Writing at Open Democracy, Sara Silvestri makes an excellent argument about the massacres in Norway, and how we should act to avoid their repetition.
She refers to growing cultural diversity, rightly, as among other things, a social fact.
But the framing of a reasoned debate about it needs to take account of realities that will continue to exist whatever attitudes are adopted to the subject conceived in the abstract.
These include the fact that European citizens are (willingly or unwillingly) living in societies that are increasingly diverse in terms of (for example) culture, language, religion, and sexual orientation. This is one of the social transformations that are happening all the time and can hardly be reversed.
This is also what history is about, and it has produced great human achievements. Civilisation has progressed because cultures have met and interacted. Everyone is the product of a métissage: cultures and identities are by definition fluid, and cannot be static or pure. Moreover, just as individuals change throughout their lives, so do societies. As they do so there is a tendency to rewrite the past as a golden age, but this is both a myth and a retrospective creation.
Secondly, Silvestri identifies three factors which contributed to the climate in which Anders Behring Breivik could perpetrate his appalling crimes. First, she argues that social media can contribute to processes of radicalisation. This dynamic may:
allow people motivated by a cause to develop exclusivist ties and understandings of identity, perhaps becoming more extreme in the process.
Secondly, the rush to “use… categorisation as a way of defining, limiting – and targeting – sections of the population” is itself damaging.
In some ways, this mentality is a precondition for the third issue she identifies – an absolutist mentality which makes a distinction between cultural categories, and at the limits of politicisation, justifies or inspires violence.
A mad Manicheanism is built on the basis of eliding the humanity of people, Othering them through the construction of unbridgeable gulfs.
I would thoroughly endorse Silvestri’s conclusion:
This suggests that the real worry should be less particular forms of extremism (European right-wing or Islamist, for example) than the shared phenomenon of homogenising, reductive, and dogmatic forms of thought, built around rigid understandings of identity and enmity, and impermeable to dialogue with anyone outside the lucky tribe.
These three problems operate on a level that may make them less amenable to clear policy responses than the familiar themes of multiculturalism, radicalisation, and extremism tend to produce. But insofar as they are all underlying factors in the Norwegian atrocities, the debate around this event should take them into account. A deeper and more holistic understanding of how these behaviours and mentalities influence the crimes of people like Anders Behring Breivik could help ensure that such crimes are never repeated.
NB: Previous discussion of the atrocities in Norway is here.