Police Stalking and Sexual Minority Persecution in Norway
by Reidar Visser
Two weeks of blogging about police stalking in the first person have prompted many interesting comments from readers, but also lots of questions. The most recurrent ones relate to the mystery of why the police forces of so many countries would spend so much money on mistreating me for such a trifling issue as perfectly legal street photography.
Many have asked whether the real reason may have been my Iraq research. Perhaps the police persecution was caused by my criticism of pro-federal forces in Iraq, including the leadership of the two biggest Kurdish parties and the Shiite Islamist ISCI? How about my focus on foreign oil companies investing in Kurdistan and my criticism of how Western capitalism fuels and exacerbates ethnic conflict in Iraq? For sure, that would have been a romantic story: An historian who was tortured for his work for the sake of Iraq’s unity! But I don’t buy it. I have no empirical evidence to support it. I don’t think there is a Kurdish lobby in the Norwegian police. I have never been threatened by Kurds despite the fact that I have often disagreed with their leaders. The only serious threats I have ever received in relation to Iraq were from Norwegian shareholders in DNO (which invests in Kurdistan), but I have no information to show that this group is particularly influential in the Norwegian police or that any leading police official is a major DNO shareholder.
Instead, along the lines of my theory of “incompetence and unintended fragmentation” in Iraq (rather than a master plan for partition), I have offered a model of bureaucratic incompetence in my own case. Norwegian police start something stupid on a small scale. Once the snowball starts rolling, they have problems defining a logical end to it. My stubborn refusal to go back to the criminal government that authored the miscarriage of justice against me surprises them; however, my preparedness to travel across continents in the search for freedom gives the continuation of the project a lucrative air miles factor that many police officers find quite irresistible. Norway being Europe’s Qatar in terms of energy revenue means this kind of gross misuse of state money can happen, even if it is not common. Once the operation gets underway, an unfortunate escalatory logic takes hold. Perhaps social anthropology theories regarding exchange between “big men” in primitive societies is best fitted to explain it: Exactly like participants in potlatch and kula exchanges of old Pacific and North American civilisations, the police officers of each country participating in the operation against me try to surpass each other in implementing the illegal harassment protocol. Perhaps they may even have designated the operation against me as a case study in international police cooperation? Maybe a project to find out how far the police can go in terms of socially isolating an undesirable academic even if he has a good reputation internationally and lots of money to travel for.
There is one additional explanation for my misery that I have left out altogether thus far. I’ll write about it now since I understand there is a demand for a fuller picture. Also, I have realised that certain people who are in a position to blow the whistle on the illegal operation against me do not have the courage to take action after all. In respect for them, I had waited; when they failed to act I owe nothing to anyone anymore. All options are on the table, including fighting publicly for the civil rights of the sexual minority to which I belong.
Sexual Slurs as Drivers in Police Harassment Operations
Shortly before I left the Netherlands, I made an important discovery relating to my case. It explained its logic, even if it is hardly the logic one would expect in a twenty-first century democracy.
While I lived in Maasdam, I had mostly tried to ignore my stalkers as much as possible. However, every now and then I made small investigative attempts. One afternoon in June, I had just been passed by a gang of teenagers on a street corner. There was much hilarity on their part. Instead of continuing walking, I stopped, went back and eavesdropped on their conversation.
“No, he likes pain.”
“Nooo. That’s not true”.
“It’s true. The police told us.”
That short exchange threw light on one of the things that had long puzzled me about the participation of citizens in the police stalking operation against me: How can so many people abandon the most basic principles of rule of law, surrender to wanton medievalism, and commit massive human rights crimes at the simple request of a common police officer? How can humans so easily turn into animals?
