When Extremism Learns to Blow things Up

The revelation by CNN that Norwegian right wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik kept a diary in which he obsessed about the dangers of cultural Marxism, multiculturalism, and the “Islamification” of Europe will remind many Americans of the tactics of our own right wing (only these themes have been taken up by people much more mainstream in the US than Breivik is in Norway!) The movement to ban the shariah, the castigation of a progressive income tax as “Marxist,” the condemnation of multiculturalism as a threat to Western values, are all themes commonly heard in the US Tea Party and in the right wing of the Israel lobbies.

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that anyone who hits these themes is a terrorist in waiting or supports violence.

But here is the reason for which such rhetoric is dangerous and can easily lead to social violence.

It is black and white, allowing no nuance. Immigration is not a smooth process, and is attended with problems in some cases. The history of the United States, an immigrant society, suggests that whatever the problems are, they are not insuperable. But Breivik saw Muslim immigration in particular as a threat to the very identity of Europe. That is, if the immigration from the Middle East were allowed to continue, then ultimately there would be no Europe, just a big Iran on all sides of the Mediterranean. Moreover, he imagined this process of Islamification as happening very quickly.

Breivik’s thinking is not new under the sun. Protestant Nativists of the “Native American” and later “Know-Nothing” (i.e. secret society) movement in the 1830s through 1850s in the United States felt exactly the same way about Catholic immigrants to the US. America wouldn’t be America if this went on. Their values were inherently incompatible with the Constitution. Their loyalties were to an anti-modern foreign court dedicated to reinforcement of political and intellectual tyranny. The hordes of them would take over the country before too long. The combination of black-and-white thinking and a conviction that undesirable change is coming very rapidly often provokes violence. Brian Porter’s When Nationalism Learned to Hate makes the point about Poland, that peaceful democratic processes depend crucially on patience and a conviction that the future can be won. When members of a movement become impatient and believe that the situation could quickly and unalterably shift against them, they are much more likely to turn to violence.

Catholic immigrants to the US, like Muslim immigrants to Europe, cannot in fact be characterized in a black and white way. Catholics in the contemporary US are politically and socially diverse, but on the whole are more socially liberal than evangelical Protestants. That is, if the Know-Nothings were afraid of an anti-Enlightenment religious movement, it would have been to their own, Protestant ranks, that they should have looked.

Likewise, making a black-and-white division between “Christian” Europe and “Islam” is frankly silly. The European continent is itself a fiction (it is geologically contiguous with North Africa, and there is no eastern geographical feature that divides it from Afro-Asia). Islam has been the religion of millions of Europeans over the past 1400 years, whether in Umayyad Spain, Arab Sicily, or Ottoman Eastern Europe, and Muslim contributions to European advances are widely acknowledged.

As for contemporary Muslims in Europe, they are diverse. Overwhelmingly, e.g., Parisian Muslims say that they are loyal to France. About half of the Turks in Germany are from the Alevi sect, a kind of folk Shiism, and most of those are not very religious and politically are just social democrats (oh, the horror of Breivik’s nightmare– Muslim progressives in Europe!) That the few hundred thousand Muslims in Spain (pop. 45 mn.) , or the 4 million in Germany (5 percent of the population) could effect a revolution in European affairs of the sort Breivik fears is frankly absurd, especially since Muslims are not a political bloc who agree with one another about politics and society. They are from different countries and traditions. Many do not have full citizenship or voting rights, most of the rest are apolitical. But even if they became a substantial proportion of the population, they would be unlikely to change Europe’s way of doing things that much.

Breivik, of course, also exercised black-and-white thinking about the left of center currents in Europe, amalgamating them all to Marxism, presumably of a Soviet sort, and seeing them as taking over. In fact, ironically, it is parties and rhetoric that Breivik would have approved of that are making the most rapid strides in Europe. Right wing parties that would once have been pariahs have been power brokers in Sweden and Finland, and Nicolas Sarkozy has borrowed so much rhetoric from the LePens that some accuse him of legitimizing them.

Worrying about the impact of immigration is not pernicious. Opposing leftist political ideas is everyone’s right in a democracy. Disagreeing over religion is natural.

But when you hear people talking about lumping all these issues together; when you hear them obliterating distinctions and using black-and-white rhetoric; when you hear them talk of existential threats, and above all when you see that they are convinced that small movements that they hate are likely to have an immediate and revolutionary impact, then you should be afraid, be very afraid. That is when extremism learns to hate, and turns to violence.

