Free speech and straw men

One of the interesting things about writing on the Internet, as opposed to the printed press, is that you very quickly become aware of the responses to what you have written.   This experience is not always particularly uplifting.

Earlier this week I wrote a piece for the First Post online magazine on the Norway killings entitled ‘What made Anders Breveik quote from the Daily Mail‘ .  It’s essentially a potted version of an earlier post on this website on the ‘paranoid style in European politics’ – which argues that Breivik’s paranoid visions of Muslim immigrant ‘invasions’ and European cultural collapse are not that far removed from the everyday discourse of the right.

Needless to say this piece generated a lot of hostile posts.    The general tone is summed up by one commentator, who accuses me of  ‘Gloating over the tragedy of the right’ and  joining ‘ the amen corner of shedding crocodile tears for the Muslims.’    Another makes the argument that

[stextbox]Clearly the guy is a bit crazed and what he did was unacceptable. However I do understand his point of view that the western world is rapidly being taken over by the religious cultures, and people form [sic]countries who can not even look after themselves.[/stextbox]

It is pretty obvious where most of these commentators are coming from.   But it’s a bit much to find myself on the website Crikey described by Brendan O’Neill of Spiked magazine as some kind of anti-liberal authoritarian in an article entitled Breivik and the right’s right to write’.     According to O’Neill

[stextbox]The British terrorism expert Matthew Carr has a pop at the right-wing thinkers who have denounced Breivik’s murderous spree, arguing that “those who propagate fantasies of immigrant invasions and civilisational collapse cannot be entirely surprised that there are those who take such fantasies literally and engage in their own form of war”.[/stextbox]

This is a fairly accurate summary, even though I really don’t like the whole concept of the ‘terrorism expert’ and I certainly have no desire to be labelled as one, thank you.  But then there is the following

[stextbox ]Carr reckons European politicians should do something about the “toxic and often delirious bile” that Breivik wallowed in and regurgitated in his dumb manifesto. Do what about it? Blacklist it? Ban it? Burn it? Prevent Melanie Phillips from ranting on about Islamists just in case someone somewhere with some screws loose decides to act on what he thinks is the true meaning of her words?[/stextbox]

O’Neill then goes on to argue that

[stextbox]I thought us progressives were meant to be against this kind of thing, against the idea that speech causes violence and thus the state must curb and control and rigorously police our speech?[/stextbox]

Er, no Brendan.  I don’t recommend that ‘the state’ should do any such thing.  What I actually said was

[stextbox]Breivik is not the first far-right activist to contemplate such acts in recent years, and unless European civil society and politicians can find the will to recognise, confront and isolate the toxic and often delirious bile in which his fantasies of ‘resistance’ marinated for so long, he may not be the last.[/stextbox]

Notice how O’Neill leaves out the reference to ‘European civil society’ to support his straw man  ‘illiberal leftist argues for state prohibition’ argument.   Nowhere do I advocate banning writers like Melanie Phillips or Mark Steyn, nor would I wish to see them banned. Recognizing and confronting the dangerous and ‘toxic’ lies, subtexts, prejudices and sheer barking lunacy emanating from Phillips et al is not the same thing as  banning or blacklisting them.

It means analysing, deconstructing and exposing their arguments in a democratic forum.    It means that I would like to see politicians and civil society forcefully articulate a more humane, accurate and inclusive counter-narrative about immigration that does not depict Muslim immigrants as barbarian invaders engaging in ‘demographic jihad’ or multiculturalism as a Trojan horse intended to bring about the cultural destruction of Europe.

In a healthy society such arguments would indeed be confined to the wacky fringes – by argument and debate and a shift in public attitude,  not by legislation.    At present we are very far from this situation.  You may disagree with this perspective.  You might, as some of the First Post‘s readers clearly do, think that Steyn and Phillips are fighting the good fight against the enemies of civilisation.

But O’Neill is so determined to make his non-point and present himself as a ‘progressive’ iconoclast that he clearly isn’t interested in engaging with what I actually wrote.   Or maybe he was just too busy churning out copy to actually read it, let alone think about it.

