Five Best Sunday Columns

On Norway's far-right, Geoff Dyer, and Republican fanaticism

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Aslak Sira Myhre on Norway's Far-Right. "Like every other citizen of Oslo... I share the fear and pain of my country," writes Myrhe. "But the question is always why, and this violence was not blind." He adds that thought Islamists and the far-left were considered "the inner threat to our 'way of living'" in Norway, what little terror the country experienced before the massacre, and now the massacre itself, comes from the far-right: "political violence in this country has been almost the sole preserve of neo-Nazis and other racist groups." He is not surprised that the initial reaction was to blame Muslims. "For at least 10 years we have been told that terror comes from the east. That an Arab is suspicious, that all Muslims are tainted." Moreover, he adds that "There is, of course, another reason why everybody looked for al-Qaida. Norway has been part of the war in Afghanistan for 10 years, we took part in the Iraq war for some time, and we are eager bombers of Tripoli. There is a limit to how long you can partake in war before war reaches you." Yet, the war was not thought of as a motivation of the attack: "the war was rarely mentioned when the terrorist hit us. Our first response was rooted in irrationality." Though he believes that the killer is "mad," he writes that "this is madness with both a clinical and a political cause... We need to use this incident to strike a blow to the intolerance, racism and hatred that is growing, not just in Norway, nor even only in Scandinavia, but throughout Europe."

Nicholas Kristoff on the Republican Threat to National Security. The "biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power," writes Nicholas Kristoff. "It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home." He acknowledges that politicians "are usually focused only on short-term issues, so it would be commendable to see the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seriously focused on containing long-term debt." But in this case, "many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. The upshot is that in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default." Kristoff lays out the repercussions of default and the debt debate, summarizing that: "In other words, Republican zeal to lower debts could result in increased interest expenses and higher debts. Their mania to save taxpayers could cost taxpayers. That suggests not governance so much as fanaticism... So let’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots."

Daniel Carpenter on Lawmaking on a Deadline. "There are few things in life we dread more than deadlines," writes Daniel Carpenter. And in the latest debt ceiling debate, "a critical feature of this battle, as in many other political fights, is the ticking clock: a deadline under which our leaders sweat, bargain and decide." But as we panic, Carpenter argues this is nothing new: "Our nation’s capital has become Deadline Washington... We have deadlines for peace deals. We have deadlines for agencies to issue regulations... Deadlines are often the only way to get anything done in an age of gridlock and polarization." However, there are consequences to making decisions "while staring down the clock." For one, "they are often used, wrongly, to force a solution to a difficult problem." Additionally, "delegating a decision to another group and giving it a deadline can also be a form of procrastination or avoidance. Many deadlines are simply not met."  Moreover, adrenaline accompanies deadlines, and "some of this stress is useful, but it also strains focus and can be counterproductive... creative solutions can get shoved aside." And, counter to our intuition, deadlines can slow things down: "decisions and bargains that could happen more quickly — because of momentum or normal work flow — often end up getting put off until the last minute. Social scientists have referred to this as the 'eleventh-hour effect.'" Carpenter sees this actualized in the debt-ceiling debate: "partisans on both sides expect their representatives not to back down until the very end." So should we find an alternative to deadlines? "Perhaps in the future we can find a more sober, less foreboding, less stressful approach to dealing with the clock. Could we get there without a deadline to push us along? Eventually."

Tendai Marima on the Ongoing Ivorian Crisis. "When French-backed FRCI (Force Nouvelles) rebel fighters swooped in on Laurent Gbagbo in his palatial home turned foxhole, for a very brief moment, it seemed like it was all over," writes Marima, regarding the "long and bloody tussle" for power between incumbent president Gbagbo and the elected Alassane Ouattara. But it wasn't over: even though "the international community is no longer rebuked for not paying enough attention to the Ivorian crisis... the business of killing remains unfinished in parts of Côte d'Ivoire." Ouattara's forces are reportedly responsible for the killing of 100 people in post-Gbagbo reprisal attacks -- targetting people "ton the basis of their ethnicity, age and the assumption that the communities in which they live had political ties to Gbagbo." A reports from the Human Rights Watch "details ongoing civilian assaults by FRCI soldiers, despite the UN's warning to the Ouattara administration to instruct troops to cease and desist." The editorial brings up the complicated issue of the "vulnerable status of communities and ethnic groups perceived as belonging to the opposition" in "shaky post-conflict transitions to peace when empowered state actors, such as the Ivorian military, resort to extra-judicial methods to exact their revenge." Young men are targeted, and women are subject to gender-based sexual violence. "Despite Ouattara's oft-repeated calls for justice, peace and reconciliation for all Ivorian victims of post-election violence, members of the new republican army, a mix of rebel fighters and trained soldiers, rape and kill with impunity... Côte d'Ivoire has a real chance of putting its brutal past behind, but it cannot be done through wishing."

Geoff Dyer on the Academic Writing Habits. In his first of his "Reading Life" columns for the New York Times, author-in-vogue Geoff Dyer considers what happens when the "plodding" method of academic writing "seeps so deeply into a writer’s makeup as to constitute a stylistic signature." The writing "is a bit like watching a rolling news program: Coming up on CNN . . . A look ahead to what’s coming up on CNN." The book Dyer is concerned with in this column is one by art historian Michael Fried called “Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before” (2008). "Fried’s brilliance, however, is that in spite of all the time spent looking ahead and harking back he also — and it’s this that I want to emphasize here — finds the time to tell you what he’s doing now, as he’s doing it: 'But again I ask . . . ' ; 'Let me try to clarify matters by noting . . . '; “What I want to call attention to. . . . ' But that’s not all: the touch of genius is that on top of everything else he somehow manages to tell you what he is not doing ('I am not claiming that . . . '), what he has not done ('What I have not said . . . ') and what he is not going to do ('This is not the place for . . . ')." But Dyer warms to Fried's "flamboyant, future-­oriented sign-­posting" writing eventually: "Suppose that you meet someone who is a compulsive name-­dropper. At first it’s irritating, then it’s boring. Once you have identified it as a defining characteristic, however, you long for the individual concerned to manifest this trait at every opportunity — whereupon it becomes a source of hilarity and delight."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.