Implications of the Norway Massacre

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.

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3 Responses to Implications of the Norway Massacre

  1. Sanjay Gupta says:

    Sir, the Norway massacre though most condemnable, does reflect that the classical liberal tenet of multiculturalism is failing or falling apart. By now it is well known that multiculturalism is behind this gruesome carnage and foreigners, outsiders and immigrants, particularly the Muslims are on the target of the far right extremists. The wave of resentment blowing across the world, particularly in the western world, West Europe and the USA, against immigrants, and heightened by the current financial melt down, is indeed a matter of concern. But the very fact that Brevick’s terrible murderous act was not clearly and vociferously condemned by any western leader, is indicative that Brevick’s act did have tacit consent of western political leaders. On top of that, the heads of government of France (Sarkozy), UK (Cameron) and Germany (Merkel) are on record to have denounced multiculturalism in no uncertain terms and this gives ample indication of the would-be turn about in their respective foreign and domestic policies. Apart from the political factor, even for a normal person like me, though I am no right or left winger, simply a centrist, it is hard to understand how people from different religions, cultures and languages live together with native people no matter how much they integrate themselves into their society. It is a normal human nature to distinguish between people of different backgrounds. Experience has shown, barring exceptions, that the more a homogeneous a society is, the more smooth is the democracy and vice-versa. Does liberalism mean that people different in all ways be made to live in a society with altogether different cultural, religious and spiritual ethos? Even if this is done, will these disparate groups or communities of people be ready to integrate themselves with the original population in a manner which does not make them any more different or belonging to different geographical regions? Would such an attempt not bring about a clash of interest due to their divergent philosophies and orientation of lives? The banning of ‘burqua’ or ‘hijab’ (veil) for Muslim women in France and Belgium, and the attempt to ban the ‘pagri’ ( turban) sacred to Sikhs in UK has been greatly resented by these religious groups and has given rise to numerous controversies, particularly the Islamic have threatened to take revenge from these western nations. Today, it is the Burka and turban, what if other restrictions too are imposed tomorrow on religious and other ethnic groups living in these societies.

    Another point of concern is that the growing militancy of right wingers is generally attributed to the precarious economic situation through which the world, especially the west, is passing. But after the recession is over, though it is officially over, and the nations regain their economic strength, will they be ready to accept the immigrants in their societies willingly or per force due to legal obligations? Would the end of recession spontaneously bring about a change of heart of nations towards their foreign population living in their societies no matter how integration has taken place? Scholars say that prosperity breeds tolerance and harmony and this is why affluent western societies have a huge foreign population from different parts of the world is living. But perhaps they forget that those were different times when the immigrants were welcomed to the western countries as they were greatly required then and there was not much cut-throat competition among and within nations. There were amply resources and the immigrants generally were low-paid doing mainly manual work. But today these immigrants have their children so educated and qualified, such as of Muslims, Hindu, and Sikhs apart from other communities from African, Asian and Arabian countries that they have started posing a serious competition to the native people. The result has been a decline in the job and pay packages for the natives, The situation has become more fragile due to the increased competition brought in by the globalisation and additionally worsened by the recession and now the after affects of recession. Even though the world will eventually regain, but the competition is going to stay, resources will be few, foreign professionals working with MNCs and TNCs would continue coming in giving rise to cut-throat competition and its fall-out would be on the native population of the western countries. Then what will happen in such a scenario? As a strong probability, resentment would increase not only against the immigrants, but against all those foreign professionals, and international students who are coming to these countries for better jobs and education. The growing crisis can be gauged from the fact that Australia, a highly developed country, has become notorious for the growing racialism and attacks on Indian students as the latter are excelling both in education and the jobs. Though Australia earns massive revenue from Indian students which adds up to their impressive GDP, the resentment is brewing in no uncertain terms.

    So the question here is what are the long-term implications of the message of Brewick’s cruel action? I foresee the situation would take a turn for the worse as Europe has been a place of birth to both fascism and nazism when similar economic crisis in the form of Great Depression of 1929-30 had gripped the world. Barring Germany which has a strong industrial-manufacturing sector churning employment, prosperity and having a strong trade, commerce and foreign reserve, other western nations, including the USA, has virtually brought down its industrial/manufacturing sector which is a principal source of employment. The service sector which they pride on is so vulnerable to the shifts and turns of globalisation that it can be relied on. It is a fact that the industrial revolution which made west immensely strong, advanced and prosperous. But today, the manufacturing sector is declining or has rather declined which is why so much unemployment and resentment is occurring. The growth of right wing militancy and its numerous consequence is one of the fall out of the disintegration of their manufacturing sector. Infact herein lies the whole problem of multiculturalism as so long people were people in factories and industries, whether earning low or high, were busy and relatively satisfied. But the virtual death of manufacturing sector and reduced exports, the blame game has started and multiculturalism has appeared as the principal culprit. Unless the root cause of the entire misery is identified, how can you cure the system as patch-work will do no good. Follow the example of Germany and China- industrially advanced countries with a solid foundation of manufacturing sector and do not copy the failed south-east Asian tigers who embarked on services sector with a focus on financial services which ultimately collapsed bringing in unbound misery for them and their population.

    By: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Associate Professor, Political Science, Lucknow University, INDIA,
    email: sanjaygupta_19666@yahoo.in

    • dave says:

      If an economic recovery takes place with no real change in the world economies or governance then humanity remainted doomed. I feel you see this reaction to multiculturalism differently than I do.

      Reference the online articles by Michael Chossudovsky (or the book he was co-editor: The Global Economic Crisis), Mike Whitney, or Paul Craig Roberts (among others). The current world economy has changed from that of more than 30 years ago. Globalization means international banks and multinational corporations can threaten communities and countries by simply shifting resources to different countries.

