On the Tragedy in Norway

Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, a married lesbian couple, were having dinner in a camping area on the opposite shore from Utöya Island when they heard the gunfire.

“We heard the awful screaming, we saw young people running in panic into the lake,” Dale told the Helsingin Sanomat.

Saturday July 23rd (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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It happened nearly a week ago — July 22nd, 2011 — but for so many people in Norway and all over the world, it still feels like yesterday.

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July 24, 2011 - Oslo Cathedral (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

You know the story, or maybe you don’t: two hours before the couple heard the gunfire and the screaming and saw the children running and diving into the lake, a car bomb placed in a Volkswagen Crafter detonated in the parking lot outside Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg‘s office. This was in Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Oslo, where the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and Ministry of Finance, among other important offices, are located. The explosion started fires in two buildings and the shock wave blew all the windows out, leaving the streets filled with glass and debris and the sky thick with a cloud of white smoke. Eight people were killed and ten were critically injured.

OLM MORTEN/AFP/Getty Images

About 90 minutes before the bombing, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing Islamaphobe extremist who enjoyed World of Warcraft, admired the Tea Party, watched women’s sand volleyball and (as aforementioned) really hated Islam, emailed a 1,500-page document entitled “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence” to 1,003 email addresses. He wrote as “Andrew Berwick,” a name aped from a 12th-century Norweigan king who led one of the Crusades.

Undoubtedly Breivik is completely insane.

Anders Behring Breivik

In his manifesto, Breivik claimed to be part of 12-man group “The Knights Templar,” a group which had allegedly been re-founded in London in April 2002 by representatives from eight European countries “for the purpose of serving the interests of the free indigenous peoples of Europe and to fight against the ongoing European Jihad.’” Breivik described meetings (impossible to verify) and claimed that his actions are part of a larger plan for ‘indigenous Europeans’ to take over Western Europe with a successful attack “every five to 12 years.”

“As a Knight you are operating as a jury, judge and executioner on behalf of all free Europeans. There are situations in which cruelty is necessary, and refusing to apply necessary cruelty is a betrayal of the people whom you wish to protect,” he wrote.

He encouraged his followers to “embrace and familiarise yourself with the concept of killing women, even very attractive women.”

Breivik blamed feminism for most of society’s ills, and declared that ladies should be wives and homemakers, not cops or soldiers, and men should still hold doors open for ladies. Children should not be born out of wedlock. Glorification of homosexuality should be shunned.”

A Muslim Woman Mourns at Oslo Cathedral - July 25th, 2011

Breivik, who has estranged relationships with his father and stepfather, describes his mother and his stepmother as feminists and is critical of their politics: “I do not approve of the super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing though as it completely lacked discipline and has contributed to feminise me to a certain degree.”

He dedicates a solid chunk of his manifesto to how radical feminism has destroyed society and “paved the way for [his f*cked up totally wrong description of] Islam”:

In the big scheme of things, the truth is that European men have treated women with greater respect than the men of almost any other major civilisation on earth. And I don’t mean just in the modern age, I mean for many centuries. Yet we are the one group of men who are most demonised and attacked, whereas non-white men get treated with much greater respect. What white men see from this is that white Western women prefer men who treat them like crap, and disrespect men who treat them with respect. This isn’t exactly a smart way to behave if you want to be treated with dignity.

The truth is that any nation is always protected from external aggression by the men. The women can play a supporting role in this, but never more than that. For all the talk about “girl power” and “women kicking ass” which you see on movies these days, if the men of your “tribe” are too weak or demoralized to protect you, you will be enslaved and crushed by the men from other “tribes” before you can say “Vagina Monologues”. Which means that if you break down men’s masculinity, their willingness and ability to defend themselves and their families, you destroy the country. That’s exactly what Western women have done for the last forty years. So why are you surprised about the results? As you said, you can’t fool Mother Nature. Well, you have tried to fool her for a long time, and you are now paying the price for this.

He is predictably against gay rights:

Furthermore, it is only because traditional understandings of marriage have already been severely undermined that homosexuals are now laying claim to it. Gays to do not want marriage in the traditional mold (1950 version marriage), only the watered-down version that exists today.

Breivik claims to have avoided long-term relationships with women lest they jeopardize his mission. When he wanted sex, he’d hire a prostitute. How, then, does Breivik suggest his potential recruits explain their reclusive behavior to friends and family?

“Say you think you are gay and are in the process of discovering your new self. Your ego is likely to take a dent unless you are secure in your own heterosexuality, however, it’s an extremely effective strategy for stopping questions.”

