Myanmar’s Pandemic: The UN Must Act!

More than 1/3 of those tested for Covid-19 in Myanmar now test positive. The crematorium in Yangon can hardly handle all the bodies. Many health workers remain on strike since the February 1 coup. When they try to help people on a voluntary basis, they risk arrest. Social media is full of desperate requests for oxygen.

Photo: Shutterstock

This happens in a country with no government. Neither the military’s State Administrative Committee (SAC) nor the National Unity Government (NUG), which seeks to represent the national assembly elected last November, has the means needed for fighting the pandemic. The NUG has just announced the creation of a new health task force but there is only so much a clandestine government can do. Myanmar’s military forces (the Tatmadaw) reserve the country’s best hospitals mainly for its own personnel. One military hospital in Yangon has seen a rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus among its staff.Read More

Norway After the Terror


On the occasion of the 10th anniversary for the terror attacks in in Oslo and at Utøya on 22 July 2011, there is a renewed debate in Norway. The main focus is on the political motivations for the attack, as well as on how Norway has dealt with (or failed to confront) a growth in radical right-wing political activism. It was with considerable apprehension that I revisited my own reflections, first published in Aftenposten on 26 July 2011. I republish this today, unaltered. The text expressed my hopes for how Norway would respond, and I believe today that many things have been done right. Had I written this today, on the basis of what we now know, in the context of the current debate, it would have read differently. Yet, I find that the main message is one that I still stand for.

Oslo 23 July 2011. Photo: Agnete Schjønsby / PRIO


Norway After the Terror (written in July 2011)

The debate about new measures against terror, in the aftermath of the attacks in Oslo and at Utøya, is important. We need to stand by the very values that the terror aims to demolish. Inherent to our existence as humans, as a society, is the ability to live with risk.

The horrific events that shook both Norway and the rest of the world last Friday represent an extremely brutal and heavy-handed attempt to influence Norwegian politics and society. There is still much that we do not know about the attacks, and there will undoubtedly be intense debate over what could or should have been done to prevent them in the days, weeks, and months to come. But, it is beyond doubt that the attacks demonstrated our vulnerability – both as individuals and as a society. On the other hand, the very nature of life itself involves being at risk and living with risk – something that the international security measures instituted in the wake of 9/11 did not always take into account. Those measures have entailed huge social and financial costs, encompassing wide-ranging control and surveillance practices, as well as breaches of fundamental legal principle, ultimately perhaps resulting in deepening ethnic and religious divides.

The perpetrator of last Friday’s atrocities, Anders Behring Breivik, has described his political motivations in detail in a 1500-page ‘manifesto’ released on the Internet. Breivik is a self-declared anti-democrat, vehemently opposed to the development of a more multicultural society in Norway and the rest of Europe, and driven by considerable sense of hatred towards the Norwegian political establishment. As his actions reveal all too well, he has been prepared to retort to extreme violence to get his message across, viewing himself as an instrument and a martyr to his cause, willing to make sacrifices for what he believes in.

Unlike many of his fellow partisans on the extreme right, Breivik chose neither immigrants nor religious symbols as targets for his acts of terrorism. Instead, he directed his rage directly at the heart of political power in Norway, first by attacking the main government building in Oslo and then by unleashing a wave of deadly violence at the annual summer camp of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth wing on the island Utøya, some 24 miles north of the Norwegian capital. Through this second attack, Breivik delivered a lethal blow to a rising generation of politicians from the party that has been in government more often than any other political party in Norway since World War II.

It is not possible to describe the Oslo and Utøya attacks as anything but pure terrorism. The political motivation is crystal clear. The victims were civilian. And the aim has clearly been to create widespread anxiety and distress, effecting a change within Norwegian society by forcing dramatic political counteractions. Breivik has participated in far-right extremist networks, but claims to have been acting on his own in these attacks. It is both incredible and terrifying to think that one man alone has been able to carry through attacks with such horrendous consequences.

How has Norwegian society responded to these events?

Over the last few days, there has been a tremendous mobilization of solidarity and compassion. Perhaps the most powerful symbolic act occurred when Siv Jensen – the leader of Norway’s Progress Party and perhaps the Labour Party’s most vocal opponent – declared: ‘Today, we are all members of AUF’ (the Labour Party’s youth wing). The leadership of the Labour Party, hurt so badly by Friday’s attacks at both the personal and the political level, has repeatedly urged people to stand together and remain faithful to principles of political openness and trust. ‘We are still shocked by what has hit us, but we will never give up on our values,’ declared Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg during a memorial ceremony held in Oslo Cathedral on Sunday. More than 100 000 took part in a flower-parade on Oslo on Tuesday, four days after the attacks, reclaiming the city’s public spaces.

