Tag Archives: Norway

Anders Behring Breivik: terrorist or madman?

27 Jul

Flowers in Oslo

Since the news of the Norwegian massacre broke, the blogosphere and mainstream media have been engaged in understandably urgent efforts to make some sense of the weekend’s ghastly events. One of the methods employed is a semantic discussion as to whether or not the perpetrator ought to be identified as a terrorist, or a lone madman acting out his insane fantasies.

As some authors have pointed out, the term terrorist is largely used when the violent events are performed by Islamic fundamentalists. When the perpetrator is identified as white and homegrown, they are described as mad, lunatic, a lone wolf, or a crazy isolationist. Terrorism has become synonymous with Muslims, while attacks on civilians such as those carried out by non Muslims like Anders Behring Breivik,  Timothy McVeigh, or Jared Lee Loughner are constructed by the media and often politicians as the insane actions of a crazed loner.

In fact all three of these murderers of non combatants had a political agenda that to them justified their actions, and all three had a political and ideological goal – this is the definition of a terrorist.

The reluctance of the West to identify it’s homegrown aggressors as terrorists is symptomatic of a widespread Islamophobia that defines terrorists as Muslims. Islamophobes perceive Islam as violent, aggressive, and supportive of terrorism. Islam is widely associated with terrorism, by Islamophobes, unlike other major religions, and largely as a consequence of the 9/11 attacks on the US. The term terrorist when  used in much Western media signifies cultural and emotional associations with Islam, indeed it has apparently become a metonym for Islam.

That this is the case was proved beyond doubt when global mainstream media initially declared the Norwegian terrorist to be an agent of Al Qaeda. With no evidence and little information, prominent commentators in the popular press made this assumption based solely on the nature of the attacks. When the gunman turned out to be an “Aryan poster boy” who expressed a loathing of Muslims and identified with right wing Christian fundamentalists (as well as our own homegrown John Howard, Cardinal Pell, Peter Costello and Keith Windschuttle, all of whom are quoted admiringly in Breivik’s manifesto) this came as something of a shock to the complacent, and as it turned out ignorant, purveyors of media misinformation.

In an aside, the Windschuttle link above will take you to Murdoch journalist Andrew Bolt‘s blog. There you’ll find the headline “The new blood libel of the Left,” underneath which Windschuttle presents his response on hearing of Breivik’s admiration of him and the Left’s “gleeful” reaction to this.

In another aside, the contentiously anti semitic term “blood libel” was used by Sarah Palin when she attempted to defend herself against charges that her extremist right wing rhetoric had inspired Jared Lee Loughner to shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords is Jewish.

What a tangled web.

Murdoch’s minion Bolt, one of the many public voices who rushed to judgement, declared when he discovered the killer had ties to right wing Christians that Breivik was not really a Christian. Presumably this is because Christians don’t carry out such atrocities, while in Bolt’s book Muslims do.

At this moment it is likely of little interest to the families and friends of the Norwegian dead, and to the injured survivors of Breivik’s monstrous attacks whether he is defined by the rest of the world as a terrorist or a madman. Those of us less directly affected are privileged to be in a state of mind that permits these speculations. While it makes no immediate difference to the agony so many people must be feeling, it is important that those of us who can do have this discussion: we owe it to the dead and injured, and to those who mourn, to ensure that the truth be spoken as best as is possible about the man who brought this misery and loss down upon them, and about the world in which he developed his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim philosophy.

It is too easy to describe Breivik simply as crazed, though mentally unhinged he most certainly is. Breivik is also a terrorist. There is an argument that all terrorists are inevitably crazed, that the act of slaughtering civilians in the pursuit of a political and/or ideological goal is not the act of a sane person. Whether or not Breivik would meet the legal definition of insane is as yet undetermined but certainly colloquially there can be no doubt.

But that’s not the end of it. Breivik is also a product of the zeitgeist. Islamaphobia is everywhere. The beliefs that to him justified his rampage are everywhere. So widespread, so culturally embedded are they in the West, that his murderous actions were immediately attributed to the group he so powerfully loathed. It could only be Al Qaeda or its associates, for who else kills Westerners in a terrorist attack?

The irony is heartbreaking.

What we owe to the Norwegian dead and grieving is to seriously examine ourselves and the societies in which we live. While Breivik is an extremist and his actions are thank God extreme, scapegoating, anti-Muslim  and anti-immigration rhetoric and the beliefs that fueled his insanity are everywhere, and are increasingly normalized as they are sanctioned by the mainstream political system and the media that represents it.

We could start in our own back yards. For example, the Malaysian solution. Is it just a coincidence that the majority of the 800 asylum seekers we will send to Malaysia will be Muslim, while the majority of the 4,000 refugees we receive in return will be non Muslim?

Breivik did not kill Muslims, for all his hatred of them. He killed the young members of the Norwegian political party he believed was responsible for allowing Muslims into his country in greater numbers than was acceptable to him. He killed his own people. He is a domestic terrorist, like McVeigh and Loughner. Like McVeigh and Loughner, he is also crazy.