      The world’s economy is confronted with a major Ponzi scheme with for example (as of 12/31/2010) more than $25 trilion in credit default swaps. The major banks created a ton of fraudulent debt and now the world’s governments are being told to pay it off, rather then writing off the bad debts. Apparently when the first major crash occurred in 2008 under Bush 43, the government was given the ultimatum: either pay up or everything will crash. That lead to the 2008 TARP. When Obama took office, everyone getting important positions involving the economy had connections to the same Wall Street firms involved in the crash. As the problem debts have never been resolved, the problem continues to ripple. The people in Greece protested being told to become impoverished simply to pay off the bad debts to banks outside of Greece. I expect the same to be repeated elsewhere.

      In the USA, especially after the 2011 Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United vs FEC, our elected representatives do what the companies or special interests request based on their paying for their campaigns. An election in the narrow 2-party system in America offers no real choice given each candidate must have prior approval of those financing their campaigns.

      Capitalism is a top-down economic system, where the benefits accrue to the owner or bank, while the employees gain whatever is allowed. Previous generations have demonstrated and suffered, even with death (like the infamous Ludlow massacre), in an attempt to achieve a more equitable wage distribution, and for better working conditions (like the 8-hour day, 40-hour week) and benefits (like health insurance).

      Public demonstrations no longer work, especially when companies can freely move jobs to another state or country. They also don’t work for political influence. Peaceful demonstrations as part of the civil rights movement in the 60’s eventually brought political change. Now attempts to peacefully demonstrate like at 1999 WTO conference are put down with violence by government officers, or in the case of 2008 Republican national convention potential protestors are arrested before even being at a protest and journalists are arrested when trying to report on the protests. Violence that occurs at such protests is often connected to informants or government agents rather than the protestors. Even at a state level, in 2011 Governor Walker in Wisconsin considered staging violence to discredit the protestors attempting to stop his effort to break the state’s teachers union. Millions of people around the world publicly demonstrated in early 2003 in an attempt to prevent the invasion of Iraq by American soldiers- but to no avail.

      Chimpanzees are a social creature like humans and are one of our closest genetic relatives. The alpha male rules the community through agression, sometimes violence, and intimidation to achieve submission. However if he goes too far the entire community can stage a ruckus, either forcing a change in that behavior or a new alpha male will take over. There is a commonly heard phrase: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That apparently also applies even to chimpanzees.

      Every social organization needs a final check to prevent unaccountable behavior. In every economic and political entity, there must be a way to hold leaders accountable for their inappropriate behaviors. In chimpanzees and for people in previous generations public demonstrations have been the final check. This approach no longer works for people to affect government leaders or multinational banks and corporations.

      Unless the economic recovery is accompanied by changes that define enforceable accountability for government and economic leaders, then the absolute power they possess will only lead to further strife for mankind.

      Late in World War 2, America dropped napalm on Royan in southwest France just before the surrender of Germany. In August 1045, America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, followed up by more fire bombing, even though Japan had already agreed to surrender. Military scientists develop new weapons and the military leaders are more than willing to show off how they can destroy their enemies. American special forces now operate in 120 countries, and the new American policy is apparently these forces can murder anyone who may have previously or might someday harm the USA, without any need for proof of a crime or even a trial.

      Unless mankind finds a way to counter absolute power, more death and destruction is likely. The above comment spends too much time concerned about violence about irate citizens. While the Norway massacre was definitely appalling, America continues to send drones into the Middle East bringing terror to the citizens in several countries, without the notoriety given the events in Norway.

      The comment above also mentions it is normal for people to be suspicious of strangers, the problem of multiculturalism. However, probably every major political and religious leader knows that in the case of a systemic problem blame the outsider. For example, in times of economic decline due to the multinational corporations moving jobs elsewhere, the main problem resides in that political system but it is much easier to blame immigrants rather than confronting the real problem. American religious leaders, eager to get a seat near political power like the Perry prayer rally, will also emphasize a clash of civilizations as if Islam is a dangerous threat.

      Demonizing others, by making them not as ‘human’ suggesting they are also not worthy of empathy, enables all sorts of behaviors, including intolerance in the best of cases, or violence in the worst (like military atrocities by American soldiers in Vietnam or in Iraq, or by the KKK in the American South).

      The comment above refers to dealing with the ‘root cause’ but I feel the real root cause was never identified above.

  2. peddiebill says:

    I take issue with Dr Gupta when he suggests the Western leaders were not clear in their condemnation of Breivik’s actions. In the Guardian on 23 July we read for example:The United States, European Union, Nato and the UK all quickly condemned the bombing, which foreign secretary William Hague called “horrific” and Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen deemed a “heinous act”.

    “It’s a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring,” said President Barack Obama. Obama extended his condolences to Norway’s people and offered American assistance with the investigation. He said he remembered how warmly Norwegians had treated him in Oslo when he accepted the Nobel peace prize in 2009.

    David Cameron said he was outraged by the attacks: “My thoughts are with the wounded and those who have lost friends and family, and I know everyone in Britain will feel the same.”

    He added: “These attacks are a stark reminder of the threat we all face from terrorism.

    “I have called Prime Minister Stoltenberg this evening to express my sincere condolences and to let him know that our thoughts are with the Norwegian people at this tragic time.

    “We can overcome this evil, and we will.”

    Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “I’m horrified by events in Norway. These senseless acts are an affront to decent people everywhere. All my thoughts are with the Norwegian people.”

    To my mind at least this is condemnation. I also wonder if Dr Gupta is confusing multiculturalism with problems of coping with a massive influx of foreign migrants who find it difficult to integrate in the new community (cf Germany). It may be more a matter of scale. Thus in North India where there are sizable groups of Muslims and Hindus there appears far more tension than in other places where the Hindus are the predominant group.

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