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Monday, July 25, 2011

Hysteria


Now that there is some time and space between the present and the recent Oslo attacks, it's worth revisiting some things and trying to figure out what we can learn.  Why did Anders Breivik do what he did?  What are the ramifications?  I think it's important to start out by saying that this was without a doubt an act of terrorism, of course.  But what does that mean, in this case?


We know now that Breivik's motives were totally political.  As explained in court, Breivik believed that the "Labour Party has failed the country and the people and the price of their treason is what they had to pay."  The site of the attacks at Utoya was chosen, then, because there was an annual retreat for young people involved with the Labour party there.  Just as we have things like the Young Democrats or the College Republicans here, the Labour party had that retreat.  So there isn't anything weird about that, no matter what Glenn Beck says.  Not that anyone really wanted his opinion anyway.

Many current and former Labour officials - including current Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg - have attended the camp in the past.  So it was an attack at the future of the Labour Party.  But it was also a strike at Norway's liberal, open, and multicultural values in many ways.  There are others in Norway like Breivik, although they are few; but the far right extremist and Neo-Nazi movements have existed there for some time.  Breivik differs not in ideology from these individuals, but that he actually went ahead and did something like this instead of hiding behind a computer screen and saying how he wished someone would.

So it's fairly plain what Breivik was: a killer motivated by political concerns.  That makes him a terrorist - that's what the word means, if it has any meaning at all.  I know it might come as a surprise to some people in the United States that white, Christian people can be terrorists, but it's true!  In fact there have been a lot of them, even organized, both here and abroad (like the early KKK, or the IRA).  But since we think of these people as "like" the majority here in some way, we tend to have a hard time using the same word for them.

And of course that is what is happening, as detailed here by Adam Serwer at the Post; and it is particularly amusing considering how many of the pundits and writers so intent on demonizing Muslims are equally quick to reduce Breivik's actions to those of a lone madman.  Money quote:
These bloggers are not directly responsible for the actions of Anders Behring Breivik. But make no mistake: Their school of analysis, which puts the blame on all Muslims for acts of terrorism perpetrated by Islamic extremists, has been fully discredited — by their own reaction to the Oslo attacks. While it’s obvious that few if any of them will take this lesson to heart, the rest of us should — terrorist acts are committed by individuals, and it is those individuals who should be held responsible.
Of course, I suppose I can't blame them.  Here's Think Progress with a nice summary of some of Breivik's influences.  Hm, I can't imagine why someone like Pamela Geller might not want to be linked to someone considered a terrorist?  Can someone help me out here?

No one can be held directly responsible for this except for Anders Breivik.  That's clear.  But we should realize that ideas and ideologies can have an effect on people.  That should also be clear.  Breivik didn't suddenly derive his twisted world view from nowhere.  And as long as people traffic in hate, xenophobia and hysteria, these kinds of things will continue to happen.

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