Democracy depends on a different kind of rhetoric. Healthy politics is about specific programs, not about conspiracy theories as to what underlies someone’s commitment to a program. Most Americans don’t want people to die because of not being able to afford health care. Lambasting that sentiment as tyrannical Bolshevism is a recipe for social conflict.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous billionaires, Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers prominent among them, have honed their propaganda skills in the media and public life. The promotion of hate, panic, and fear, especially if it is tied to specific political, ethnic and religious groups, always risks violence.

The real message of Breivik is that we should all take a deep breath and step back from the precipice.

29 Responses

  1. First I’d like to thank you for your commentary, I’ve been following your blog for years.

    In his diary Breivik states that he wants to be the Perfect Knight and classifies people to A, B and C-class traitors. He’s even ready to sacrifice his step mother (who works at a governmental immigration office) if necessary.

    In the preliminary hearings he has said that he has not done anything wrong. He understands that he has killed and is fully conscious about the events otherwise.

    It’s his blind conviction and self-justificated moral superiority that’s most frightening.

  2. That which we are so afraid to lose in our Western values seems to be our right to fear those who do not share our “normalcy worship”, i.e. the notions of who we are we nurture with such prejudice.
    This fear/threat comes from a dichotomy inherent in our belief of who we are, and coming from the darker aspects of ourselves we have disowned. It all stems from the conviction that we are only good and carry no evil, and instead of owning up to these exiled parts of ourselves we then see the threat as coming from “out there”. In other words, we give away our strength and then clobber ourselves with it.
    Think our culture needs some serious time on the couch.

  3. Dear vProfessor Cole

    I expect none of your readers will be daft enough to Google the ravings of Anders Behring Breivik and to download his 2083 Manifesto for European Freedom.

    They can expect their IP addresses to show up on someones watch list, and can expect to have all sorts of trojans and keyloggers invade their machines.

    A side effect will of course be to generate false positives that allow people who share the authors lunatic views to hide among the simply curious.

  4. The fallacy of “either-or” two-dimensional thinking, in what is actually a multi-dimensional World, particularly combined with ethnic, religious and/or skin color bigotries *, is always a tragic and horrible combination.

    The fact that it’s amplified, fueled, and incited in many parts of the World:

    by massively well-funded extremist right-wing individuals and groups (including the Murdoch family and the Koch family);

    by leaders of organized religions in some cases;

    by neo-liberals (who are not to be mistaken for actual moderates, progressives, liberals, or the Left);

    by governments;

    by the corporate and governmental medias;

    by those who profiteer from it and/or seek to gain power from exploiting it;

    and by militaries and mercenaries;

    whether it’s in European nations, in the U.S., in Israel or in other nations in the Middle-East, or in Eurasia, Africa, and Asia, etc.;

    makes it even more dangerous.

    (* not unlike the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration’s “you’re with us or you’re against us” propaganda – which has been continued by the Obama administration and by many Republicans and “Democrats” in Congress, as well as by most of the corporate-controlled media in our nation,,,)

  5. The tragedy of Obama dems is that they apparently believe in the supremacy of political rhetoric and vague ideological programs over strategy, tactics and action.

    Paraphrasing Krugman, they are looking for Republican “daddies” who oppose them politely without excesses typical for the Tea Party types. This way they agree to play the good cop – bad cop game and lose miserably.

  6. Thank-you I enjoyed that.

    This needs to be on a banner; “Democracy depends on a different kind of rhetoric. Healthy politics is about specific programs, not about conspiracy theories as to what underlies someone’s commitment to a program.”

  7. The thing to note about anti-immigration activists is that *it does not matter where the immigrants come from*.

    In the US the major focus is on Mexicans and other Spanish-speakers. They are seen as endangering the “white” body politic. Some people who advocate such positions are of German, Irish, Polish extraction – all of whom in the past were seen in the US as verminous.

    In Europe the usual attack is on various Muslim immigrant groups, even though those immigrants come from massively varying Muslim countries (Morocco/ Algeria/ Turkey/ South Asia) – all with massively varying forms of Islam.

    The point here it is not the immigrants who are the common problem: the common problem lies with the anti-human attitudes of the anti-immigrant activists.

  8. Prof. Cole,

    “…the few hundred thousand Muslims in Spain (pop. 45 mn.) , or the 4 million in Turkey (5 percent of the population)…”

    I’m sure that you meant “the 4 million in Germany.”

    Thanks for this and the previous thoughtful post of this subject. No need to post this comment if you correct the typo.

  9. What is especially twisted about fomenting hatred of immigrants in a country like Norway is that it is incredibly rich, with a per capita GDP nearly twice that of the US, an unemployment rate less than half that of the US, the highest human development index in the world, and sparsely populated.
    There is plenty for everybody; those immigrants don’t really compete with anyone for opportunities.