It can also be argued that any of these terrorists could have hung their craziness on whatever cause took their fancy, and this is also true. The impulse to slaughter and the capacity to act on the impulse is in their personalities. Politics and ideology did not make them into murderers. Politics and ideology offered them an avenue for the expression of their extreme violence and hatred.

As for the origins of that violence and hatred, we may never know. Many, many people endure difficulties and hardships in childhood and very few become terrorists. Many many people feel violent and hateful, but they do not act on those emotions. There are human beings whose pathology is inexplicable. But when there is a perfect storm of pathology and zeitgeist, the terrorist is born.

There is little we can do about the pathology.  About the zeitgeist we can do everything if we have the collective will. But we will need leaders who give a damn.

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The political climate that nurtures extremism: be careful what you sow

25 Jul

Today the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen will sign the deal with Malaysia that will see 800 boat arrivals exchanged for Australia’s re-settlement of 4000 refugees currently held in that country. As the government has already undertaken not to expel those who’ve arrived by boat prior to today’s deal, they will be no doubt hoping the threat in itself will be enough to “stop the boats.” If this is the case it will allow the government to avoid what will inevitably be the morally messy business of actually carrying out this proposed exchange of human lives, one lot to a very precarious future in a non-signatory country, the other lot to a safe future in Australia.

The fact that we can send 800 boat people to Malaysia immediately signals that we don’t consider them as human as either ourselves, or the 4000 we are re-settling in exchange. You do not send innocent people to extremely dubious futures if you acknowledge them as human beings. The only way to send 800 people to the conditions they will have to face in Malaysia is to first deny their humanity. It is first to deny their worthiness – they are not as worthy as either ourselves, or the refugees we are accepting in their place. We do not have to be as caring about their well being as we do about our own, or the well being of the “worthy” refugees we are re-settling. Why? Because they arrived by boat? Because of where they were born? Both?

These 800 people are not criminals. Our domestic laws allow asylum seekers to arrive here in any manner at all, without papers, and to request refugee status once they get here. The Gillard government could rescind this law. That would  make boat arrivals law breakers. That would stop the boats. Permanently. The Malaysian solution is a one-off. After we reach our quota of 800 the deal is finished.

The Gillard government chooses to maintain the law that allows anyone to seek asylum and permits any manner of arrival. In a Kafakesque manipulation, the Gillard government criminalizes innocent people who are only doing what they are legally entitled to do, instead of changing the law. This is a very slippery slope, and one that should deeply concern all of us: today asylum seekers, tomorrow??

Australia was initially led down this very messy moral path by the Howard government’s racist response to asylum seekers who arrived by boat, exemplified in the events of the Tampa.  With total disregard for our domestic law, and the Covenant we signed with the UN, Howard began a slanderous campaign against boat arrivals that reached its climax in the Children Overboard affair. We don’t want people who abuse their children in this country, he declared, conveniently overlooking the fact that we already have tens of thousands of people in Australia who really are abusing children, their own and others. Australians don’t abuse their children, was the racist message based on a lie. Muslim asylum seekers coming in boats do, and we decent Australians don’t want them. Racism. Pure and simple. Replace Muslim with Jew and see where that eventually takes us.

Shaken by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Howard then followed George Bush into the invasion of Iraq, based on the folded lie that those responsible for the attacks had something to do with Iraq, and besides, Iraq was hoarding weapons of mass destruction.

In reality, the extremists who struck at the heart of America were from Saudi Arabia and there were no WMDs, but the Coalition of the Willing were not about to let the truth stand in the way of a good opportunity to wage war. Bush had scores to settle on behalf of his father and the first Gulf War. And then there’s the oil. Impossible as well to go after Saudi Arabia as breeders of terrorists. The Saudi princes dine at the White House and invest in News Limited. Think Fox News, and Murdoch’s support for the Iraq invasion.

Regardless of these considertions, a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment focused on Iraq swept across the US and its allies, including Australia. You’re either with us or against us on terrorism, Bush declared, and we say who the terrorists are and where they came from. In a brilliantly executed piece of propaganda, Howard conflated boat arrivals and Muslims with terrorism, struck xenophobic fear into the hearts of many Australians, and won an election that had a mere few months earlier seemed un-winnable by promising to protect us.

However Howard, like those who’ve followed him, did not move to change the law that permits asylum seekers entry. One has to wonder why. If anything would “protect” us immediately and permanently, it would be the rescinding of that law.

The Australian public’s fear and hatred of boat arrivals has not subsided. Politicians have not ceased to exploit this fear for their own gain. We are as deeply racist in this country as we have ever been. The Malaysian solution is racist to its core.

And so to Norway. The right-wing Christian fundamentalist terrorist who allegedly carried out the massacre of over 90 Norwegians on Sunday hated immigrants. He expressed rabid anti Muslim sentiments. He thought his government wasn’t doing enough to keep Norway for the Norwegians. He has expressed hope that his actions will bring about a change in Norway. His slaughter of the innocents was, he claims, gruesome but necessary.