 

 

Simon Jenkins and the madman scenario

There is a rather weak piece by Simon Jenkins in today’s Guardian which makes the argument that  ‘the last thing Norway needs is illiberal Britain’s patronising.’   Jenkins has been good on terrorism in the past,  and has been one of the few critical voices in the mainstream media on the political manipulation of 9/11 and terrorism in general, but he’s barking up the wrong tree here.

His central point is that Anders Breivik is a madman, and that therefore

[stextbox id=”alert”]The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics.[/stextbox]

Jenkins criticizes David Cameron’s proposal to order ‘ a review of the far right’ because

[stextbox id=”alert”]The hysteria of the moment may require a knee jerk from those in power, but why the national security council was summoned, or “a review of our security at home” needed, is a mystery. To the victims, the killings were an act of random madness, a terrible accident, a car crash, a catastrophe out of the blue.[/stextbox]

He then argues that

[stextbox id=”alert”]Terrorism is a specific and rational political form: the use of an violence to achieve a multiplier of fear through a civilian population to a particular end. Visiting ‘shock and awe’ by bombing Baghdad in 2003 was an act of  terrorism, as were the bombs on the London Underground. Killing Norwegian teenagers (not Muslims) to express some vague hatred for society is not. It is merely deranged.[/stextbox]

This analysis is too complacent by half.   Of course Jenkins is right to warn against a kneejerk security overreaction – we’ve already seen quite enough of that over the last ten years thank you.   But after years in which terrorism has been depicted as an exclusively Muslim activity, it is quite sensible for governments – and societies – to realise that such acts are not limited to the various offshoots of the global jihad.

His attempt to detach Breivik’s actions from the realm of politics is also facile and simplistic.   Breivik may well be mad, but the fact that he ‘can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood’ does not in itself make him insane.

If respect for human life were a marker of insanity,  then Al Qaeda, the 7/7 bombers and the Ba’athist and jihadist anti-occupation groups would also have to categorised as pathological deviants rather than political protagonists.  Few people would consider this to be an adequate explanation for their actions.  Nor can Bleivik’s atrocities be pigeon-holed so easily under the label ‘mental illness.’

Jenkins is certainly correct in  describing ‘shock and awe’ as an act of (state) terrorism and a ‘multiplier of fear’.   But fear is only one component of Breivik’s ‘day of rage’, which otherwise is entirely in keeping with the  logic of revolutionary terrorism that first emerged in the late nineteenth century, when anarchists and anti-Tsarist revolutionaries began assassinating prominent officials and heads of state according to the strategy of ‘propaganda by deed.’

This ‘technique’ of violence as it was sometimes called,  was intended to enable small and sometimes marginalised groups to ‘punch above their weight’ and compensate for their lack of military power by generating dramatic and shocking political spectacles. In doing so the groups and individuals that carried them out hoped to galvanise a wider constituency to follow their example,  and generate a wider confrontation that would spread across the whole of society.

Breivik’s own statements make it quite clear that he had the same intentions.  His actions belong to the same tradition of ‘leaderless resistance’ developed by the American far right in the 1990s, to which Timothy McVeigh also belonged.  Of course we may wonder at the personal motivations that lead this murderous and ultimately pathetic and self-regarding ‘warrior’ to  believe that killing teenagers was a legitimate act of ‘war’, but such actions, however despicable,  can rarely be understood solely in terms of individual psychology.

Not only did the Norway killings have political objectives, but they were also the product of a  political context.  Yet Jenkins insists

[stextbox id=”alert”]Nor can I see any purpose in detailed textual analysis of Breivik’s so-called manifesto, least of all as a means to make easy partisan points, leftwing or rightwing, out of its garbled horror.[/stextbox]

Garbled it may be, but the ideas and assumptions it contains about immigration, Islam and Western cultural collapse are now everyday currency across a very wide spectrum of opinion.  As a witty post on ‘the rise of the nutters’ on the Schnews website observes,  the views contained in Bleivik’s manifesto are not exactly unfamiliar territory