Breivik testified: “a couple of [my friends] believe that I have chosen semi-isolation because of some alleged homosexual relationship which they suspect I am trying to hide, LOL.

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Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen

So, then, back to Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, the lesbian couple who were eating dinner when they heard the gunfire and the “young people” screaming in panic and jumping into the lake.

Dalen and Hansen went outside straight away to their boat, pushing it into Lake Tyrifjorden and, with no knowledge of what was happening on the island and no guarantee that they’d make it there or back alive, drove the boat to where young wounded victims were struggling for their lives in the water.

The children were some of the 600 who’d come to Utoya Island for the Norweigan Labour Party’s annual AUF youth summer camp. AUF, founded in 1927 and approximately 10,000 people strong, subscribes to an ideology of social democracy and democratic socialism.

Labor Youth League Summer Camp on Thursday July 21st (AP Photo/Scanpix/Vegard Gratt))

About 90 minutes after the explosion in Oslo, Anders Behring Breivik arrived on Utöya Island. He was wearing a police uniform and he’d come expecting to see and consequently murder former prime minister Gro Harlemn Brundtland but she was gone by the time he arrived. He was running late due to construction at the Oslo Central railway station.

Breivik told the campers he was there for a routine check following the bombing in Oslo and asked people to gather around him, at which point he pulled weapons and ammunition from his bag and began indiscriminately firing weapons. He started out shooting people on the island and then later began shooting at victims who were trying to escape by swimming.

July 26, 2011 - (REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch)

Dalen and Hansen noticed that bullets had hit the right side of the boat they used to rescue 40 young people. It took several trips.

Breivik spent more than an hour shooting kids on the island before Norwegian Special Forces arrived, at which point he surrendered. The Delta Force had traveled by car, didn’t have a helicopter, and were in a boat which broke down during the minute-long trip to the island. Many report that panicked calls from the island were ignored by the emergency operators still dealing with the bombing.

This was an unfortunate convergence of unfortunate situations on behalf of the Norwegian Special Force, described by The Baltimore Sun as “inexcusable bungling made worse by even more bungling.” 

Despite some media criticism, the people of Norway “largely appeared to accept that the emergency services faced difficult circumstances in coping with the most deadly attacks on Norway since the second world war.”

( Svein Gustav Wilhelmsen/AFP/Getty Images)

So it was up to people like Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen to save the children as it was happening. It was up to people like Marcel Gleffe, a German tourist who was having coffee with his family at a mainland holiday camp when he heard the gunshots. He immediately piloted his boat to the island where he rescued reportedly 20 people. Other campers got in their boats and rushed out to the island, together saving some 150 people.

“I just did it on instinct,” he said. “You don’t get scared in a situation like that, you just do what it takes. I know the difference between fireworks and gunfire. I knew what it was about, and that it wasn’t just nonsense. Cooperation with the police and rescue crews afterwards was very good, but it all came too late. The first time I was out I was all alone.”

Marcel Gleffe

He added: “[The kids] were happy to get help, but they were unsure whom they could trust.”

Gleffe threw life jackets to kids in the water and after four or five trips and 20-30 rescued people, the police asked him to stop.

“We did not sleep last night at all,” Hege Dalen told The Helsingin Sanomat the day after the massacre. “Today, we’ve been together and talked about the events.”

And now in talking about the events — the lives cut short, the families broken, the politics derailed, the fucking ridiculously tragic heartbreaking catastrophic horror of it all — we’ll talk about Dalen and Hansen, too.

 

The current death toll is at 76. The number of confirmed dead is at 41 as of two hours ago, with 24 names revealed — 23 killed on Utoya Island and one on the Oslo Bomb blast.

(REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

Breivik was wrong about almost every single thought he’s ever had in his insane head over the course of his entire life on this planet, but today, regarding the actions of this lesbian couple who rescued the children, it bears mentioning that the “girl power” he cites as inadequate forces for any society hoping to defend themselves against getting “enslaved and crushed by the men from other ‘tribes'” is precisely the kind of power that rescued at least 40 people from his crushing ammunition.

It bears mentioning that it was ordinary civilians, most prominently a lesbian couple and a foreigner not bound to the government of the country Breivik had chosen to attack, who put themselves at risk to save as many strangers as they could. Because that’s just what human beings do, isn’t it? That’s what it means to be human. This is what it means to be human:

Memorial March at City Hall - (Source: Reuters)

Elizabeth Amundsen, 16, at Oslo memorial vigil (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

The New York Times is adding photos of identified victims as information comes in from the Norwegian Government.

Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1763 articles for us.

