Malise Ruthven on the Rightwing Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik
Malise Ruthven has a useful, insightful article, "The New European Far-Right," in a blog for the New York Review of Books (August 9, 2011), and I largely agree with his analysis of the rightwing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik:
Judging from his manifesto, Breivik is an obsessive man, with an idée fixe about the evils of Islam and multiculturalism. He believes that European leaders, especially those belonging to social democratic parties, are cultural traitors who are inflicting irreversible damage on their countries. Hence his attack on Utoya island, where the flower of Norway's social democratic youth -- reservoir of its future leaders -- were gathered. He wants to see all Muslims expelled or repatriated unless they allow themselves to be converted into believing or "cultural Christians." These aims may seem impracticable -- but given the history of population expulsions and exchanges that he cites at some length in his document, they are neither utopian or millenarian.The right is being awfully quick to disown the fellow -- and understandably so -- but Ruthven acknowledges the parallels, even to the mainstream right:
His anxieties may be vastly exaggerated, but his ideas are presented systematically, and are generally consistent with the critiques of Islam and multiculturalism appearing in the mainstream press, as well as right-wing blogs. It would be premature, even dangerous, to suppose that the source of his action can only be understood by reference to synaptic glitches in an individual psychopath's brain.Many on the anti-Islam right have been adamant that their writings could not have influenced Breivik because he has been planning an attack since the latter 1990s, several years before most of them were even concerned about Islam. But can we believe Breivik's claim? Do we have any writings from him that date to the latter 1990s? And even if we do, we can't assume that he learned nothing later from the anti-Islam right in Europe and the US. His advocacy and practice of violence, however, do distinguish Breivik from most of the anti-Islam right. His emphasis upon Western Civilization, on the other hand, is something that he shares with the anti-Islam right, and it distinguishes him from the nationalist, racist, and fundamentalist right. His call for war, though, reminds one more of Al-Qaeda and other Islamists. Ruthven notes many of these points:
As Thomas Hegghammer, the Norwegian expert on Islamism, has argued, Breivik is in some respects an occidental mirror of Osama bin Laden -- a dangerous monster, perhaps, but not necessarily an irrational one. Breivik's manifesto, Hegghammer explains, departs from established categories of right-wing extremism such as ultra-nationalism, white supremacism, or Christian fundamentalism, to reveal "a new doctrine of civilizational war that represents the closest thing yet to a Christian version of al-Qaeda." The concept of "civilizational conflict" or "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, first articulated by Bernard Lewis, is shared by many on the right and some in Europe's liberal mainstream.I disagree with Ruthven's designation of most of these "counter-jihadists" as the "paranoid right," though I find Geller so emotionally over the top that I can't bring myself to read her writings, and I find Ye'or interesting but bordering on a conspiracy-theory interpretation in her Eurabia history. As for Spencer, he is full of information, but consistently sarcastic -- not my style, though I do read him. I also regularly read a site unmentioned by Ruthven, Gates of Vienna. The couple who maintain this blog are more to the right than I am, but they're refreshingly honest, even in acknowledging the parallels between Breivik's views and their own, minus the violence:
Both Breivik and the leaders of al-Qaeda see themselves as engaged in a conflict that extends back to the Crusades, with both of them using references to medieval chivalry. Both have resorted to catastrophic violence on behalf of transnational entities: the Ummah or "community" of all Muslims in the case of al-Qaeda, and "Europe" in the case of Breivik. Both frame their struggle as wars of survival, with the emphasis placed on defending a religiously-based culture rather than a distinctive nationality or ethnicity. Both hate their respective governments for "collaborating" with the outside enemy. Both use the language of martyrdom. Where Islamists refer to suicide bombings as "martyrdom operations" Breivik refers to an individual "martyr cell" in anticipation of his attack on defenseless youngsters. Both, as Hegghammer notes, lament the erosion of patriarchy and the emancipation of women.
Just as al-Qaeda represents an extreme, activist variant of political views held by a much wider constituency of Muslim radicals, most of whom would never consider crossing the boundary between thinking and action, so Breivik (judging from his manifesto) holds a broad range of positions common to what might be called the "counter-jihadist" or "paranoid right." This is represented -- among others -- by Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Pamela Geller in the US, the controversial Dutch legislator Geert Wilders, and Bat Ye'or and Melanie Phillips in Britain. All these writers -- most of whom have denounced the Utoya massacre in the most unequivocal terms -- subscribe to variants of the thesis that Europe is sleepwalking into cultural disaster or (in the case of Phillips) enabling Islamist terrorists to gain a foothold.
In fact, that's one of the disturbing things about Anders Breivik -- when simply voicing his opinions, he sounded a lot like normal, non-violent people who oppose the Islamization of the West. And this is not all that surprising, given that he plagiarized quite a number of us for his manifesto, but it's still disconcerting to read about it.I could acknowledge some of the same things. Breivik shares a lot of ideas in common with things that I've written about on this blog, excepting the advocacy of violence against Muslims and the nondistinction between Islam and Islamism. My opposition to radical Islamists is partly grounded in my views on the evil of terrorism, especially its killing of innocent people. I also maintain a distinction between Islam and Islamism, the latter being the political use of Islam, though I acknowledge that the line distinguishing the two is not easy to draw.
But to return to Breivik . . . in my view, he is both sane and rational, and therefore to be judged in moral terms as evil, just as Osama Bin Ladin was evil, for the shooting of dozens of young people on the island of Utoya and the use of passenger planes to kill nearly 3000 innocent civilians in the World Trade Center were both evil acts.
I think that most of us should be able to agree upon this.