By Roger Cohen, July 25, 2011
LONDON — On one level Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian responsible for the biggest massacre by a single gunman in modern times, is just a particularly murderous psychotic loner: the 32-year-old mama’s boy with no contact with his father, obsessed by video games (Dragon Age II) as he preens himself (“There was a relatively hot girl on [sic] the restaurant today checking me out”) and dedicates his time in asexual isolation to the cultivation of hatred and the assembly of a bomb from crushed aspirin and fertilizer.
No doubt, that is how Islamophobic right-wingers in Europe and the United States who share his views but not his methods will seek to portray Breivik.
We’ve seen the movie. When Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords this year in Tuscon, Arizona — after Sarah Palin placed rifle sights over Giffords’ constituency and Giffords herself predicted that “there are consequences to that” — the right went into overdrive to portray Loughner as a schizophrenic loner whose crazed universe owed nothing to those fanning hatred under the slogan of “Take America Back.” (That non-specific taking-back would of course be from Muslims and the likes of the liberal and Jewish Giffords.)
Breivik is no loner. His violence was brewed in a specific European environment that shares characteristics with the specific American environment of Loughner: relative economic decline, a jobless recovery, middle-class anxiety and high levels of immigration serving as the backdrop for racist Islamophobia and use of the spurious specter of a “Muslim takeover” as a wedge political issue to channel frustrations rightward.
In a June 11 entry from his 1,500-page online manifesto, Breivik wrote: “I prayed for the first time in a very long time today. I explained to God that unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic alliance and the certain Islamic takeover of Europe to completely annihilate European Christendom within the next hundred years he must ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail.”
Two days later, he tests his homemade bomb: “BOOM! The detonation was successful.”
European Christendom in this context is a mirror image of the idealized caliphate of Osama bin Laden. It is a dream-world cause through which to enlist the masses in apocalyptical warfare against an “infidel” enemy supposedly threatening the territory, morals and culture of an imagined community of devout believers.
This particular Christian Europe — the Continent is overwhelmingly secular for reasons that have nothing to do with a growing Muslim presence — is just as fantastical as a restored 7th-century dominion of the caliph. Bin Laden inveighed against “crusaders.” Breivik attended a 2002 meeting to reconstitute the Knights Templar, a Crusader military order. This is the stuff of video games — except that it kills real teenagers of all faiths.
What has become clear in Oslo and on Utoya Island is that delusional anti-Muslim rightist hatred aimed at “multiculturalist” liberals can be just as dangerous as Al Qaeda’s anti-infidel poison: Breivik alone killed many more people than the four Islamist suicide bombers in the 7/7 London attack of 2005.
Breivik has many ideological fellow travelers on both sides of the Atlantic. Theirs is the poison in which he refined his murderous resentment. The enablers include Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who compared the Koran to “Mein Kampf” on his way to 15.5 percent of the vote in the 2010 election; the surging Marine Le Pen in France, who uses Nazi analogies as she pours scorn on devout Muslims; far-rightist parties in Sweden and Denmark and Britain equating every problem with Muslim immigration; Republicans like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Peter King, who have found it politically opportune to target “creeping Shariah in the United States” at a time when the middle name of the president is Hussein; U.S. church pastors using their bully pulpits week after week to say America is a Christian nation under imminent threat from Islam.
Muslims over the past decade have not done enough to denounce those who deformed their religion in the name of jihadist murder. Will the European and U.S. anti-immigrant Islamophobic crowd now denounce what Breivik has done under their ideological banner? I doubt it. We’ll be hearing a lot about what a loner he was.
Huge social problems have accompanied Muslim immigration in Europe in recent decades, much greater than in the more open United States. There is plenty of blame to go around. Immigrants have often faced racism and exclusion. The values of Islam on women, on marriage and on homosexuality, as well as the very vitality of the religion, have grated on a secular Europe. The picture is not uniform — successful integration exists — but it is troubling.
Nothing, however, can excuse the widespread condoning of an anti-Muslim racism once reserved for the Jews of Europe. Not on the weekend when Amy Winehouse, a Jewish girl from East London whose artistry would once have been dismissed by a racist and murderous European right as degenerate “cosmopolitan” trash, died. A good way to remember her is finally to confront the latest iteration of a European bigotry that kills.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 26, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune with the headline: Breivik and His Enablers.