A horrific event, like the July 22 mass-murder of 76 people in Oslo, Norway by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, inevitably calls forth huge amounts of commentary attempting to explain how it could have happened and what it means. Some of what is said is insightful, useful, knowledgeable, comforting andor thought-provoking. But, inevitably, some is also questionable, misleading, self-serving, ill-informed, foolish, morally dubious and/or just plain ugly. Having read much of what is being said about this sickening crime, I wanted to call attention to some common themes I have seen – especially those exemplifying the latter kind of commentary.
It is certainly appropriate, in the wake of this event, to raise the possibility, as many have, that authorities and public discourse – focused largely on Islamist terror – have been paying insufficient attention to terrorist threats from the far-right. It is much more questionable to go farther and imply that this event shows that the Islamist terror threat is being exaggerated, and even more so, to imply, as some have, that efforts to counter the Islamist terror threat somehow contributed to inspiring Breivik’s crimes.
Breivik’s crimes tell us absolutely nothing about the extent of the Islamist terror threat beyond the fact that other terrorism threats exist (which anyone sensible knew anyway). Moreover, while he is undoubtedly a nativist Muslim-hater, the idea that we can stop people from becoming such by pretending the radical Islamist ideological movement which inspires the majority of current major international terrorism doesn’t exist is just an exercise in wishful thinking. It is the Osama bin Ladens, the Abu Bakar Bashirs, the Ayman al-Zawahiris, the Sheikh Nasrallahs and the Khaled Meshaals of this world who say they carry out their attacks in the name of their extreme vision of Islam. The idea that the Breiviks of this world would never learn about Islamist goals and hatreds if we just pretended it wasn’t happening is absurd.
Obviously, it is both wrong and dangerous to imply that all Muslims represent a terrorist threat, or are morally responsible for Islamist terror. But those who insist this is happening rarely offer any concrete, factually-based examples from mainstream discourse.
In addition, while it is sensible to examine the authors quoted and inspirations cited by Breivik in his hate-filled manifesto, this should be done with caution and circumspection. It is worth remembering that Osama bin Laden cited Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter as sources, while the Unabomber cited climate change guru Al Gore. None of them can or should be held in any way responsible for the acts of terrorists who cite them – the same applies here unless extraordinary evidence to the contrary is found, such as the direct incitement to violence.
Similarly, it is a mistake to imply, as some have, that this attack demonstrates that only the far right is likely to inspire violence or terrorism. It is worth recalling that in the European Union – leaving aside Islamist terror – the number of terrorist attacks attempted by far-left groups outnumbers greatly those undertaken by the far-right according to official statistics. The truth is that political extremists of both right and left are actually, in many ways, closer politically to each other than either are to the centre of the political spectrum. In other words, to state the obvious, extremism, of whatever sort, kills.
Meanwhile the facile claim being made by some that Breivik was pro-Israeli should not be accepted at face-value. Yes, in his bizarre manifesto, he cited Israel as being on the same side in his supposed war against Muslims and multiculturalism. But the man is close to a neo-Nazi, so hardly a friend of the Jewish people. Thus his “manifesto” contains the following discussion of the mistakes of the Third Reich:
If the NSDAP had been isolationistic instead of imperialistic(expansionist) and just deported the Jews (to a liberated and Muslim free Zion) instead of massacring them, the anti-European hate ideology known as multiculturalism would have never been institutionalised…
Elsewhere he notes that while Europe today has too few Jews to have a Jewish problem, “The US… actually has a considerable Jewish problem.”
In this regard, it is worth noting that Breivik’s racialist attitudes toward Jews – he doesn’t want them around in any numbers, and views any substantial concentration of them as creating a “Jewish problem”, but doesn’t mind them so much in Israel – is actually somewhat parallel to his attitude toward Muslims. Breivik certainly hated and feared Muslims in Europe, but actually wrote of the possibility of an alliance between European nativists like himself and Islamist extremist groups, allowing the latter to take over the Middle East in exchange for cleansing Europe of Muslims. He wrote:
We both share one common goal. They want control over their own countries in the Middle East and we want control of our own countries in Western Europe.
Finally, one ugly yet inevitable element of the commentary on Breivik and his crimes (because it is inevitable for all major negative events) is conspiracy theories that Israel or Jews were really behind it all. A sad sign of the times is that these are not confined to the Middle East. The website “Harry’s Place” has documented how individuals associated with both the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in Britain, as well as neo-Nazi groups, have written that Israel or the Mossad must be behind Breivik’s actions. Another sign of the parallels between the far-left and far-right.