70 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    JFC – I had no idea just HOW deranged and sick Breivik was; no idea about all these beliefs he held. I mean, gunning down children is lower than low. Oh my god. This is so awful and tragic. I mean, I heard about it on the news before… but the details… Wow. Thank goodness for those who used their boats to rescue others.

    Thanks for posting this, Reise.

    Och till alla i Norge – my deepest sympathies.

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    This is so tragic. I feel sad for the people who have been lost. Worried for the kids who watched their friends die and have to go on. Angry at the Norwegian authorities for letting this guy go on a 90-minute rampage. Offended by the horrific images newspapers and random people online are posting of the dead. Confused how this could happen. But encouraged by the people who did the right thing. It’s hard to even think about this, to be honest.

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    Goddammit what is wrong with the world. I watched the victims’ pictures and… I mean, those were actual people with loved ones and everything and now they’re dead because of him.

    There were people from Trondheim, the town where I basically came back to life, the most beautiful town on Earth. I feel sick that something like this could happen.

    It makes me want to become involved in politics even more and rant about Islamophobia even more often than I already do. This can’t and won’t become the mainstream political debate, because it doesn’t make any sense, it’s purposefully divisive and now it’s claimed 76 lives.

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    The one killed in the bomb blast, she’s a friend of mine. Kjersti Berg Sand. She attended law school in the United States with me and was an amazing woman. The whole Oregon community is shaken by the incident and reminded how a horrific act thousands of miles away can have an affected across two continents.

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    My heart is bleeding for all the families who’ve lost a loved one. I’ve got so many friends working in Norway right now, and I’ve never been so scared in my whole life when I didn’t hear from them.
    Which ideology supports the assassination of innocent children?
    Scandinavia has been a safe haven from terrorists, but now, with both my hometown Stockholm and Norway attacked, I’m starting to feel a bit scared.

    Is this what the future will look like?

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      It’s definitely unbelievable. I read on another site a couple of days ago (I can’t remember where, or I’d link it) that their helicopter (their one helicopter, presumably) was “not on stand-by”, which doesn’t really make much more sense than not having one.

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      actually, everytime I read about the special forces failing I get a little upset. they are investigating what happened but – there is a helicopter with the police, but it couldn’t have carried the special forces anyways, they would have had to get one from the military (!). the problem was waiting for that special force – a theory was, that the bomb was thought as a distraction, too. everyone concentrated on Oslo, while Breivik took to Utøya, so they had to get the attention to the island (which is 40 kilometres away from the city), get the special forces there and get a boat that could carry them.

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        Such things are always a problem when disaster strikes. Not to denigrate the excellent efforts of the emergency services, but during the January flash floods in Toowoomba Australia they borrowed helicopters and pilots from the military but could not access military stockpiles of fuel. I think that emergency plans often fail to consider smaller issues like staff and fuel.

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    I’ve been following this story very closely so was surprised you managed to find new details to report and it was a refreshingly written, very human piece.

    What I really wanted to say however, is I saw someone ask for an article on this via Tumblr. For you to agree, ask for direction and produce a genuinely moving article really encapsulates what is so great about you and this site. Thank you.

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    See the size of that island? You can walk across it in less than 12 minutes. Just imagine, nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. 600 paniced teenages trying to escape in every direction. 20, 30 people gunned down in seconds. Seeing your best friend get shot in the head meters away from you. The stories, you wouldn’t believe some of the stories. Completely senseless.

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      I was bawling already, reading the story- but reading the comments, the true human toll this event has taken, I’m just shaking. My heart and soul go out to everyone in Norway, and all of those touched by this tragedy. Nothing should ever come to this.

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    I’ve only been to Oslo once, but this one hit me hard. I lived in Sweden, and for years and years I had a whole bunch of friends from there who lived and worked in Oslo.
    Only one is still there at the moment, and thankfully she wrote relatively quickly that she was alive.

    As some sort of adopted Scandinavian, this hurts even more. Scandinavia, though a lot more flawed then especially german people tend to recognize, has always been a save space for me. Oslo felt save. Norway was a go-to place, and it is for a lot of german people.

    Although I have stronger bonds to Sweden, this was harder than when Anna Lindh was murdered. I understand the language now, I have been there, my friends lived there, my friend who is a mum used to work there, this could have been them.

    Scandinavia has become so afraid of foreign influences it seems. But this just doesn’t compare, there are no words, and the newspapers here are semi-right, Breivik managed to destroy the illusion of a save country, a sort of paradise, and – though highly romaticised – the hope it was giving people.