  10. In other words, Muslims are going through the same process of cultural assimilation that hispanic immigrants do in the US- sometimes they adhere to their patrial roots but more often they become “americanized” and it only takes a generation, or even a couple decades, to turn a mexican immigrant into a quasi-conservative Yankees fan.
    Or something like that, it’s been a while since I read about the state of US immigration.
    Charles Stross berated a commenter on one of his blog posts for insinuating that Europe would have to accept sharia law if they wanted to be tolerant of immigrants, pointing out that the “Europe is soon to be overrun by muslim fundies” is an unrealistic interpretation of demographic data, low birthrate notwithstanding. There aren’t enough muslims of the extremist variety to do to Europe what Evangelicals are doing to the US.
    Of course that doesn’t stop paranoid conservatives like Michael Scheuer from declaring Europe “lost” in the war on terror.

    • Yes, they are going through the same process of cultural assimilation, and part of the assimilation is getting blamed for things the culture didn’t do.

      The Muslim faith will face the same internal challenges in America, other close cultural groups faced and that is of their children wanting to be more like the society around them, and there will be a peroid of family conflict – a sandwich generation where children challenge the rules. This is common in all groups. Be patient with you children as they grow up in a world differnt from the world their parents and grandparents came from. And gently remind your Christian brothers-

      The Protestant Reformation was backed by the Muslims. It is a part of history too.

      I think I need to get my book done, the people in Michgian need a new view point – and a true one this time.

  11. correction:

    the American Christian Community “should” not be manipulated by Karl Rove designs and return to the basics, and the rest need to take a breath before passing judgements — there are many forces at work in the world today.

  12. I’m not sure the “oh, the horror!” jibe is appropriate in tone. In the on-site reports I watched last night on German broadcaster ARD, the first four survivors of the shooting whom they interviewed were Middle Eastern and South Asian. Obviously, active social-democrats. Exactly why Breivik killed.

  13. the funny part is that anti-multiculturalists are using the same reasoning as people who are given a choice between a million dollars and being paraplegic, and choose the million dollars each time.
    they’re operating from the viewpoint that a million dollars is always preferable to being handicapped- but if being handicapped is objectively bad, then why aren’t more paraplegics killing themselves? Why isn’t the suicide rate in the 90th percentile?
    The answer of course is that from the outside things look worse because we just see the bad stuff- which of course can’t be ignored, much like in how multiculturalism can’t simply ignore bad aspects of other cultures- but it is possible to live a happy life with it.
    Ethnocentrists think that their present status quo is infinitely preferable to change, or they create a standard in their head that they see as having been sundered by the present. This guy was a jesusfreak so the “Adam and Eve/Fall from Paradise” narrative that republicans use to describe contemporary America is probably what he subscribed to- the idea that Europe was this rich center of culture before the immigrants came and ruined it, taking Eden with them.

  14. I don’t agree with Prof Cole’s multicult perspective, but I hope the Prof gets my drift when I say Breivick went off the rail when he allowed “ex” Cultural Marxists like David Horowitz instruct him tactically on how to fight “Cultural Marxism.”

  15. It’s really not worth your time to analyze what a deranged xenophobe thinks or believes. All we know that Islamophobia is a form of xenophobia and replaces the old antisemitism in Europe, which is no longer acceptable. The bigots of the world need someone new to hate and they found it in Muslims. Anti-muslim sentiment is unfortunately acceptable and politicians who espouse those views are not denounced like antisemites. Add to that Rupert Murdoch’s network of propaganda channels that spew fear and hatred 24/7 and you will have every now and then someone who will heed the call and attack muslims or whoever he considers muslim-friendly.

    • It is worth it to examine a tactically-conniving, organization-obsessed xenophobe who is continually trying to contact and rally his ideological comrades. I mean, big-government bashing considered nutty coming out of the mouths of Tim McVeigh and the Michigan and Idaho militias in 1995 is now pushed by the US corporate media as mainstream patriotism. Clearly, if Breivik’s views are seen by Europe’s owners as being potentially profitable, they will get mainstreamed.

      Luckily, Europe’s owners don’t seem anything as shortsighted or maniacally greedy as their Wall Street kin, except in the City of London, so Europe will probably have a better fate than America. In fact, I think our duty to civilization is to let Europeans know how crazy and ignorant growing numbers of “good Americans” are so that they can get their countries out of NATO, jettison sick ideologies that we’ve recently infected them with, and form a stronger European Union that can veto the stinginess of the German bankers and build a 2nd democratic superpower to shame the 1st back to sanity.

      It’s either that or gamble on the long shot that China can save mankind, see what I mean?

