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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Fallout from the Norway killings less than a week ago is somewhat confusing with some politicians excusing Anders Breivik's rampage - notably Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament from Italy with the anti-immigrant Northern League, Erik Hellsborn, a local politician for the nationalist Sweden Democrats in the southern Swedish town of Varberg, and Jacques Coutela, a member of the National Front in France - and others running as fast as possible in the opposite direction - notably the British far-right EDL:
After reports that Mr. Breivik was in touch with Britain’s far-right English Defense League, the group issued a statement this week saying that it could “categorically state that there has never been any official contact between him and the EDL.”
We rely on the New York Times for this information. And that's another problem with events that have a pan-European play: there will be lots of information but it will be in foreign languages (Swedish, anyone?) and it will be posted on lots of different websites. Much easier to look for help closer to home. In Australia we have the thoughts of such people as The Australian's Greg Sheridan who rejects suggestions that Breivik can be likened to an Islamic terrorist, and says that he's just a lone looney. An animal of an entirely different stripe.

It's not a case of "monkey see monkey do" because there is no ideological infrastructure supporting Breivik.
No serious Christian cleric ever gives such violence succour, no Christian-influenced state ever supports it. The terrorists concerned in custody do not read the Gospels, but always some other conspiracy literature concerning their own hang-ups.
Left unexamined is the obvious matter of agency. "Islam" means "submission" and so Islamic terrorists will naturally seek guidance from outside when putting into play the grievances that they harbour inside themsleves. In the West the notion of individual agency means that individuals prefer a different relationship between ideas in the public sphere and the actions they pursue in order to realise their desires through them. Breivik's long-term industry and efficient application must be seen in this light. A Western terrorist is unlikely to respond to concerted calls for violent action. Jihad can thus take on something like its original meaning in the mind of a man like Breivik: a "duty" or "struggle" against external realities that offend the sensibility. In this vein, no serious Western terrorist seeks specific guidance in their struggle but rather improvises within a nexus of commonly-held ideas. For this reason, Europe must certainly take responsibility for Breivik's actions. Not political parties alone but, indeed, all Europeans.

To pass Breivik off as some sort of insane monster is disingenuous. Unhappily for the majority of law-abiding citizens in the West the upshot of Breivik's attack will likely be enhanced surveillance and enforcement. This is already happening in Europe and it is likely to feature in memos written by security functionaries in other countries too. The failure of Norway's security apparatus to identify Breivik as a threat and the consequent failure to short circuit his actions will rest as a salutory lesson for law enforcement bodies globally. Is 1984 therefore approaching ever closer to our fragile democracies?

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