The answer is, they can do it because are targeting me as a sexual minority. What they said is true. I like pain. Or, more precisely, I am attracted to dominant women. I admire self-confident, assertive, arrogant, condescending, ego-centric and somewhat narcissistic women who generally believe they are the centre of the universe. I find female violence as esthetically beautiful and attractive as I find male violence disgusting and reprehensible. I like women who dominate men and I even like women who are sexually rather uninterested in men altogether. This is called masochism. I cannot offer any elaborate theory for my belief in female supremacy, nor do I see a need for one (much less a cure). By way of disclaimer, I should put on record that I have never been the victim of any kind of sexual assault and grew up in a perfectly normal family where there was never any kind of domestic violence or gender bias one way or another. This is simply how I have thought about sexual relationships as long as I have thought about sex. I find women smarter and more beautiful than men. Whereas I dislike 97% of men, I dislike only 70% of women. With that kind of world view, a belief in sexual female domination (femdom) is a logical conclusion. It’s not that I am necessarily looking for a lot of circus and traditional sado-masochistic clichés. I find psychological domination as interesting as physical domination. But in a vanilla setting, I feel like a bad actor. As the very minimum, I am looking for recognition of my unconventional views on gender relations.
It is from these unusual thoughts the police derive fuel for their witch hunt. Regardless of what role may have been played by my Iraq research, it is definitely sexuality and not disagreements over Iraq policy that was used to sell the illegal harassment operation against me to a wider audience in countries like the Netherlands. It is the same kind of sexuality arguments that are being used against me where I currently am – a small, democratic country in the Asia-Pacific region with a generally good human rights record. Here, the general population merrily participate in the harassment of me when I am out and about, and don’t seem to care one iota that I am simultaneously being subjected to severe physical torture through sleep deprivation and other forms of harassment affecting my physical health.
Once I had heard that conversation between the teenagers in Maasdam I understood many of the street theatre scenes the police had staged throughout my ordeal. The dominant poses of the women in the couples on the beach in Noordwijk, the constant chick fights along the routes I walked, the scene where a young woman was kickboxing against a Taiwanese soldier on the doorsteps of the Novotel hotel in Taipei in the very second when I arrived, the van with an SM logo that stalked me repeatedly in Maasdam (SM is a common abbreviation for sado-masochism). The inspiration for all of this must have been surveillance results gathered by the Oslo police in the period 2010-11, when I had no idea I was being watched by the police, and when my internet surfing habits will have been easy for them to record. I am not a fan of the goriest end of the SM spectrum and absolutely loathe cliché SM porn with drugged-down East European prostitutes who pretend to be sadists in one moment and masochists the next. Much stereotypical SM porn I find rather uninteresting. Still, the Oslo police will have been in a position to record visits to a number of websites with distinctive SM content. Favourite sources for quality SM erotica at the time they targeted me included websites made for and by real lesbians (quite superior to run-of-the-mill SM porn), Japanese erotic manga (no ugly male models), and a series of websites made by young German women which catered mainly for a shoe fetish crowd but produced some of the most brilliant SM I have ever seen (healthy models who genuinely seemed to be enjoying what they were doing etc.)
Many distinctive scenes from these websites were subsequently reproduced in street theatre by the police when they began stalking me. No other government than Norway could have had this information since I completely stopped surfing these websites once I realised I was being watched. It must have been the Oslo police that illegally passed this information to foreign governments – including those which deliberately reproduced part of it, like the Netherlands and Taiwan. In those places, guesswork about my sexual predilections was subsequently spread to thousands of local citizens and tourists, in flagrant violation of my rights under the European and UN human rights charts.
Wait, a masochist getting tortured, isn’t that a contradiction in terms? In a word: No. Non-consensual torture of a masochist is just the same as rape. Masochists are in love not with the pain itself but with sadists. Masochists are not more submissive in their social lives than others. Masochists are no more likely to submit to a complete stranger than other people are. Given the need for trust in an SM relationship, masochists are probably even more discriminating in their choice of partners than others. Personally speaking, in my academic life I’m probably something of an intellectual sadist who doesn’t mind twisting the knife every now and then, although it has no sexual meaning to me. The percentage of women I’d be prepared to submit to sexually is tiny. Brilliant, intelligent and free women, great; collaborators of a stupid police state dominated by patriarchal conservatism, no way. The medieval Islamic slave soldier concept offers an apt parallel: Mamelukes were loyal to their owners but proud soldiers at the same time. Masochists aren’t pushovers and have no greater interest in being subjected to the transient sadistic whims of every Mary, Jane and Susie than anyone else.
