Security after the unthinkable

Terror and disenchantment in Norway

Author:
J. Peter Burgess
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The lone wolf terrorist attack on Oslo and Utøya on 22 July 2011 shook the Norwegian security establishment to its core. But it also disrupted the cultural, social and spiritual self-understanding of ‘the safest country in the world’. All societies find their basic security in the continuity of their national narratives. The origin of this security, indispensable to any society’s well-being, is also its most acute point of vulnerability. By tracing the social and political evolution in security thought and policy in the days, months and years after the Norway attacks, this book shows that the multiple hindsight rationalisations of the attack, coupled with a bureaucratisation of the response, collapsed this myth and with it the most long-standing source of Norwegian security. The book relates the experience of unthinkable disaster to the security that can be conceived of starting from this experience. Is there more insecurity because citizens know what kinds of threats are possible? Or does the experience of threat give the wisdom to know what is dangerous and not dangerous, what is real and unreal? If security is a set of practices directed towards the future, towards future events and potential dangers, then what becomes of security when the future is now and the disaster has happened. Is there useful knowledge to be gained from what we never imagined possible?

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