[stextbox id=”alert”]apart from a load of weird stuff about body-armour, the Knights Templar and the appropriate use of steroids, at the heart is a vision eerily familiar to readers of such fringe esoteric publications as say the Daily Express, Daily Mail or Sun.[/stextbox]

Schnews goes on to point out that

[stextbox id=”alert”]The Daily Mail has now denounced Breivik as neo-Nazi, despite his explicit rejection of Nazism – in fact politically he wasn’t much more right-wing than them. There is now a concerted attempt to divorce Breivik’s ideas from his actions – to suggest that he was just ‘insane’ or ‘sick’, even calls to not allow his monstrous actions to ‘shut down the debate on immigration’. When jihadists commit an outrage there isn’t usually such a rush to let their ideology off the hook.[/stextbox]

Indeed there isn’t.  And Schnews is really talking a lot more sense on this issue than the Guardian‘s illustrious columnist.

The paranoid style in European politics

From the English Defence League to Marine Le Pen’s National Front,  the European far-right has been  at pains to condemn Anders Behring Breivik’s psychotic act of holy war on Friday.   These condemnations may well be sincere, but it is too easy and convenient for these organizations to dismiss the atrocities in Norway as the work of a ‘ violent and sick character’ (Gert Wilders) or an isolated act of extremism by a lone fanatic.

Breivik may well have planned and executed the slaughter in Norway by himself, but his ideas and motivations reflect a set of assumptions that spans the far-right and more mainstream political figures and media commentators.  In Richard Hofstadter’s seminal The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Hofstadter identified a certain political ‘style’ amongst the American right in particular that was characterised by  a ‘ sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.’

In Hofstadter’s formulation

[stextbox id=”alert”]The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse.[/stextbox]

All these characteristics have been evident for some years  in Europe’s shrill and hysterical ‘debate’ about immigration, particularly Muslim immigration.   For more than a decade,  Internet bloggers, far-right demagogues and media pundits such as Melanie Phillips and Mark Steyn have propagated the notion that Europe is in the throes of a new Muslim ‘invasion’ through immigration that is destroying European culture, and that this ‘invasion’ has been facilitated by a liberal/leftist political and cultural establishment driven by ‘political correctness’ and a suicidal ‘ideology’ of multiculturalism.

Even more respectable conservatives such Bernard Lewis and Niall Ferguson have  have accepted the berserko conspiracy theory advanced by the British/Egyptian writer Bat Ye’or, which claims that Europe is being transformed into an Islamic colony called Eurabia and that Europeans have already been reduced to  a state of cultural subjugation or ‘dhimmitude’ by pro-Muslim liberal/leftist elites.

These ideas have  about the same level of intellectual credibility as David Icke’s lizard people.   But they are often recycled by a lazy and often blatantly inflammatory popular press, which routinely publishes lies, exaggerations and distortions about supposed Muslim cultural domination over European societies that present dominant cultural majorities as an endangered species.  Mainstream politicians have  engaged in opportunistic denunciations of ‘multiculturalism’ and authoritarian demands for immigrants to conform to ‘our values’ or leave –  demands that tend to be directed at Muslims.

All these ideas can be found in the  video 2083: A Declaration of European Independence which Breivik posted on Youtube (now removed) to justify his atrocious act of ‘propaganda by deed’ on Friday.   Accompanied by soundtrack of portentous music, a succession of images, texts and slogans presents a dark vision of European society subjugated by a ‘multi culturalist alliance’ made up of Marxists, ‘Suicidal Humanists’ and ‘Capitalist Globalists’, which aims to ‘to harshly suppress any and all political opposition from cultural conservatives by labelling them as racists, fascists and Nazis.’