The Logic of the Exploitation of Sexuality in Police Stalking Cases
Does everything make more sense now? Legally, of course not. Even if it does not really matter one iota, let me make clear that my controversial photography was not in any way focused on potential sadists. Firstly, after years of mostly futile search for gorgeous sadists, I don’ t really believe in my ability to spot them on the street. Second, to the limited extent that I still have faith in parameters of external appearance as possible indicators of interest in SM, I am interested in marginality. I am instinctively attracted to punks, goths, emos and moderately butch lesbians even though I have no empirical evidence to show these groups are more interested in SM than others. My photographs, on the other hand, systematically and exclusively targeted mainstream fashion, i.e. the opposite. That was the whole idea behind the project: An attempt to understand the remarkable staying power of clothes brands that make certain street fashion prototypes in Oslo look exactly the same for five years in a row or more. Hell, it subsequently emerged that in my eagerness to document mainstream I had inadvertently photographed plainclothes police officers! It is true that the motives were mostly (but not exclusively) women, but then again women dominate fashion as a field in the same way as men dominate things I have studied in the past (like Iraqi federalism). Just because I happen to believe in female supremacy sexually, should I be banned from academically documenting and writing about female empowerment through street fashion, for example how ordinary women often trump the diktats of male designers? Does the fact that I enjoy a submissive role in a sexual relationship somehow take away from me the right to take pictures on the street enjoyed by every other citizen?
But let’s go a little further and just for the sake of the argument assume that it had in fact been my goal to capture some kind of imagined category of “potential sadists” in my photography. That would still have been perfectly legal – although I would probably have achieved a far more satisfactory result if I had been stationed permanently outside a sex club or a karate tournament for women instead of doing what I did, which was to take pictures on my way to my job. Criminality would only have resulted if I had stalked a particular person (repeated photography), tried to photograph nudity (say, topless photography on the beach ), or actively staged and videotaped SM-like scenes in which someone was hurt (staged fights between women is actually a genre on YouTube). But I did none of those things.
The big irony here is that if my photos intended for an academic study of fashion instead had been taken on the beach, uploaded on the internet and then sexualised in a male chauvinist way – as for example in the creep shot genre – chances are that the Norwegian police would have laughed at them, quite in line with the existing jurisprudence on photography in Scandinavia. But despite the fact that my photography never violated any of the relevant legal red lines, it came across as mysterious to the police nonetheless. Unconventional. And the police often respond with ferocity in the face of things they don’t understand. I am not suggesting they have a deliberate pogrom against all masochists; just that they systematically go for the fringes: Bikers, activists, rockers, just to give a few examples. The message is that If you are conform, you are fine; if you are original, you can be in trouble for the slightest thing – including legal acts that mainstream citizens are allowed to perform all of the time. For marginal people, secret trial by the police themselves and unusual punishment ensue; precisely because you are marginal, you cannot expect the mainstream to stand up for you. In Oslo a few years ago, gay police officers arranged Christmas parties in secret locations for fear of being harassed by their own colleagues (Aftenposten 18 December 2006)!
Sexual identity is a particularly central aspect of the police’s militancy against marginal groups. This is not a new invention. Back in the 1970s, East Germany’s Stasi focused precisely on such issues in its “disintegration directive” intended to socially marginalise enemies of the state. All sorts of hobbies and preferences were meticulously (and indeed “scientifically”) mapped, including sexual ones. More recently, whistleblowers in several countries have seen a disproportionate amount of sexual accusations coming their way, often without any decisive prosecution. In my case, with a zealousness similar to that of Stasi, Norwegian and Dutch police have been collecting the most incredible details of my personal life for the purpose of using them against me. Examples include clothes brands I use, the way I speak and my favourite music, all of which have been used by plainclothes police officers to mimic me again and again. But the number one factor in recruiting citizens at large to harass me is sexual. You cannot mobilise a whole population against someone simply for listening to Pink. But how about this: He took photos on the street. And he is a pervert. Those conjunctions float easily and cheaply in the discourse of the police, so cheaply in fact that few citizens bother to consider that the police’s reasoning has nothing to do with the law – and indeed that it violates the law.