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    This was truly excellent journalism. You managed to report an angle that I haven’t read, and that would speak to the site’s content, with new details that I hadn’t read as well. I feel like this was a hard article to write and I want to let you know it was very, very well done, in my opinion…I am glad you rose to the challenge.

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    He’s a terrorist.

    He wrote a 1500 page political manifesto that basically mirrored extreme right-wing thoughts that are voiced every day on Fox News. Extremely twisted? Yeah. The ramblings of a mad man? No.

    Sick of the double standard in the media about this, if he was Muslim the media would shouting about how he’s a terrorist and blaming Islam for everything. but because he’s a white Christian he’s “insane”.

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      Yes. I think this was mentioned on Salon or the Nation but it’s worth mentioning again. The way Islam has been constantly demonized in Western dialogue has been horrifying, especially since the 9-11 attacks. This probably has a lot to do with Orientalism (West superior to East, Oriental as mysterious and dangerous, Occidental as civilized and safe etc) though I’m not well read enough give a good perspective on it.

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      I agree with you 100%, Kat. I don’t think he was insane. Rather, I think he deliberately mentally reframed liberals as the enemies of his country, and himself as a soldier in a war defending his country and his people. I think he deliberately desensitised himself to the suffering and deaths of others (“embrace and familiarise yourself with the concept of killing women, even very attractive women.”). He dehumanised his ‘enemies’.

      Sadly, this is perfectly within normal human limits, it seems to me. We do not categorise ‘freedom fighters’ or terrorists as insane. We do not categorise those who ran concentration camps in South Africa or Nazi Germany as insane. We do not categorise executioners as insane. We do not categorise trained soldiers who temporarily run amuck in a war zone and start indiscriminately killing civilians (including children) as insane.

      We abhor the acts, but we recognise the state of mind as being within normal human variation for a person under stress and who perceives themselves or their home/family/people to be under threat. I think it is our own personal horror and revulsion that someone would do this to his own people that leads us to think it ‘must be’ the result of insanity.

      This man deliberately took out as much of the liberal left leadership as he could, then went on to take out as much of the next generation of liberal left leadership as he could. That’s not insanity. That was a carefully planned mission.

      My heart is breaking for the young people and their families; for the terror of their last moments; for the horror and guilt of the survivors; for the parents who can’t even console themselves with the thought that their child’s death was quick and relatively painless. I hope they all find peace.

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    “You know the story, or maybe you don’t”: I had managed to read only headlines up until now, but I couldn’t pass anymore. Your story was the first I read on this (along with an article in French which is more about the big picture, if some of you can read French, check it out, it’s pretty chilling: http://vitoria-brasil.blogspot.com/2011/07/bis-repetita-lhistoire-se-repeterait.html), very informative and well written indeed. Thanks, Riese.

    Beyond the individual losses, I wonder about the effect such a tragedy will have on extremism: will it reinforce right-wing political parties or marginalize them? I am French, and have been scared for years of the way my president, who represents not the nationalists, but a mainstream party (roughly the equivalent to the Republicans) uses the fear of immigrants, of other cultures, and mostly, let’s say it, of Islam, for his party’s political gain… Society is more and more divided, and we are more and more afraid of each other… And that creates individuals such as Breivik, whose ignorance and fear lead to feel powerless, and who start hating all that they do not understand…
    Those are scary times…

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    Riese, this is well written and emotionally very moving. Breivik’s ‘manifesto’ brings up traumatic memories of Mark Lepine’s suicide note blaming feminism and feminists for all his problems and his justification for killing women students during Montreal Massacre.

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    While 90% of this article is well written and captures the story perfectly in all its awfulness, I have to say I disagree with the sensationalizing of the police’s apparent failures in order to draw attention to a lesbian couple’s efforts. In no way would I take away from what the civilians did to rescue these kids, but be fair. The special forces and police also received a lot of praise, and even with the problems that occured there is far more to it than what you’ve decided to share here. Maybe consider some more extensive research, especially around an incident as serious as this.

    Regardless, all my thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. It’s heartbreaking.

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    Thanks for writing this Riese, as a norwegian I really appreciate this.
    However I notice that many have a hard time understanding how the police could let this go on for so long, and I see some anger being directed at them, and therefore I feel the need to clarify some things:
    First of all you need to realise that Norway is a small, peaceful nation, and that no one was expecting that something like this could ever happen here. Secondly, the Delta forces was on the site of the bombing as they should be, obviously, when the message about the shootings first came in, (and because this is a small country we don’t have to many Delta forces) and Utøya isn’t even in the same county as the Oslo, it’s not one minute away. Within minutes they where ready to move out to the island and capture the shooter. But you also need to realise that at this point no one knew anything about who was shooting, how many they where, if there where more bombes on the island (which there where) or what kind of weapons he/they used, and you can’t just send in the special forces on a regular boat into that kind of situastion. The special forces got to that island as fast as possible, and had the shooter captured within TWO minutes after they arrieved.
    It wasn’t an epic failure. They did what they where supposed to do, as fast as they possibly could. And they captured him alive. They couldn’t have done anything differently. The only person who can be blamed for any of this is Breivik.