    • That point is emphasized by Breivik himself in his copy/paste manifesto from Unabomber. He has replaced references to indians and blacks with muslims, and leftists with cultural Marxists, but otherwise the texts are copied verbatim.

  16. Union of Russian Communities in Sweden head Ulav Andersson, gave interview on Anders Behring Breivik on Russia Today. Andersson was acquainted with Breivik; however, Andersson does not explain how he knew Breivik other than they knew each other one summer and worked together for a while afterwards.

    Breivik also went to the Czech Republic to obtain an Ak-47 and Glock hand gun ( a very bad Hungarian made plastic handgun), hand grenades and an RBG, Breivik posted this on his online account.
    link to radio.cz

    Regarding Breivik religious beliefs:

    “Another significant event was being baptised into the Protestant church of “his own free will” at the age of 15. More recently, however, he had expressed his disgust at his own church. “Today’s Protestant church is a joke,” he wrote in an online post in 2009. “Priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches that look like minimalist shopping centres. I am a supporter of an indirect collective conversion of the Protestant church back to the Catholic.”
    And appears to have had a good education –“ Raised in Oslo, he is reported to have attended the same Smestad primary school as Norway’s crown prince”

    link to guardian.co.uk

    –If my correction was approved maybe the rest of my post should also have been approved. The shooter does not appear to like Protestant churches by his statements. Remember Norway, it was said, was supporting the UN into Palestine; correct me if I am mistaken. There more influences in at play in the world right now and some realize, it is best to gain more information on the shooter – people need to keep their wits about them.

    It may be best to learn more of Breivik before coming to any definite conclusions.

  17. “The 32-year-old Norwegian said it was the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 that “tipped the scales” for him because he sympathized with Serbia’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian Muslims in Kosovo.”

    link to news.yahoo.com

    Might possibly explain Breivik association with Andersson the head of the Union of Russian Communities wounder what Breivik thought of the Russian-Muslim confrontation in The Caucasus.

    I hope my last comment submmitted wasn’t deleted it goes with this one.

  18. It would be nice of the United states of America had the reputation of decency throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and the Far East, where Islam is the majority religion, instead of being known through the inane behavior of our surrogate . (Or, are we theirs?)

    Instead, our leadership is playing hide the credit card – except the bill has been run up and is now due.

  19. Breivik is said to be a Zionist. Ironically, the first anti-Zionists in 19th century Palestine were anti-immigrant activists.

  20. Will Jennifer Rubin post an apology, now that we know the terrorist was a Zionist? I don’t think so, as she lack basic decency herself.

  21. Dear Prof. Cole,
    Your comparison of the Protestant American refusal of Catholic (Irish, Italian) immigrants in the 2nd half of the 19th century with the hysterical hatred of many Europeans of the various Muslim immigrants who have been settling in our countries as of the last decades, is, as nearly always, very pertinent.
    Please allow me to refer to your post, as I will talk to my Dutch compatriots, who are confused by their actual conservative Government’s acceptance of support by the Breivik inspirator *Geert Wilders*, member of parliament. I am convinced that such a move is part of “stepping back from the precipice”.
    I am your fellow historian, Huib Riethof (living in Belgium and in Bulgaria).

  22. There are thousands of such episodes in history, but they were often not called terrorism because they were directed at minority groups. Also, older mass killing also required a group to do it (e.g. Tulsa 1921, Wounded Knee 1890, Sabra and Shatila 1982, and so on). We are a culture of forgetting, so we forget how common these things really are in history.

    What is different now is that technology has lowered the threshold to a single crazy. Does it not worry you that high school students now routinely create synthetic microorganisms (indeed there are competitions with entrants from around the world). What happens when the next Columbine loner reaches for the petri dish instead of the automatic rifle?

  23. “It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that anyone who hits these themes is a terrorist in waiting or supports violence.”

    Why would it be wrong?

  24. What Serbian war criminal lived in Liberia in around 2001-02? If he was a Serbian he was probably a mercenary, and in Liberia at the time, there were South African companies.

    Two possibilities which need to be looked at 1) Was this a plan by the Serbia’s to hit Europe to cause problems 2) Was this a plan abandoned by the Serbia’s (or someone else) and this Breivik just kept it going. Breivik had money to buy/rent his organic farm, and to buy supplies, also a connection to get a police officers uniform.

    The first possibility above needs to be seriously looked in. The next question did Breivik really go and met the people he said he did, if he did meet with them — back to questions one and two in the above paragraph, if not he has an emotional issue, but Andersson the head of the Union of Russian Communities in his RT interview indicated no emotional issue with Breivik during their association, except for some girls turning him down on dates.

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