For Breivik,  multiculturalism is

[stextbox id=”alert”]an anti-European hate ideology, designed to deconstruct European culture and traditions, European identities, European identities, European Christendom and even European nation states.   As such it is an evil ideology, created for the sole purpose for (sic) the eradication of an entire civilisation.[/stextbox]

The main source of this coming destruction is Islam, whose various jihads (demographic, military, ‘drug distribution’ etc) are all facilitated by the ‘Cultural Marxist ‘traitors.’   Compare this with the following post from the Stop Islamisation of Europe’s website on May 16 2010 on the ‘trinity of evil’ that is destroying British society:

[stextbox id=”alert”]

Diversity – Political Correctness – Multiculturalism

This poison has been used to mitigate the punishment of murderers, rapists, and drug dealers who have enjoyed its all embracing protection. While every one of us should be outraged that criminals have been given a charter to freely offend, it presents an even greater danger to our way of life. All over the Western world this trinity of evil is easing our country’s slide into abject servitude to Islam.

[/stextbox]

 

Like many with similar views, Breivik is fond of unreferenced statistics.  Thus we learn that between 1950-2011 42,500 Europeans have been ‘murdered by Muslims in Europe, that 750,000 women have been raped by Muslims and 5.5 million have been beaten and robbed – figures which ‘are conservative estimates and are expected to double within the next decade.’

Breivik also singles out the BBC as a particularly egregious component of this multicultural/jihadist conspiracy,  with a satirical mission statement:

[stextbox id=”alert”]BBC: We support multiculturalism and we are proud to facilitate the Islamisation of Europe!  If you don’t support our Cultural Marxist views then you are, by default, a fascist-racist-Nazi-monster and thus, your opinion does not count. [/stextbox]

This sense of victimhood is a recurring feature of Europe’s ‘paranoid style’.   Take this characteristically measured response to the phonehacking scandal from Melanie Phillips,  which argued that the BBC rather than Murdoch’s News International was the real threat to British media, because

[stextbox id=”alert”]With some honourable exceptions, whether in its drama, comedy, news reporting or current affairs the BBC’s output rests upon certain articles of faith. For example, traditional Christians are all fundamentalist bigots; the science of man-made global warming is settled; opponents of mass immigration are racist; Eurosceptics are swivel-eyed fanatics; and all who oppose these opinions and more are Right-wing extremists.[/stextbox]

The point about this analysis is that it is not an analysis at all.   It is a set of prejudiced and inflammatory opinions without any empirical basis,  driven entirely by Hofstadter’s ‘sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy’.

Breivik’s formulations reflect the same tendencies.    But where he differs from some –  not all – of his contemporaries, is in  his resolute determination to ‘act’  in order to prevent the ‘evil genocide’ taking place in Europe.   Potted vignettes of Charles Martel, El Cid, Richard the Lionheart and – unusually – Vlad the Impaler,  alternate with pictures of the Crusades, and historic Christian military victories over Muslims at Tours and Siege of Vienna, to support Breivik’s announcement of a new Knights Templar which will engage in a new ‘crusade’ that will ‘decimate’ the Cultural Marxists and drive the Muslims from Europe.

Breivik insists that these objectives are not racist or ‘imperialistic’, since

[stextbox id=”alert”]We believe that facilitating the growth of competing cultures within a nation will only result in the weakening of the nation through cultural/religious/ethnic conflict.   We believe that the Japanese and South Korean cultural model is the most superior of all existing models in the world today.  This model is similar to the European cultural model from the 1950s.[/stextbox]

Substitute the word ‘cultural’ with ‘racial’ and you are back in the 20s and 30s, to the Nazi fantasy of a German ‘reservoir of blood’ defiled and polluted by Jews and other racially inferior elements.  Like so many members of the ‘new’ European right, Bleivik uses ‘culture’ instead of  ‘race’ as a justification and rationalisation for the demonisation of Muslims and a rallying cry for an immigrant-free Europe.

Before this utopia can be achieved however, the ‘The European tree of liberty will be refreshed by the blood of our patriots or our Marxist tyrants’ and a new ‘revolution’ spearheaded by the new knightly order,  embodied by Breivik himself, the ideal of the ‘Perfect Knight’ .

In the last section of the video,  comic book illustrations of sword-wielding knights cut to photographs of Breivik himself, the steroid-taking comicbook crusader,  variously posing as a Freemason,  in some kind of military uniform covered in medals and posing action-man style in a wetsuit with a machine gun.

