The actions of Anders Behring Breivik, the 32 year old mass killer of close to 60 innocent uncomprehending young people and others not much older raises some troubling questions for the rest of us.
First that it happened in Norway is itself troubling, since extremism is certainly not normally associated with that country. While those of us who use the internet for discussion and information will be no strangers to encountering rightwing “Christian” fundamentalism and its Muslim extremist counterpart, it still comes as something of a shock to find someone so deranged, in a society virtually indistinguishable to our own, that they think that acts of cruel terror will somehow win people to their cause. He is not alone. At the same time Breiveik was embarking on his reign of terror some equally deranged “Muslim” Taliban in Afghanistan were hanging an eight year old boy whom they had kidnapped to extract ransom from his local Police Chief father. That either Anders or those particular Taliban members should find the self justification for such repugnant acts consistent with the ideals of the belief they espouse, makes a mockery of commitment to faith.
A second problem is that the sort of extreme polemic indulged by such deranged extremists goes virtually unchallenged on the grounds of freedom of expression. Unfortunately, while it is highly unlikely that Anders Breivik would have found any support for his chosen action from within the mainstream of the rightwing camp, it is hard to see the difference between many of the statements he made about what he was seeking to challenge, and the on-line complaints of many others throughout the West. There was also a chilling similarity between the Oklahoma bombing and this latest horror in Norway, both committed by right wing extremist fundamentalist “Christians” with distorted notions of necessary action to achieve confused aims. That his manifesto should have borrowed so much from the writings of a similarly deranged Unabomber indicates similar motivation.
Anders Breivik, it seems, felt his exclusive Christian ideals and sense of national pride were such that even to have Muslim immigrants sharing his birth country was unacceptable. His online documents and posts ranted against Muslim immigration to Europe and vowed revenge on those “indigenous Europeans” whom he deemed were betraying their heritage. At least one document said they would be punished for their “treasonous acts.”
There is regrettably a widespread double think which causes us to notice others sins and be totally blind to our own. Breivik like other extremists seems to completely overlook that his actions were totally anti-social yet aimed at those he felt were destroying the well being of his society. One of his other criticisms, although shared by many, is similarly blinkered vision. Here I refer to what is commonly identified as the demeaning act of Muslim women being required to wear the Burqa which suggests that the only societies that allow demeaning acts directed at women are Muslim. Two other customs, namely prostitution and the “boobs on Bikes” parade both of which are demonstrably demeaning to women, and which are allowed in New Zealand and similar Western countries, are examples of what is allowed – yet without the same outcry associated with the Muslim veils worn by some immigrants. I am not sure if the Hooters Resturant Chain is necessarily good for attitudes to women either!
The third and probably most serious problem is that all the same triggers for the bizarre behaviour in Norway are currently present in most Western nations. We have societies within which a complete range of emotion and intelligence can be expressed. (I was reminded recently of the old saying: “think of the stupidity of the average citizen – and just remember that half the population is more stupid than that”). Anders Breivik’s chilling and hopefully fanciful claim that there are two other cells with similar intent in Norway is nevertheless plausible. We all live among those who express distrust for those who do not share their particular customs, religion, appearance and heritage. Some of these express views which border on homicidally insane eg the Skinhead and white supremicist phenomena. Surveys typically reveal high proportions in many Western nations of those uncomfortable with immigration levels. We all have accessibility to the means of terror. Fertiliser bombs require no special skills to assemble and the recipes are freely available to anyone with access to the internet. Firearms are available, and in some places freedom of access to firearms is considered a basic right. Intolerance is considered almost a virtue in many parts of the world – although it is rarely admitted. There is widespread confusion between preserving individual freedom and preserving the freedom of citizens to be safe from the actions of others in the community expressing their freedom in anti social ways.
It is hard to find any good coming out of the current tragedy in Norway. If it causes us to rethink our own attitudes and alerts us to weakness in our own preferred thinking there may however be a glimmer of hope.