The Norwegian terrorist who murdered more than ninety innocent civilians – many of whom were teenagers – did not act alone. Or rather, he acted within a cultural and political context that legitimises his fearful and hate-infested worldview. It is now clear that Anders Behring Breivik was exposed to large amounts of right-wing propaganda. This tragedy underlines the urgency with which normal people around the world must combat fundamentalist nationalists and chauvinists wherever they may be. But it also demonstrates the extent to which reactionary bigotry has infected mainstream thought.
Many reacted to the news from Oslo with wide eyes and a pointed finger. The most animated reactionaries took to the pages of the New York Times comment section to issue sweeping proclamations about the Clash of Civilisations and something called “the cult of death”. In many ways, readers were merely reinforcing the paper’s woefully editorialised reportage. As Glenn Greenwald helpfully pointed out, the editors of the NYT – America’s allegedly liberal newspaper – reserve the word “terrorist” solely for use in conjunction with the word “Muslim”.
When news emerged that the perpetrator of the murders – the terrorist – was a man whose religion and skin pigmentation closely resembled those of the editors of the NYT, the story changed. The terrorist became a deranged “Christian extremist” whose tactics clearly mirrored “Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks”. In that way, the paper linked the terrorist with Muslims, despite his strong antipathy for them.
Blame for the Western media’s panting pursuit of a non-existent Muslim triggerman quickly focused on the feckless, credulous, overeager and inept source of the NYT’s journalistic failure. Will McCants – proclaimed by one of his acolytes to be at the top of a “list of five terrorism experts you can trust” – was quickly discredited. In his defence, he only sought to affirm the confirmation bias that he and the editors of the NYT suffer from. The meme that underpins their worldview goes something like this: “Muslims are bad. When bad things happen, Muslims are responsible.” This is a mainstream view in the US today; it cuts across party lines.
Shaping both sides of the narrative
That the purported American left maintains this bigoted outlook is an indication of how successful the right has been at constructing the stage upon which public debate is conducted. Two main anti-Muslim talking points are now taken for granted in this country: First, all terrorists in the West are Muslims; second, we are in the midst of a global civilisational war. These are the dual planks upon which Uncle Sam squats in his Afghani outhouse.
Objective sources have done an excellent job of discrediting the first of the two claims that inform the 21st century American experience. The second point however – that we are engaged in a war of civilisations – is one that I agree with. But the combatants are not Islam and the West. Instead, the war is between the normal, sane people of the world and the right-wing zealots who see doom, destruction, hellfire and God’s Will at every turn.
Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck – the peddlers of the faith – all share the same core afflictions.
These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves – and the rest of us with them.
The war continues
All indications are that the hate-mongers – who are on the same side of this war, irrespective of religion – are winning in America. The unreflective, superficial, wan editors of the NYT are an indication of just how successful the right wing has been at eviscerating the left.
But not all liberals are created equal.
It is a credit to the Norwegian people that their prime minister did not respond to the terror attack with scorched-earth rhetoric or a carpet-bombing campaign. A real liberal with strong principles, he did not succumb to fear or vicious speculation.
Instead, he pledged to strengthen Norwegian democracy. This is what he said shortly after the terrorist attacks: “Our answer is more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence.” His words illustrate the difference between a society that takes liberal principles as a foundation and one that treats them as an inconvenient luxury.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s words make it clear where Norway stands on the global war on right-wing extremism. Where does the US stand?
Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American freelance journalist based in Cairo. He was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.