Though our hearts go out to the Norwegians in their hour of grief and anguish, the carnage carried out by a self-proclaimed anti-Islamic extremist, ostensibly to “save” Europe from “cultural Marxism and Muslim domination” was shocking, but not surprising.
Discerning observers had been pointing to growing misperceptions about foreign immigrants being exploited to create a nationwide fear psychosis that made such acts of violence inevitable. This may have begun as fringe thinking but gained credibility as people began to believe that the entire continent was threatened by a takeover by Islamic forces.
The self-confessed perpetrator was neither mad nor a loner, as confirmed by his writings. He was deeply influenced by a group of American bloggers, who have assiduously disseminated their claim that Islam represented a threat to western civilisation. Breivik also refers to leading European and American writers such as Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer and others who have spearheaded a campaign to malign Islam as violence-prone, and its believers as incurable militants. He slams “political correctness”, while virulently condemning Islam and recommending for the Middle East a “crusade, an anti-jihad campaign”. Breivik also referred to a secret meeting of representatives from eight European countries in London in April 2002 to coordinate their activities. There is also evidence of his admiration for right-wing Israeli Zionists and Hindutva zealots, claiming that “our goals are more or less identical”. There also appear to be echoes of Osama in his writings, as both see themselves as engaged in a civilisational war between Islam and the West.
It would be tempting to characterise Breivik’s action as an isolated act but that would be wrong and dangerous, for it would amount to sweeping the problem under the rug. Hatred of Muslims and resentment of the left is not confined to Norway, but is present in the writings of some church personalities in the West. Traditional racism may be waning in European countries, but hostility towards Islam is on the rise, with anti-Semitism replacing Islamophobia. The continent is now littered with far-right parties such as the British National Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Freedom Block and France’s National Front, which have begun to gain electoral acceptance.
The International Herald Tribune in its editorial on July 27 pointed to “a disturbing and growing intolerance across Europe for Muslims and other immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East” and warned that “anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic parties are getting stronger”. These tendencies are, however, not confined to unknown politicians, but are even being adopted by “mainstream politicians, including Cameron of Britain, Merkel of Germany and Sarkozy of France, [who] have sown doubts about the ability or willingness of Europe to absorb newcomers”. It then recalls Chancellor Merkel’s declaration last October that multiculturalism “has failed, utterly failed”.
We in Pakistan would, however, be making a huge mistake if we were to seek any satisfaction from this tragedy. It is a reminder of the evil that men do and a haunting replay of our own tragedies unleashed by equally misguided individuals. Breivik’s attack also raises key questions about the relationship between those who claim guardianship of a faith while promoting a culture of violence. While the link between Islam and terrorism has been propagated assiduously by the western media, which explains why the climate of hate, intolerance and xenophobia has come to be tolerated, little attention has been given to growing fanaticism in Christianity or in Hinduism on the plea that these are actions of individuals and not religious groups. But they are equally dangerous and unless civil society and politicians summon courage and conviction to challenge extreme right-wing populism and battle all forms of discrimination, the militants will continue to grow in influence. Breivik’s vile act should instead lead to introspection and affirmation by civil society and mainstream politicians to challenge all actions and behaviours that incite hatred and violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.