Watching the initial coverage of the Norway massacre on BBC, I felt a tinge of sympathy for the news producers whom I could literally feel scrambling in the background. After all, with the shooter being a right-wing Christian extremist, the standard rundown they had prepared could no longer be used. Gone was the package on the cartoon controversy. Unusable was the old report on the 7/7 bombing. The rolodex of ‘experts’ on Islam and terrorism was now just a dead weight. Instead, several analysts and academics from a variety of Norwegian institutes and universities had to be trotted out.
European far-right parties, with their xenophobic, anti-immigration agendas and their persistent i Islam-bashing, have been gaining in power over the last decade. Their success cannot be measured so much by their electoral gains (which have also been significant) but by the widespread adoption of their agendas by the political mainstream. Take a look at French President Sarkozy’s deportation campaign against the Roma, which has been likened to WW2 roundups of ‘inferior’ races by the Nazis. Or else examine German Chancellor Merkel’s open denunciation of multiculturalism, eagerly parroted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Then there is the ban on minarets in a country which otherwise has no issues in growing rich off of Nazi gold and the ill-gotten gains of countless dictators. All of this is now politics as usual in Europe, and is driven largely by mainstream parties co-opting the radical agenda in order to gain votes. But the very fact that the votes are there to be gained speaks of an increasing acceptance of extremist views. Views like those Breivik holds. The same views that led to the murder of 76 people. The same views that Europe’s mainstream politicians have no problem propagating, so long as they will keep them in power.
The shooter (the appellation of ‘terrorist’ is only reserved for Muslims, apparently) was obsessed with Pakistan, this much is clear. But perhaps Europe’s leaders also need to take a closer look at the Pakistani example. For too many years we have parroted the same self-deluding line that the Norwegian analyst clung to. So many of us, myself included, have tried to reassure ourselves that the lunatic fringe is just that: A fringe. That it is incapable of seizing power or influencing policy. Time and again, to our collective horror and dismay, we have been proven wrong. Electoral success is an inaccurate measure of the power of the extreme right, whether in Pakistan or in Norway. A lack of success at the ballot box does not translate into an inability to use the bullet, and we must never underestimate the power of fear when it comes to influencing people and politicians alike.
Breivik may have been a psychopath (in the technical sense of the word), but he wasn’t acting in a vacuum. The ground in which the seeds of his ideology were planted has been carefully prepared over the years, and no one seems to have any interest in pruning the poison tree that has grown from those seeds. Is it any wonder then that it has started to bear such deadly fruit?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.
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