Monday, July 25, 2011

Thoughts on Norway

I’ve got about three new blog posts in process, in an effort to get myself back into a respectable blogging schedule, but I feel quite compelled to post a brief comment about what has happened in Norway … first, because it is a tragedy that needs to be recognized; second, because it so terrifyingly embodies the most prevalent fear in the developed world; but third, because it strikes me that the political commentary apparatus currently in place is so ill-equipped to respond to these brutal attacks in any reasonable or nuanced manner.

There are two strains of response amongst western commentators that disgust me rather a lot. The first was the knee-jerk response from the right that immediately assumed the attacks were carried out by Islamic jihadists. But just as nauseating was the schadenfreude on the left decrying the right’s response when it became evident that the perpetrator was in fact an anti-Islam, vaguely neo-Nazi radical. I say “vaguely,” because it emerges that, though he was affiliated with various white supremacist websites, he is also apparently a staunch Zionist. Which itself has given ammunition to right-wing commentators, and back and forth the argument has gone.

If this horrendous act shows us anything, it is that those driven to such violence are of a piece; as Christopher Hitchens observes, the jihadist groups actually at work in Norway gleefully took credit at first, assuming it to be one of their own … making the same assumption, ironically, as right-wing commentators in the U.S. did. Anyone who tries to delineate the “capability” or “willingness” or “likelihood” of people to perpetrate such horrors based solely on straightforward ideological or religious affiliations is being dangerously, willfully ignorant. A case in point was what has widely been considered the stupidest comment on the massacre, courtesy of Erik Eriksson of Red State, writing for CNN: “With Christians, it is rather rare to see a self-described Christian engage in heinous terrorist acts.” Which is a ludicrous statement I could spend all day taking down, but will simply say instead: Northern Ireland.

Anders Behring Breivik, the vile architect of these killings, doesn’t fit into a simple mold, any more than Jared Loughner or Timothy McVeigh did; or for that matter, any more than one can unproblematically call the late-not-lamented Osama bin Laden “Muslim.” Bin Laden, after all, was just as antagonistic to Shiites as he was Americans, and had even more loathing for Sunni Muslims he saw as abandoning his rather narrow interpretation of the Koran. Apostates were worse, in his mind, than infidels; and it’s worth noting on that front that Breivik’s target was not Muslims, but Norwegians he saw as traitors to Norway’s heritage. His attack was actually of a piece with all of the sectarian violence we saw in Iraq after the fall of Saddam—not violence against the outsider, but the countryman who does not live up to one’s absolutist ideology.

When it comes to such violence, it really ceases to be left versus right. It’s about human versus inhuman.

1 comment:

Lisa Marie said...

No, Christians Northern Ireland? Oh, right, yes.

Hey, how about the Crusades? That was all about nobility of spirit, wasn't it?