On one level this video suggests a profile of a narcissistic killer, not that far removed from an American high school shooter, with its combination of  victimhood and persecution,  self-admiration and grandiose dreams of bloody omnipotence.  In the days and weeks to come psychologists and criminologists and the media will pore endlessly over his motives that led him to turn on ‘his own kind’ and some may conclude that he was insane.

But his insanity was also a product and a reflection of the toxic bile that has percolated European politics and society for more than a decade and steadily corrupted both. Those who promote fantasies of an Muslim ‘ invasion’ may well be shocked at the horror that took place on Utoya island on Friday, but they should not be entirely surprised that there are those who take such fantasies literally and engage in their own form of ‘war’.

Breivik is not the first far-right activist to contemplate armed ‘resistance’ in recent years, and he may not be the last.   Faced with this gross act of barbarism, it is incumbent upon both civil society and politicians to challenge and expose the paranoia, xenophobia and concealed racism that indirectly contributed to it,  and find ways to construct a common European home for all its communities – not only those who Breivik and his ideological fellow-travellers have decided have a unique and exclusive ‘right’ to be here.

Murder in Norway

Once again our species has disgraced itself with yesterday’s vile acts of  mass murder in Norway.   We don’t yet know much about Anders Behring Breivik,  his motives, political affiliations or organizational connections, if any.   But it now seems clear that the killings were the work of a  ‘ blond, blue-eyed Norwegian’ with extreme right views.  According to some reports, Breivik is a ‘fundamentalist Christian’.  Others have described him as a lone ‘madman’ with a political grudge.

It was a different matter yesterday, when media pundits and ‘terrorism experts’ speculated that the attacks had been carried out by a variety of Islamic groups that ranged from Ansar al-Islam and  al-Qaeda to an obscure and possibly non-existent group called ‘Helpers of  the Global Jihad’.   In the Norwegian newspaper Nyheter, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, Director of Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College,  argued that al-Qaeda was probably responsible.  How did Ranstorp know this?  According to Nyheter:

[stextbox id=”alert”]The terror expert bases his assumption on the fact that people linked to al-Qaeda have previously been detected in Norway, and Norway’s participation in NATO operations in Muslim countries. In addition, the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed outraged Norwegian Muslims, says Magnus Ranstorp. The extensiveness of the attack also indicates that al-Qaeda is behind it, he said.[/stextbox]

Now these pundits appear to have got it wrong, which is not unacceptable.   Experts can make mistakes too, especially when their supposedly expertise concerns terrorism.   But what is striking about the response to yesterday’s events is the underlying assumption that any act of terrorism involving mass casualties is bound to be an Islamic or Muslim phenomenon, because Muslim terrorist groups have some special and perhaps unique propensity for such acts.

In this sense the response to the attacks echoed the expectations that  preceded Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City, when the ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson told CBS News that the bombing had been carried out by Muslim groups  because it ‘was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible’ – an objective that he described as ‘ a Middle Eastern trait.’

Yesterday, Robert Spencer’s Islamophobic website Jihad Watch was filled with these assumptions.  At 1.14, Spencer warned  that ‘ Suspicion still revolving around jihad groups’ – an announcement that  was greeted with  comments such as the following:

[stextbox id=”alert”]The massacre at the children’s camp is a sickening reminder of just how evil and Satanic the cult of Islam is.[/stextbox]

And this

[stextbox id=”alert”]Ah targeting kids…yep, Muslims.[/stextbox]

One commentator could scarcely conceal her satisfaction at the attack on the Norwegian Labour Party summer camp:

[stextbox id=”alert”]The Labour Left who love Islam so much – what do they get? More hatred and violence from Nazi Muslim fanatics and terrorists! That’s why Islam in the West should never be appeased because these Muslim fanatics will regard such act[sic] as cowardice -they already won in most Islamic-ruled countries.[/stextbox]

At 1.54 Spencer reports an article from Spiegel claiming that ‘ Islamic Internet Sites Cheer Norway murders’ with the observation ‘Schadenfreude from the lovers of peace’  – so if Muslims didn’t do it, some of them approve of it.    At 2.26, he informs his readers that ‘ Norwegians say Oslo attacks by “extreme right” not jihadists’ – notice the scare marks round the former.  For Spencer & Co, the very notion of an ‘ extreme right’ is clearly some kind of liberal fantasy.