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      Thank you for the additional information!

      You’re right, I should have phrased that better. Honestly in my head the whole time while reading about this and writing it, I had already decided that blaming the police response was inappropriate and that they did the best they could. Sometimes I forget that not everything in my head ends up on the page. I quoted other people talking about the police but didn’t criticize them myself. I definitely didn’t want to frame the lesbians as heroes in contrast to the police, I just added the info about the police for context. If anything my angle was that from what I’ve read, the police also say there was a lot of shit that went wrong, and they’re aware of that, but that they did absolutely everything they could.

      I also assumed that the bombing was planned how it was specifically to ensure a delayed police response to the island.

      What I meant by “epic fail” was that they did, indeed, fail to reach the island and stop some of it from happening. Did they do all they could? Yes. Do they deserve to be berated or blamed? Absolutely not. I guess I use “epic fail” to mean something where you did your best and you still failed. I have epic fails every day. Does that make sense?

      Ultimately there were so many articles straight up blaming/questioning the police that in contrast to those, I thought mine would seem neutral. But it’s not, you’re right, I will edit to reflect that.

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        I really appreciate this comment, as I reacted to the statements about the police as well. There is no use in me restating the facts so eloquently put by Anita, but I would like to say that I am incredibly proud of the way the police and the government has handled this tragedy, and the chief of police has already been through a lot of critique from the right wing for using a surrogate for his children with his legally wedded husband.

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    Thank you for this great article.

    I am so relieved to read something that does justice to the tragedy itself, rather than elaborating about ‘the true nature of Breivik’. Here in the Netherlands, the newspapers and opinion makers have been so busy knocking each others heads in over whether he was ‘a lone wolf’, a ‘terrorist’, a ‘killer’ or something else. (One columnist even went as far as to twist things around and suggest that Breivik identified so much with Al Quaeda, that in essence it were the muslims who were to blaim for these horors.) Focussing on the definition/technicalities of Breiviks colours is not very useful, and so taking away momentum from the important stuff.

    Thanks for not falling in this trap. Much, much appreciated, AS.

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    Thank-you for this article Riese. Really, just wow. Thank-you.

    I enjoyed following the dialogue on Formspring around an Autostraddle Norway article. How you explained your position on why Autostraddle hadn’t posted anything on Norway. And then the person explained why it was important to them. And you responded by making Norway important to all of us.

    Thank-you for seeing through the numbers, hate and madness to find a story with people, and with heart. And hope.

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    A girl who was there during the attacks was quoted in my newspaper:

    “If there is so much hate in this one person, imagine how much love there can be present in others.”

    Which I found a very beautiful quote.

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    I was watching this week ago at my friends place, and he said that he couldn’t understand this, and “Mr. Knight” and I told him that if I could understand him I’d be very worried about myself… Because you just can’t. And it was odd, because I came there to celebrate birth of friend’s baby girl. It struck me, while I was observing her in all her smallness and newness, that, and I do believe this, only thing that we were really born with, beside our body and in some case physical resemblance to our parents, is love, everything else we picked up along the way… We were trained to point the finger, to hate, to be homophobic, violent, narrow as a woods track… and more sadly to be ashamed of ourselves because we were marked as inappropriate in this or that way. And then we get into each others faces with guns, bombs, stupid laws… In order to protect something that was perhaps never meant to be protected, but evolve. It’s just sad.

    And it’s sad that in last couple of decades grief has become world’s common trait.

    My deepest condolences to all the families.

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    I still cry myself to sleep and I just need someone to hold on to I don’t think I can take it anymore. I want to show that I’m strong and I don’t want him to win, but it just hurts so fucking much.

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    I have so much too say, but don`t know how to express myself in english.
    Anita pretty much sums it up though. I agree with Anita in what she said.

    The epic fail was on Breiviks part.

    You should also write about how Norway, and the norwegian people have dealt with this=)

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    I had no idea Autostraddle had an article on this as I wasn’t on here when it happened. It’s so nice to see people so far away caring about us way up north.

    I skimmed through the article, I couldn’t really bare to read it all as it brings back a lot of tears and sad feelings. But again, thanks for writing this, and thanks for caring. It means a lot.

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