media storm and social media reactions, came down on either side of the question about whether or not it is ok to add a hijab to the Norwegian folk costume.

Arguments for the garment included the fact that numerous head garments exist as traditional accessories, so this could be seen as an addition. Arguments against centered on this being an alien form of cultural appropriation, entirely overstepping the boundaries of the permissible.

The debates soon became very polarized, descending to name-calling and labelling as racists, but also continued legitimization of the expressed threats. Meanwhile, shared understandings of collective identities were arguably at the core here. People reacted differently, triggered by particular symbolic aspects of what should be the premises for collective identities, and how these can be transformed.

As the five-year mark since 22 July passes, the de-humanizing acts of the perpetrator should be a stark reminder of the need for more attention to be paid to the human, emotional, bodily, and everyday experiences of shared living in diverse societies. The question remains: How can we move forward in negotiating collective identities, with space for different views, whilst maintaining a unity within which the collective identities can safely exist and on which they are arguably based?

Marta Bivand Erdal

 

Receding into the background?

As 22 July 2011 becomes a more distant memory, we are overwhelmed with massacres and terrorist attacks in other parts of the world, including fierce attacks in Turkey, France, and the United States. At the time of writing, the terrorist attack in Nice, France, is the most recent. Many of these attacks seem to be masterminded by the terrorist group ISIS, reflecting an extreme Islamist ideology and a wish to spread fear and terror in as many communities as possible. What does this do to our memory of 22 July?

There are at least three possible paths that our thinking about this may take:

Firstly, the 22 July attacks by a right-wing extremist nationalist may come increasingly to be seen as a “black swan” event, something terrible and serious, yet untypical and unexpected as compared to what appears to be the more widespread sort of terrorism in our current world, namely extremist Islamist terrorism.

Secondly, we may come to see all extremist terror as merely different variants of the same mindset, much as philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin came to view National Socialism and Communism in the 20th century. While seemingly polar opposites, such extremist political ideologies have a lot in common and feed off each other in creating enemy images and legitimizing extreme violence.

And thirdly, we may surmise that exactly because these types of ideologies feed off each other, the one becomes more potent as the other one rises. The recent Dallas shootings in the United States, where an activist set out to kill white police officers in response to and as a protest against several shootings of black people by white law enforcers, displays how anger, fear, and conflict trigger reactions by individuals or groups on both sides of a conflict. This arguably makes extremist nationalism and anti-immigrant fervor potentially more dangerous forces that we must be vigilant about, just as ISIS-inspired terrorism dominates the headlines.

Either way, the resulting tragedies remain exactly that: tragedies. They engender fear and resentment, which is just what the perpetrators wish to create. To maintain togetherness, respect, tolerance, and peaceful order in the face of such terror becomes, once again, just as after 22 July 2011, our great task. Seen in that light, keeping alive the memories of 22 July and its aftermath remains as important as ever.

Henrik Syse

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NECORE is a research project hosted by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and carried out in collaboration with the University of Oslo (UiO), the University of Agder (UiA), and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). NECORE is funded by the Research Council of Norway.

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