Still refusing to let go of the jihadist terror angle,  Spencer points out hopefully that ‘Because the shooter at the Utoya youth camp was Norwegian. No one seems to be wondering whether or not he is a convert’.  His commentators are equally unwilling to believe that anyone who is not a Muslim could commit such a crime.   One commentator tries to resolve this problem by observing that

[stextbox id=”alert”]The problem with spinless [sic]governments is that you still end up with a growing Muslim problem and a pile of country-loving patriots who can’t believe their government won’t act to protec them [sic]  You lose both ways, so why not do the right and brave thing and get these Muslims out of your countries?[/stextbox]

At 3.53, Spencer returns to the al-Qaeda possibility again, quoting the Norwegian article on Magnus Ranstorp, and noting that

[stextbox id=”alert”]It is interesting that a handful of attacks by “right wing extremists,” as compared to tens of thousands by Islamic jihadists, and yet the suspicion always fastens upon the “right wingers” as much or more than it does upon jihadists.[/stextbox]

Yes, it always does, doesn’t it Robert?   Finally, at 4.18 Spencer reports ‘at last, some apparently definitive information’ with the headline:  ‘Norway camp shooter identified – authorities say he was working alone and attacks were not Islamic terrorism.’  If Spencer can accept this, his readers are clearly struggling with it.   One commentator worries that

[stextbox id=”alert”]The islam and multiculti besotted media will paint him as extreme right, extreme islamophobe, extreme xenophobe, extreme this and extreme that… Anything, but extreme nuts.[/stextbox]

Others comment on rumours that Breivik was motivated by ‘an Islam-hostile attitude’ to Muslims’, which in the eyes of some of Spencer’s readers, still makes Muslims indirectly responsible.   Jihad Watch and its readers clearly have a narrower agenda than the mainstream media.  But the idea that ‘terrorism’ is intrinsically connected to certain ethnic, cultural groups, religions or ideologies is not limited to an anti-Muslim hate site.

After the Oklahoma bombings,  the media often struggled to accept that an American Gulf War veteran could carry out such an atrocity –  after years in which ‘terrorism’ had been depicted as something alien and extraneous.   The response to yesterday’s killings has also followed a  pre-conceived set of narratives and expectations, which have moved rapidly from ‘international terrorism’  to the ‘lone wolf’ theory.

Had these attacks been carried out by al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates, they would have been ‘Norway’s 9/11’, and Obama and other Western governments would have used them as a further justification for an intensification of  the bloody global ‘counterterrorist’ offensive that was begun by Bush and is continuing under his successor.    Barack Obama was clearly leaning towards this position yesterday when he declared that

[stextbox id=”alert”]“We don’t have information yet but I wanted to personally extend my condolences to the people of Norway and it’s a reminder that the entire international community has a stake in preventing this type of terror from occurring and that we have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks.”[/stextbox]

Now it is no longer clear what ‘type of terror’ these attacks belong to, but a Norwegian police official has described the attacks as ‘ a madman’s work’ that is ‘probably more Norway’s Oklahoma City than it is Norway’s World Trade Center.’

According to the Guardian

[stextbox id=”alert“]Norway’s national police chief, Sveinung Sponheim, told the national broadcaster NRK that the suspected gunman’s internet postings “suggest he has some political traits directed towards the right, and anti-Muslim views, but whether that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen”.[/stextbox]

We shall see how the politicians respond to this.   In the meantime, one can only recoil in disgust from this gratuitous act of slaughter, and feel for the young people who died such horrific deaths,  and for those they have left behind them.

‘ If history teaches us anything, it’s that you can kill anybody, says Al Pacino in The Godfather II.  History also teaches us that anyone can kill, and the  Norway massacres are a tragic and awful reminder that no group has a monopoly on such cruelty.