No Longer the Quiet City

22 July 2011


When I arrived in Oslo in 2009 I wrote a post titled Oslo, The Quiet City, in which I remarked on the preternatural quietude of Oslo. Even Kyoto, with its stately gardens, is loud and busy in comparison. Oslo remains the quietest city I have ever visited, and so the shock of today’s bombing in Oslo must have multiplied the terror by an order of magnitude. Residents familiar with the quiet routines of Oslo, largely absent the Schopenhauerian noise of other capital cities, would have had their day torn apart by the unprecedented violence.

In the early stages of terrorist attacks we have become accustomed to saturation media coverage at a time when no information has yet become available, and so the television news outlets opt for a looped meme of violence, explosions, death, and carnage. I suspect that this approach to the coverage of terrorism has something to do with the success of terrorism as a political weapon. As it happens, I just today received in the mail a copy of Roger Trinquier’s Modern Warfare, which bluntly states in the opening of Chapter 4:

“Terrorism… is a weapon of warfare, which can neither be ignored nor minimized. It is as a weapon of warfare that we should study it.”

These texts published in the Classics of Counterinsurgency Era series are proving themselves to be not only uncompromising but also prophetic. From the same series I have David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, which is similarly uncompromising and prophetic.

From the initial reports and the early video available in the aftermath of the Oslo attack, the bomb seems to have been extraordinarily powerful. Also, the damage seems to have exploded outward from the inside of a targeted building (or buildings). This suggests that, unlike the Oklahoma City blast, it was not a large car bomb parked outside in the street. It could have been a large car bomb parked inside in a parking garage.

While the size of the blast suggests sophistication and a minimal coordination of resources and organization, we also know from the Oklahoma City bomb that a large and powerful device can be assembled by one “Lone Wolf” or a small group — e.g., by a terrorist cell. Individuals and small, isolated cells are a tough nut to crack for intelligence services.

The subsequent shooting at a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utøya near Oslo, which claimed further victims (and possibly more than the bombing in Oslo), has been reportedly tied to the bombing by Norwegian police (according to the BBC). The Norway News reports that 80 students have been killed, which for a shooting is a very high death toll. A 32 year old ethnic Norwegian has been taken into custody in connection with both attacks.

The Norway News also quoted an online statement of Abu Sulayman al-Nasir of the group Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami (Assistants of the Global Jihad) as having said the following on online forum Smukh or Shamikh:

“We have warned since the Stockholm raid of more operations and we have demanded that the countries of Europe withdraw from the land of Afghanistan and end their war on Islam and Muslims. What you see is only the beginning and there is more to come.”

It is possible that this preemptive claim of responsibility is authentic, but it is also possible that it is an opportunistic claim intended to shore up the Jihadist “street cred” of the little-known group making the claim.

While Norway’s involvement in NATO operations points to a retaliatory attack carried out by Jihadists — and there have been quasi-militant jihadist sympathizers in Norway (the case of Mullah Krekar is relevant here) — it is difficult to reconcile this with the arrest of a lone ethnic Norwegian. Only time and further information will sort this out. And I suspect that the major intelligence agencies of Europe as well as the US will be sending staff to Norway to assist in the investigation, if the Norwegians will agree to accept such assistance.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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2 Responses to “No Longer the Quiet City”

  1. DeLillo’s In the Ruins of the Future on the future increasing role of terrorism as the force confronting global capitalism. But as Vija Kinski says in Cosmopolis, the capitalistic structure requires it and absorbs it to its own purpose.

    Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus now studied by Israeli War General along with the war colleges on Virilio’s work on Speed. It seems that the strategy written to warn us becomes usurped by those it warns against. Virilio is appalled his work is now studied in war colleges.

  2. And now terrorism is interfaced in everyone’s mind.

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