So far, there have been no calls for a strengthening of counterterrorism measures. Criticism of both the government and the country’s police and security forces has been very hushed. Islam-skeptics were silenced when it became clear that the malefactor was an ‘ethnic Norwegian’. Voices have been raised, however, in relation to what punishment Breivik should or could receive, as the maximum term of imprisonment that can be granted under the current penal code will be 30 years (presuming he is charged with ‘crimes against humanity’; for murder the maximum is 21 years). There has even been talk of reintroducing the death penalty, which Norway abolished in 1902. Yet, almost three-quarters of the 60,000 people who voted in a Facebook poll on the issue were opposed to these terror attacks resulting in a reintroduction of the death penalty. The first reactions of people in Norway thus seem to involve an expression of wholehearted support for the established mainstream values of Norwegian society.

Still, critical voices will be raised, and the introduction of new counterterrorist measures will be debated in depth. Will Norway have to rethink terrorism prevention and preparedness? Much of the debates that will take place will naturally center on whether militant right-wing radicalism has been taken sufficiently seriously. There is no doubt that a strong focus on militant Islamism in recent years has overshadowed other potential sources of terrorism.

In March 2011, Norway’s Police Security Service (PST) issued its annual threat assessment for 2011, in which it claimed that neither the extreme right nor the extreme left constituted a serious threat to Norwegian society, as a lack of strong leaders hindered recruitment in these circles. Concern, however, was expressed about possible links between extremists and criminals, as well as the increasing influence of extremist groups from outside Norway. The PST also expressed concern that a certain fascination with violence was increasingly becoming an ideology in itself. Anders Behring Breivik, however, does not fit these patterns. For him, political ideology is clearly a strong driving force. And, though he may have relied on the Internet for knowledge and information, he does not appear to have needed any form of external organization in order to carry out his acts of terrorism. A key question is thus whether Breivik is the exception to the rule – or whether new forms of ‘virtual society’ are breeding a new kind of terrorist?

Another question that will need to be addressed is why Breivik did not find sufficient outlet for his views through elections, party politics, and public debate. Why did he feel the need to resort to terrorism? Earlier in life, he seems to have tried out a number of different channels for his views, including membership of the right-wing Progress Party’s own youth wing. He does not appear to be obviously insane. The political – albeit extremist – views that he sets out in his ‘manifesto’ are to a certain extent logical and consistent. Given such views, the resort to extreme violence can be judged as rational. Breivik’s gradual radicalization seems to have resulted from his lack of success in being heard and accepted through traditional channels. We still do not know why this process culminated in the extreme violence we witnessed last Friday, but it is very hard to see how anyone could have spotted his intentions through what he had published previously.

New security measures will surely be implemented. Norwegians will likely no longer meet government ministers skiing in the woods or pass them on the sidewalks of Oslo’s streets. There will be a strong temptation to close off streets, to erect walls and fences, and to establish airport-like security measures at the entrances of public buildings. We know the costs of such measures, which fit uneasily with the Norway’s existing culture of openness and trust. A political summer camp for teenagers will not be the same with screening, searches, and mandatory entrance permits.

Preparedness will be another obvious topic. The very first people to respond and provide help to the victims of the shootings at Utøya were ordinary people – tourists and people living nearby. We should not be unduly concerned over this, as this is what happens in most crisis situations. Professional preparedness within firefighting, medical care, and security will still be very important. The terrified local residents from the area around the lake at Tyrifjord could help the teenagers swimming for their lives, but they could not tackle the assassin on the island. Only special police forces could stop him. A better staffed and equipped police force could perhaps have done little to prevent the attacks of last Friday, but the scope of the destruction and loss of lives might have been lessened.

The terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 were followed by the institution of a range of measures intended to prevent similar episodes in future. Surveillance of public spaces, as well as cell-phones and other forms of electronic communication, became widely accepted. Security became the mantra intoned throughout US society. The strengthened cooperation between governing and security bodies both within the USA and internationally has certainly produced results, and planned acts of terrorism have no doubt been averted. However, the costs involved in all the security measures at airports and public buildings have been tremendous, in terms of both time and resources, while freedom of movement has been seriously reduced and established principles of rule of law are under strain. In addition, many of the security measures create a false sense of safety, and can even be counterproductive.

The very best protection against future acts of terrorism in Norway will involve maintaining the openness and trust that characterizes Norwegian society and government, leaving room for the expression of political views of many different kinds. We cannot remove dangers through regulations and control. Such measures will not save us from the dangers of violent extremism and terrorism. Though it may be very demanding, we have to learn to live with risk. This is part of being human, part of being a society. The upcoming debate will be very important. We will need to debate in ways that show due respect and compassion for the victims and survivors of the terrorist attacks. We also need to keep a firm grasp on the core values that the terrorist violence aimed to demolish. The vision of total security is not just an impossible vision: it may also be one that undermines the very nature of the type of society we seek to defend.

Terror Did Not Strike Indiscriminately

22nd JULY 2011: a terrorist killed 68 young people and bombed the Government Quarter, where he killed nine people and injured many more, because the ‘Labour-Party state’ was promoting ethnic, religious and political diversity.

