Just over a year ago, I saw at first hand the bravery and dignity of the Norwegian nation. Susanne Sundfør, a young Norwegian singer, was performing in Wroclaw a matter of hours after her country had been rocked to its core by Anders Breivik’s cowardly attack on the children of its political classes. Despite having to sing songs that seemed so prescient of the horror that unfolded in Oslo and Utoya, she was restrained, elegant and proud, while at the same time in obvious pain. It was a humbling experience.
I think we’ve seen a scaled up version of that dignity in Norway’s treatment of the whole Breivik case, and it has shown the world how to respond to acts of terrorism that are designed to attack what we are and what we believe in. Breivik wanted to change the country, to make it turn away from openness and tolerance, to make it cower in fear and lash out against the forces of darkness he thought threatened it. The country’s reaction has been magnificent; they have responded by being even more open and tolerant, by refusing to cower or lash out or be afraid – of him.
Breivik is one of those delusional oddballs who believes in white supremacy because it allows him to bask in the myth of his own exceptionalism. Norway’s answer to him has been masterful in that it has refused to treat him any differently than any other criminal, no matter how petty. Thus, he has had exactly the same opportunity as anyone else to address the court, will have exactly the same restrictions and privileges as anyone else in a Norwegian prison, has received exactly the same maximum sentence that any other Norwegian criminal would receive. In effect, they have marginalised him, debased him, emasculated him by giving him the message that no matter how hard he strikes against their way of life, life will go on the same as if he were a pickpocket or a paedophile.
And what has been remarkable is the support this approach has had from the people. Even the families – those who I have seen or read interviews with – have been dignified and respectful and even grateful to the judicial system. There is no barking for revenge; just read the mature, sensible, rational but absolutely touching words of 19-year old Emma Martinovic, a survivor of that day:
“This means so much. Everyone has talked about how he would be judged insane, and I thought so too. But this confirms that he is sane and healthy, something we’ve known since day one. Finally someone who listens to us and understands us. It is absolutely amazing and feels very fair. This allows me to move on. He is doomed, and there is no one who can say otherwise. Now he is in the cell and I trust the police security. Now I do not need to worry about him anymore.”
That is the most eloquent one-finger salute that could ever be delivered to Breivik and his kind; you are done and dusted, and I will never think of you again, you little, little man.
Of course, posters on Huffington Post UK – which, unlike it’s generally liberal US counterpart, seems to have become a haven for Daily Mail readers and similar right-wing nutjob halfwits – went bananas with faux outrage. “21 years? That’s three and a half months per victim”, they chanted, as if justice can be reduced to a question of Primary school arithmetic. He’ll be out in ten years because of some go-gooder social worker. He’ll fool the psychiatrists. He’s be in his fifties at the end of his sentence. Insane. Norway should be ashamed of itself.
I wish fuckers like these didn’t annoy me as much as they do, but they do. Oh my word they do. Quite apart from the fact that Breivik received the maximum sentence allowed by law of 21 years, with the possibility of that being extended indefinitely by 5 years at a time if he is still considered a danger to the public – which ensures that he will undoubtedley spend the rest of his life behind bars - the depressingly predictable calls for the rope, firing squad or being roasted on a spit totally ignored the fact that Breivik himself would probably embrace martyrdom like a long-lost idiot brother, thereby ensuring his immortality in the racist, survivalist community worldwide.
This outrage, based as it is in fear, is tremendously useful to the corporate governments of the west, since it validates a whole host of intrusive measures designed to “protect” us. Masquerading as “antiterrorism”, the governments of the UK and US have brought in a whole range of strategies that are more useful to them not because they control subversives, but because they control us. Phone-tapping, e-mail gathering, rendition, extra-judicial imprisonment, even worldwide torture chambers in countries that belong in the pits of hell are all part of a system that can seamlessly be tweaked to suppress the general population. And so hackers like Gary McKinnon and Ryan Cleary, whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning and even Julian Assange himself all find themselves up against a finely-tuned bureaucratic structure whose tentacles can now grasp anyone, anywhere, and whose outposts are as shadowy as anything in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
And, as such, we have been complicit in the victory of the terrorists to force us to change our ways, change our lives, abandon any pretence we ever had to democratic principles. In terrorism, the military, the secret services, the governments and the global corporate structures have found their best ever ally in their battle to control and to manipulate we, the people. And every time we cry, “String him up” or “What’s wrong with water boarding?” we cast our vote in support.
So, bless Norway for being the only Western country this century to truly stand up against terrorism, by mainaining its sanity and refusing to abandon its principles. They have ensured their democracy which was so cruelly attacked has survived not just intact, but immeasurably strengthened.
Mid-afternoon in Wroclaw, nothing to do in the evening, so I try to track down some live music. The tourist office says there isn’t much on, just this Susanne Sundfør gig down at the Arsenal. I decide to go. I’m glad I did.
Susanne Sundfør is Norwegian, which means she’d probably rather be anywhere else but performing on stage here; it’s not difficult to imagine that, given Norway’s size, someone in her touring party has been directly affected by events there. Not surprisingly, the five-piece band are dressed in black and distinctly subdued.
Sundfør herself is a waif with a powerful voice. Steeped in Scandinavian wonky electronic-eclectic that sounds, in a good way, like everything from OMD to Kraftwerk to Jean Michel Jarre, and with a voice that is pitch perfect and hits some amazingly high notes, with shades of Carole King and Tori Amos in there, this is interesting stuff.
But there’s no denying the influence of the tragedy in Norway. She sings in English, which means the prescience of her lyrics goes largely unnoticed. When she sings “O Master”, the lines
“Waiting for a bullet / waiting for a bullet / waiting for a bullet /I feel so alive“
must rip her heart out. Perhaps she’s arranged the set deliberately, but there are few chances for applause, and this is one that she barely and painfully acknowledges. “The Silicone Veil” punches home too; “I go to a funeral every day… I carry their caskets…“
Sonically and musically, she does some lovely things. Highlights include “The Brothel”, the provocative title track of her most recent album. She sings solo, her ethereal voice counterpointed with a sub-woofer that kicks the shins, knees and nuts at the same time. Even here the words – “God has left us anyway” – seem to drain her.
The band manage an encore, though goodness’ knows how. “Here’s a new song,” she says. “I hope you like it.”
What follows – “Among Us” – is a real danceable with a rocky edge and some fantastic vocal interchanges with her excellent backing singers. And then, if I’ve heard them right, the words slice home like a scalpel:“There’s a killer among us… He collects hearts in jars… He dumps his bodies into a wishing well… Who will save us from his madness?”
If anyone can sing for those youngsters slaughtered by that fucked up bastard, it’s this young woman.