White Right Terrorism: Oslo & Media Narratives

[First published in The Morning Star, 29/07/11]

[I want to preface this piece by pointing out that Breivik’s killings, just like September 11 and 7/7, were politically motivated. If anything, the political aims were even more obvious. Far from cheapening their suffering or fuelling Breivik’s narcissism or scoring political points from a national tragedy, an analysis of the political landscape which fuelled him is the only way to ensure his victims – of whom many were Norway’s next generation of left-wing leaders – did not die in vain.]

A right-wing extremist publishes a manifesto promising armed resistance against Muslims, ethnic minorities and “cultural marxists”, blows up the offices of a centre-left government, then guns down literally dozens of young party activists, as young as 14, at a nearby summer camp.

Perhaps the only good – if it can be called that – to come out of such a horrific crime is the way Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous campaign drew out the very media narrative which fuelled him, only to stop it dead with an object lesson in media bias.

Within the hour papers around the world had attributed the attacks to the possibly fictional Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami: a claim founded solely on a series of tweets by professional talking head Will McCants, attributed in turn to a user on an internet forum only he could access.

Regardless of its doubtful provenance, the claim fitted the accepted narrative of Muslim terrorists against the West — so much so that the BBC’s Jorn Madslien seemed unable to conceive of terrorism without Muslims involved: “If the bomb blast in Oslo turns out to be a terror attack,” he began his report, “it will mark a 9/11 moment for Norway.”

By the time Breivik’s name emerged the Sun already had its Saturday edition sorted: its headline, ‘AL-QAEDA’ MASSACRE; its lead story, warning of a “homegrown al-Qaeda convert” and an editorial solemnly declaring Norway’s clear lesson: “the tentacles of al-Qaeda, and groups linked to it, spread deep into the heart of Western nations.”

But the Sun quickly and silently rewrote their editorial overnight once Norwegian police confirmed the killer’s identity as a 32-year-old white Christian right-wing nationalist: now acts of terror were “an easy resort for any loner who believes their own personal grievance against the state is justification for indiscriminate violence.”

It’s easy to single out the Sun’s as the most egregious example of right-wing revisionism, but it’s far from the only one. Even the original narrative – that Islamic extremists are the usual suspects – is utterly false: EuroPol statistics suggest they account for less than one percent of terrorist plots in the region. Less than one percent. That means it was statistically more likely to be a Stalinist purge. [Update: Europol’s figures for 2011 only show a startling increase in Islamic terror plots… to 1.2 percent.]

But the new narrative that has sprung up to replace it is equally conflicting and self-serving, fed mostly by those whose own warmongering  rhetoric found its way into Breivik’s 1500-page handbook for continental fascism.

Consider Canadian demagogue Mark Steyn, who penned a 2005 Telegraph column predicting “Eurabian civil war” by 2010. Mark Steyn, whose 2006 book America Alone hinged on a “Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia”. The same Steyn, who made it into Breivik’s own manifesto with his claims of “the first welfare-funded jihad in history”, solemnly declared in this week’s National Review that “any of us who write are obliged to weigh our words, and accept the consequences of them.” But in the very next breath, Mr Steyn insisted he had nothing to answer for.

“When a Norwegian man is citing Locke and Burke as a prelude to gunning down dozens of Norwegian teenagers, he is lost in his own psychoses. If Norway responds to this as the Left appears to wish, by shriveling even further the bounds of public discourse, freedom will have a tougher time.”

Melanie Phillips went even further — she whose Daily Mail column detailing a Labour conspiracy “to destroy for ever what it means to be culturally British” was deemed so worthy of Breivik’s cause, he reprinted it in full in his manifesto. Phillips, who the very day before the attacks updated her blog with “Is Londonistan Turning Into Lemmingland?“(subheading: ‘Is Britain finally about to go over the cliff into official Islamisation?’)

Yet for Phillips, any suggestion that Breivik’s actions were spurred by her or others’ writing was “frankly itself an opinion in need of treatment”.

The man was either psychotic or a psychopath, she offered by way of explanation: “What he himself says about his own opinions or state of mind therefore does not bear examination.”

Of course Breivik is a psychopath — terrorism by definition requires an absence of any empathy whatsoever for the victim. But it’s a feeble evasion of the fact that Phillips and her ilk, in op-eds and blogs across the Western world, were the ones who conjured up those phantoms for him.

The right’s dangerous new narrative tries to have it both ways: Breivik was a crazed man operating in a cultural vacuum — unlike Islamic extremists, who feed off a network of incendiary rhetoric and veiled threats by public figures which must be countered. Yet at the same time Breivik’s calculated acts are a warning, an appeal to hear Phillips’ “decent people who are boiling with rage at being disenfranchised by an entire political class which seems determined to destroy their civilisation.”

“Some of them are so angry they may join political groupings which resort on occasion to thuggery and hooliganism (the BNP, EDL or the anti-globalisation riots all come to mind).

“But violent as some of their behaviour may be, they would not travel to a youth camp, invite the teenagers to gather round and then open fire on them all with dum-dum bullets.”

Except when they do. But then they’re not ours, it seems.

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