On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik carried out the most deadly terrorist attack in Norway since World War II, leaving 77 dead and 319 injured.
Since the day of his attack journalists, researchers, and doctors have been trying to understand what could lead a man such as Breivik to commit such an atrocity.
Mia Eriksson of the University of Gothenburg has been studying books and articles written about Breivik’s life to better understand him and his motivations. She realized that when it comes to most modern day terrorism, it’s much easier to understand because it tends to be tied to Islamic extremism, and we can easily look at religion, culture, and politics as factors in these actions. Yet, people don’t use these same rules, Eriksson says, when applied to Christian or secular attacks.
The books, she says, all focus on Breivik being a “loser” or a loner, and “many of the texts emphasise his ambivalent sexual identity and his mother’s mental and emotional health problems as important factors behind his attack. The texts largely ignore the social, cultural and political circumstances that can lead to far-right extremist and racist acts of terrorism,” Eriksson continued.
“When it comes to Islamist terror attacks, culture and religion are often defined as important factors behind the terrorist’s radicalisation. In the case of Breivik, the radicalisation is instead considered an effect of his personal ‘inability’ to be successful in the labour market, in romantic relationships and in adult life in general,” says Eriksson.
“When they talk about Norwegian society, it’s mainly to show how Breivik stood out from what they see as ‘typical’ Norwegian behaviour and activities.”
Eriksson argues this makes those like Breivik more dangerous than we realize because “He is described as a loser and a misfit rather than as somebody ‘we’ need to be afraid of. This in turn means that he does not fit into the threat profile that terrorism researchers and news media tend to promote when they talk about terrorism.”
Eriksson presented these findings as her doctoral thesis and feels her study can help us forge a safer future by not ignoring other terrorist threats right in our own backyards simply because the threats don’t fit the mental picture we have dreamed up that all terrorists are Islamic or must fit a special profile of religious extremist.