Anders Breivik and the War Against Ourselves
Breivik is a sobering reminder that the war we're fighting has no face or home. The war we're fighting is against unthinking, bilious rage.
In all of the horrific and heartbreaking coverage of Friday's violence in Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik allegedly bombed an Oslo government building before mowing down teenagers and twentysomethings at a nearby youth camp, the quote that made me close my browser and stop reading wasn't a gory description or a pulse-raising anecdote. It was this comment in the New York Times from 20-year-old Norweigan woman Hanne Remmen: "It’s worse because it was a Norwegian boy who killed all of those people."
We never want to believe that humans have the capacity for this type of cold, calculated violence. When a random, horrible act occurs, we want to believe it was committed by someone very distant. A monster who doesn't share our cultural values. Someone—something—other. Remmen's comment, that acts of violence are more understandable if they're committed by perceived cultural outsiders, goes a long way toward explaining the persistence of ingrained anti-Muslim views and some of our assumptions about terrorism.
Have there been acts of violence perpetrated by terrorists motivated by extreme Muslim beliefs? Yes, of course. We all know the prominent examples here: al-Qaeda, Osama, 9/11, etc. Indeed, jihadists were the first culprit many of us considered when news of the bombings broke. In the immediate aftermath of the rampage, The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, conservative author of the "Right Turn" blog, even penned a long screed proclaiming, "This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists." But then, much to Rubin's dismay, there was no jihadist.
It turns out that Anders Breivik is a far-right Christian fundamentalist. He was wildly anti-immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, and, in his epic self-published manifesto (PDF) he derided Western Europe's move toward "Marxism," "multiculturalism," and "Islamisation." In short, he was a conservative bigot who didn't want brown people coming into his world. On Friday, he allegedly took out his aggression on the liberal Labour Party, first bombing the prime minister's offices before stalking and executing members of the party's youth arm, the Workers' Youth League, at their retreat on Utoya Island. In all, the attacks left an unconfirmed 93 people dead.
Though none will admit it, many liberals have already taken to gloating—you can see it in their snarking and sniping comments beneath Rubin's horribly misguided essay (and its equally misguided follow-up). Breivik is the liberal's perfect villain, a child murderer exemplifying what many progressives have been saying for years now: Extreme fear and hatred of Islam is just as dangerous as Islamic extremists. People like Rubin were quick to dismiss that fact, and that's when Breivik came home to roost.
It's easy to gloat right now. It's easy for liberals to mock right-wing zealots. It's easy for atheists to mock the faithful. It's easy for Muslims to mock Christians. But what we forget, amid all that mocking, is that that sort of demeaning hatred is why Norway is reeling in the first place, why nearly 100 Norwegians, many of them children, are today dead too soon.
This isn't to say that people shouldn't learn lessons from Breivik's attack. In fact, it should be remembered forever, like 9/11, and talked about in classrooms from elementary to college. But to use people's lives, the loss of them specifically, as leverage to try prove a political point is downright sick. There were no wins or losses on Friday. There was only loss.
If anything, the takeaway from the Norway shooting shouldn't be that liberals are right and conservatives are wrong; it should be that irrational people are wrong. Breivik wasn't just a conservative, he was also an anti-Muslim racist murderer. To lump him in with the 34 percent of Americans who identify as Republican is just as dumb as lumping in all Muslims with the likes of Osama bin Laden. Despicable acts are despicable acts, and they aren't solely the doing of Muslims or Christians or white people or brown people. Terrorism is the realm of the irrational, and hatred is king there.
Rubin was totally wrong when she said Breivik's alleged attack was "a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists." Rather, Breivik is a sobering reminder that the war we're fighting has no face or home or language. The war we're fighting is against unthinking, bilious rage. And the first step to defeating that rage is by not turning people like Breivik into points on a scoreboard. That's a scarier war than one fought against jihadists, because in that war we are often our own enemies.