The actions of the police in my case resonate with broader trends in European policing: A tendency of giving up the fight on some forms of traditional crime and focusing instead on spin-doctoring and building relationships with the mainstream in the general public. By way of example, in the Netherlands, police officers spend lots of their time on PR gimmicks like burgernet (citizens are invited to spy on fellow citizens) and Twitter (individual police officers maintain their own official Twitter profiles and spend several hours on Twitter every day). But the PR stunt to eclipse all others is police stalking: Let citizens perform criminal acts upon the instigation of the police and with their consent.
If you think these confessions are getting overly intimate, consider the following. Firstly, I am a victim of torture. For more than 550 days, adults have been paid overtime by so-called liberal Western governments to wake me up repeatedly every night simply in order to deprive me of sleep. For 120 days, unconventional electronic devices have been used, with increasing signs that my general health is being affected in extremely serious ways. The police in 14 countries have circulated strictures on my sexual identity to thousands of citizens. In sum, there have been so many serious breaches of some of my most fundamental rights under the EU and UN human rights charters that I am at a point where I don’t have much dignity left to protect anyway. So before passing judgment, remember that if everyone had been tortured to the point where sexual self-inquisition was the only way to put the behaviour of the state in the correct legal perspective, the world would certainly look very different indeed. What I have described are intimate, private views that I had no plans to burden any fellow citizens with until I realised that those views were the primary reason my human rights had been taken away from me by the Norwegian government.
Second, think of my practical situation. There is no point in reaching out to people through blogging only to see any newfound sympathy evaporate in the very second the police declare me a pervert. That’s what happens in all the local areas I visit: Their message is that human rights don’t apply because of my sexual otherness. The concept of universality is gone. They even issue letters to the effect that they have no criminal case against me, and then they continue to persecute me! Gays must have experienced a logic like this in many Western countries a few decades ago, and continue to experience it in many non-Western countries today. Sexual minorities that are not defined in gender terms are even more vulnerable than gays, who at least nominally have had some civil rights successes over the past decades. The only way to fight this kind of knee-jerk prejudice is to be perfectly open it and force the oppressors to tackle the contradiction of their own approach when considered in a universal human rights perspective. Perhaps only when citizens understand that they themselves may be next in line in the police’s relentless search for public enemies will they have the courage to take action against fast-spreading police criminality.
My contention is that the only perverts here are the state and its collaborators. The true depravity is the fact that Norwegian police are allowed to play judges in a country where the judiciary is assumed to be independent and where due process is supposed to prevail. The debauchery consists of high-ranking figures in Norway’s Labour party providing political cover for thugs in the organised crime department in the Oslo police and their human rights crimes. As I complete this article, I read the sad story about a woman in Oslo who was raped by her partner to the point where she suffered internal injuries. The case against the rapist was dismissed by police for lack of evidence even though medical doctors had certified the extent of the injuries she had suffered. Exactly like in the case of Anders Behring Breivik during the months prior to his terrorist attack on 22 July 2011, the Oslo police had no resources to follow up. That same police spent millions of tax payer kroner on harassing me illegally on three continents in 2011 and 2012! Of course unlike the offenders in those cases – an honest male rapist and a bold rightwing activist – I had perpetrated a horrific thought crime that threatened to shake the foundations of Norwegian society: I had taken pictures on the street while at the same time belonging to a sexual minority which envisions women in a dominant role.
Sexual otherness does not in itself constitute criminality. An act which is legal – photography of fully clad people in publicly available areas – can never become illegal just because the photographer happens to belong to a sexual minority. I hope my case eventually will be recognised as the ugly discrimination and persecution case it is. The fact that it was authored by a government which enjoys one of the best democratic reputations in the world only goes to show how far the West has yet to travel before it truly lives up to its own lofty liberal and humanistic ideals.