At The Guardian, Charlie Brooker demonstrates that the initial media coverage of the terrible massacres in Norway was “fact free conjecture”. As discussed on this thread and this one, that conjecture had a pattern – a basic set of assumptions that outrages such as what occurred were ‘Islamic terrorism’. It’s not just righties in the media or the blogosphere, but the whole kit and caboodle.
Anyone watching cable news would have been treated to the febrile opining of members of the terrorism studies community, the academic and thinktank acolytes of the national security state, madly pattern making and subjecting none of their guesses to any rational scrutiny or, indeed, having any regard to facts that were becoming known on Twitter.
It’s not just in Australian politics or in discussion of climate science that we live in the very opposite of a truth-based world.
Much of the current discussion of the actions of Anders Behring Breivik now seeks to depoliticise. He’s a ‘lone gunman’, a ‘crazed loner’; you know the drill. Peter Hartcher, writing today for Fairfax, is just one example, and far from the most egregious.
At (ir)religiosity, Blake Huggins puts his finger on it:
To but it bluntly, when “a cultural Christian” is to blame, acts of terrorism have nothing to do with religion. When a Muslim is involved, however, it is quite the opposite. This is the framework operative in our collective imaginary (despite the fact that many Muslim terrorists appear to be motivated by anti-imperialist sentiments rather than religion alone). Muslims are terrorists, Christians are not. These categories have become so deeply engrained in our psyche that the knee-jerk reaction to any terrorist attack is to place blame upon Islam.
Immediately following the violence in Oslo the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal both jumped to xenophobic conclusions. Even a newspaper as “progressive” as the New York Times wasn’t immune to the sociological inertia. The same thing happened after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In times of crisis and in response to heinous acts of violence our most foundational — and, by and large, dualistic, even Manichean — stereotypes come in to play. And it would seem that in the American imaginary, liberal, conservative or otherwise, the category of the Muslim is conflated with that of the terrorist. There is a deeply essentialist if not racist double-standard at play when it comes terrorist and religion. The common perception, even the default position, is that Christianity is the exception, while Islam is the rule.
Shakira Hussein also speaks truth:
This year, I’m not going to let myself think of Breivik – the man or his shadow – and I’m not going to let myself resent the morons who fed his hate and then scrambled to lay to blame for his crime upon “the Muslims”. They do not deserve my attention.
I will reflect instead on those Muslims and non-Muslims who lost their lives on Utoya and elsewhere. Let their names be remembered – and in the case of those civilians who are dying away from the media spotlight in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq – let their names be recorded.
If the definition of terrorism is political violence, then there is no doubt that Breivik’s actions were political. The careful targeting of the current government and the activist future of Norway’s Labour Party, let alone the activist future of that party gathered on Utøya Island, makes that abundantly clear.
As Waleed Aly writes:
Breivik is a committed political activist. His manifesto (which for the time being is on YouTube), if correctly attributed, makes this abundantly clear. It is deeply implausible that this was anything other than a textbook case of terrorism. It was fear-inducing violence by a non-state actor in the service of a political cause.
And Jeff Sparrow is absolutely right that there’s a whole political and cultural climate which envelopes Breivik’s thinking and his detestable actions.
Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, rightly called for a response to the mass murders in Oslo and Utoya which would consist of “more democracy, more humanity”. A prerequisite for such democratic humanity is that we call things by their proper names, and start to reflect on the terrible consequences of the myths and discourses that have seized much of the world over the last decade.
In so doing, we mourn the victims of these massacres by working to ensure that such abominations never occur again. To do that effectively, it is necessary to understand, without illusions and avoiding polemics, why this tragedy occurred.