The Norwegian slaughter represents the extreme end of a continuum. Somewhere along that continuum is the Malaysian Solution. Somewhere along it are the folded lies about WMDs and alleged Iraqi responsibility for September 11. Somewhere along the continuum is the virulent right-wing xenophobia expressed by Howard, and upheld by the policies of the Gillard Labor government. Somewhere along it are Alan Jones, Chris Smith, Andrew Bolt, and the rest of the shock jocks who conspire to agitate a fear and hatred of Muslims, and boat arrivals in Australian hearts. The extreme outcome of their racist right-wing anti-Muslim anti asylum seeker rhetoric is the slaughter in Norway.

In Australia, the unthinkable has become normalized in the Malaysian solution. The Gillard government has singled out two groups of human beings, one it considers worthy of saving, and one it considers unworthy. There is nothing we can do to ensure the safety and well-being of this latter group. We know the conditions they will encounter. We will expel these people because they accepted an invitation we continue to unconditionally extend.

You can only take such action against people you consider less than human.

Normalizing official selection practices for human survival and well being is the slipperiest slope of all. Once it becomes acceptable to decide that one group is more worthy of survival than another, once that becomes government policy and is then executed by the expulsion of the “undesirable” group, a country is deeply morally fouled.

If there is any doubt about the racist core of the Malaysian solution, ask why asylum seekers arriving by plane are not transported to Malaysia?  They are permitted to stay in this country while their claims are assessed. Generally they are not held in indefinite mandatory detention. The fact that they have papers is irrelevant to the law, which doesn’t require asylum seekers to have papers.

There is the law. And then there is government policy. In a healthy democracy there should not be discrepancy between the two. In a morally fouled country, there is increasing discrepancy between the two, and citizens should take alarmed note of such discrepancies.

The Malaysian solution is a marker of how far down the slippery slope we have already  travelled. It is the most immoral action this country has taken thus far against boat arrivals. It reveals our racist heart, and our collective ability to dehumanize. Dehumization of asylum seekers has become increasingly normalized over the last ten years and our journey into these dark waters has brought us to the Malaysian solution.

The events in Norway are shocking. They did not take place in a vacuum, such events never do. A climate exists in which such madness can be rationalized and justified by terrorists and their followers. The rhetoric used in such justifications is no different from what can be heard and read in the media every day. It is the rhetoric of hatred of other, and fear of difference. Politicians and media of all persuasions whip up these fears for their own gain. We need leaders who are capable of calming the irrational, not feeding it to gain office.

Leaders who nurture fear, leaders who capitulate to the most base human emotions are, to use Gillard’s word, evil. They perpetuate evil. They nurture evil. They violate the moral law to further their own objectives. It is indeed appropriate to describe, as did Gillard, the Norwegian terrorist as evil. But evil has many faces, and evil resides quite naturally in the continuum. Our leaders would do well to re-aquaint themselves with its meaning.

Be careful what you sow. You may not be able to control what seeds and flourishes.

Norway

23 Jul

Anders Behring Breivik

The alleged terrorist has the fresh-faced look of a young David Duchovney. He’s been described by Norwegian police as an ethnic Norwegian right-wing Christian fundamentalist. He’s posted anti Muslim rhetoric on the Internet, and has links to right wing extremist organisations.

So far police estimate that 91 people died at his hands, the majority on the wooded island of Utøya, and the majority of them young.

Norway is a peaceful humanitarian country that lifts more than its weight in the world when it comes to international aid and support. Probably the best-known Norwegian of recent years, in Australia at least, is the retired captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan, who got into a face-off with John Howard’s government over the fate of the refugees his ship rescued at sea. Captain Rinnan’s decency, his determination to honour the mariner’s responsibility to those in trouble on the world’s oceans played out in stark contrast to our then government’s brutality. In his way Rinnan exemplifies the Norwegian national spirit that makes the country one of the most socially responsible in the world, both to its own people and to foreigners.

Now that country is in deep shock. The terror and loss is unimaginable, on a personal level and on a national level. The country of the Nobel Peace Prize is changed forever by the magnitude of the events of the last 24 hours. Events orchestrated and executed, it appears, by one of their own.

No doubt we will hear plenty more about Breivik in the coming days as authorities attempt to unravel the forces that motivated him, and drove him to these atrocities. Is it possible he could have done all this alone? Is it possible he was so isolated that no one had any idea of his plans? Will right-wing Christian fundamentalists think twice about their rhetoric? Is this an outcome they intend?

I’m not a praying woman, but tonight I’ll do it anyway, for the families, and for the people of Norway. I don’t know what they’ll need to get through this, but I pray they can help each other, and cling fast to one another through what lies ahead.

As W.H.Auden puts it:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

We must love one another, or die.

Today it is Norway: tomorrow it could be any of us hurled out of our comfortable and complacent daily existence into the unthinkable. Is it possible to protect ourselves and one another from such things? Increasingly it appears not. The terrorist, home grown or foreign, is the most devout and devious of humans, with a will to power and devotion to cause that transcends ordinary comprehension.

We’re all at the terrorist’s mercy, as we already know in Australia, and we have known them both home grown and foreign. Today, with horror, and outrage and fear, Norway joins the other nations of the world shaken to the core by the actions of  terrorists, a growing community of those who’ve survived the shock, horror, and loss of an entirely unexpected and deadly attack. Lost in a haunted wood.

 

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