Democracy and the constitutional state are threatened when the Labour Party, or other political parties, become the targets of violent attacks, writes Trond Bakkevig. Photo: Paal Sørensen

“Then they came for me —
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Thus, the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller concluded his soul-searching poem following the defeat of the Nazi regime.

“We got nothing in return for being restrained,” says the Labour Party Youth League (AUF), which calls for a confrontation with the ideas that led a terrorist to kill its members. The terrorist targeted the AUF because they defended and reflected society’s ethnic, religious and political diversity.Read More

Democracy’s Scars: Adorno’s Lecture on Right-Wing Radicalism

The battle against fascism is never over; it must be fought anew by each generation and we must never forget what this ideology stands for.

Theodor W. Adorno’s book is a wake-up call, because of its unfortunately continued relevance, writes Katrine Fangen.

NPD in Würzburg, Germany. Photo: Christian Horvat / Wikimedia Commons

Liberal democracies are fragile and fascist tendencies will always constitute a threat, claimed Adorno in a lecture he gave to the Socialist Students at the University of Vienna in 1967. Adorno died two years later, at the age of 66.

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Humanitarian Biometrics in Yemen: The complex politics of humanitarian technology

The introduction of biometrics in Yemen is a prime example of challenges related to the use of biometric solutions in humanitarian contexts. The complexity of the situation in Yemen needs to be acknowledged by policy makers and other stakeholders involved in the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.

Map: Georgina Berry / PRIO

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Lessons from a Decade of South Sudanese Statehood

The catastrophic levels of instability that have engulfed South Sudan since 2013 demand a restructuring of governance and security institutions to alter the tragic trajectory of Africa’s youngest state.

The Protection of Civilians (POC) site near Bentiu, in Unity State, South Sudan. Photo: JC McIlwaine / UN Photo

South Sudanese are observing the 10th anniversary of statehood with deeply mixed feelings. Children born during the post-independence period have seen nothing except misery and deprivation, with two out of five malnourished. Adults who hailed independence with excitement in 2011 are likely part of the 35 percent of the population that is displaced or count among the war’s death toll.

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Why Did Muslims Become the New Enemy in Norway and Europe?

Anti-Muslim views have become more widespread in Europe over the past 30 years, but it is important to distinguish between criticisms of certain forms of Islamic practice and the belief that Muslims are taking over Europe.

Mosque in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Oskar Seljeskog / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0

People with anti-Islamic views wish to restrict Muslim immigration and Islamic religious practices. In their view, Islam is a homogenous, totalitarian ideology that is threatening western civilisation. When we talk about anti-Muslim racism, the attitudes concerned are so generalizing that all Muslims are lumped together, regardless of whether they are secular Muslims or fundamentalists. In other words, we are talking not only about criticism of a set of religious ideas, but about attitudes that dehumanize and generalize a whole group in the population.Read More

What a Year with No Travel Taught Us about the Future of Fieldwork

For many researchers working on projects that spanned international borders, the imposition of travel restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a rapid change in ways of working. Drawing on their own experience and those of colleagues of carrying out fieldwork during the pandemic, Talitha Dubow and Marta Bivand Erdal propose practical recommendations to support a more collaborative mode of fieldwork, which might be among the building blocks for a ‘new normal’ following the pandemic.

Photo: Richard Allaway / Flickr

As researchers based in Europe engaging in research about migration in Africa and in Asia, over the past year we have relied (or, to be accurate, relied even more heavily) on collaboration with local researchers to do fieldwork as and where it was both possible and safe.

Collaboration with research partners around the world is certainly not a ‘new’ research practice, but neither was this necessarily ‘standard practice’ across the board, pre-pandemic. Fieldwork has also been the site of considerable reflection and discussion around the decolonisation of knowledge, an issue which has been brought to the fore in new ways, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.Read More

After The bomb: The Securitization of the Norwegian Government Quarters 2011-2021

July 22, 2011, at 15.25, a bomb placed inside a white van exploded next to the H-bloc (‘Høyblokka’) where the prime minister’s office was located. Eight people were killed in the blast: most were government employees, and some were passing by. More than 200 people were injured. Additionally, the explosion caused enormous material damage. Later that day, 69 people, most of them children and youth, were executed at Utøya. Many more were severely wounded.

Oslo government building after the terror. Photo: Henrik Lied / NRK Beta / CC BY-SA 2.0

In the decade following this attack, Norway has struggled to come to grips with the political implications of the attack: 22 July was not a natural disaster.

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Power Sharing and Gender Equality

Since the rise of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, power sharing has been widely used as a peace-building tool after civil conflict and is also key to the institutionalization of democracy. Power sharing arrangements have been instrumental to terminating civil wars in Lebanon, Bosnia, Nepal, Burundi, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Illustration: UN Women / Neelabh Banerjee / Flickr

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