Who is Anders Behring Breivik?
A question currently posed by many of us who analyze terrorist motives but have been more accustomed to focusing on Islamism is: "Who is Anders Behring Breivik?"
One of my long-time readers, who goes by the online pseudonym "Erdal," is a secular European Muslim of an 'unorthodox' Islamic background (Alawite?) with ancestral roots in Turkey (though not necessarily Turkish) who has long taught in the German university system, and he has offered his thoughts on this query by attempting to place Breivik not within an ideological camp but within a new generation that is coming of age in Europe:
I think the media is full of misreadings about all this, because they operate in a world with questions of ideology, discourse and (in-)consistency thereof, conviction and political maneuvre that is outdated.Well, they do have youth on their side, and they probably dislike the baby boomer generation that they're expected to support through their taxes (which might partly explain their generally anti-Leftist views). Anyway, that's Erdal's generational analysis of Breivik. In short, this younger generation, growing up on World of Warcraft and related computer games, familiar with the Lord of the Rings and similar stories (Harry Potter?), forging identities symbolized by avatars and enhanced by ascending through "levels" marked by acquired "tokens," shares not so much a fullfledged ideology as a situational worldview.
Breivik is young -- he formed his world view in his twenties, in the 21st century. This (and a bit younger for students starting out) was the generation I was last in close contact with before retirement, and I found them to be unlike any generation before.
Their demeanour is usually decried as they indeed do function in a quite unfamiliar way: They put forward conclusions (if pressed), while their process of reasoning appears opaque and unorderly. People usually mistake this for a lack of method, knowledge and discipline (I remember a post of yours that argued roughly in the same direction).
I've come to think this view is entirely backwards and that this generation is way better informed, much stronger in its convictions, and has independently thought a great deal more and deeply that any of their predecessors. They appear passive because their convictions are not the result of open discourse -- a discipline they are indeed not good at -- but that is just beacuse most older educators (and indeed most media personnel) are just bad at spotting their interaction, which is way more subtle than it was in their day.
The period of shared and prepackaged static ideology that you aquired along a canon of public, organized and bookish learning, to defend with discursive methods as you progress, is past. The young activist people you find that still adhere to this traditional method are usually just eager to please the elders.
But most, the rest, have instead a very rigorous intuition, formed by much data, strategic playfulness, experience and inner struggle, and they can very eloquently communicate the results of their thought processes with cultural markers that are simply overlooked or considered inadequate by the old paradigm.
Brevik's text is instructive because is very much like that, because it is -- its size excepted -- so very typical. It signals its convictions as markers that draw from shared cultural core material of his generation: Tolkien's LOTR [Lord of the Rings], WOW [World of Warcraft], "levels" [as in computer games], autodidactic progression from an unstructured, fluid, episodical mass of information and solipsistic reasoning, a sense of mission and rootedness in themselves and an idealized heritage that they aquire with great gusto like forbidden fruit.
When Breivik speaks [in his manifesto] of his Knights Templar and traces his steps through levels mastered, of insights with tokens aquired, of his tactics and strategies, he fully inhabits this metaphorical world of his generation -- and does not suffer some weird reactionary infatuation with medieval militias. His phantasy uniform designs are neither a sign of madness or self-aggranzizement, nor an article of clothing ever to be worn in real life gatherings, but just a metaphorical currency of his own otherwise intangible progression. He is not political in a way that has sytematic public organization at its core but in a way schooled by his generation's experience that you can contribute on very sizable and ambitious projects without any formal organization to lead you, just by establishing a code that you renegotiate permanently by signaling with markers shared or rejected, but always at least unconciously understood by the participants that you need to never know. You know they exist, because you know the signals don't arise spontaneously. You don't argue because you expect it to be futile: The infrastructure isn't built for it, there's too much noise along with the signals. You don't go looking for agreement, because you can expect it to be there, based on the general nature of signals you receive.
He grasps quite correctly -- and apparently without prior knowledge of the common name of the effect -- that ultraviolent extremism will indeed inevitably shift those that share his outlook, but not necessarily his method, further into the ageing mainsteam and give their position more weight. (It's called the anchor effect, btw.) I think the defensive whining in the established antijihadist quarters, that their cause has been harmed, just shows the complainants' naivety and old-school upbringing.
This guy acted alone, but in the certain, and probably correct, conviction that there are many others like him. He has no need to know them, he knows they are there and that they are very many among his age cohort, because he can read their signals. They were many even in the humanities, a bastion of tradition[ally] organized politics; in technical fields, his type is the male default. They may decide to emulate him or not, on their own terms, along the lines of their own assessment of the situation, in permanent contact with the general vibe. This is not illness, not misunderstanding of ideology, not being a victim of demagoguerie, just rational extremism, a logical extension of widespread self-perception and world view.
I think the ageing media and policymakers have no idea of the potential trouble they're in, because they're deaf to this generation, ignorant of a huge discourse they assume doesn't exist because the channels it manifests itself in are not their channels. They think their march through the institutions was the greatest achievement ever, and that they are safely on the steering wheel. They are very wrong. Their categories no longer apply.
Types of Brevik's generation and general worldview are a pan-European phenomenon, well educated, well travelled, with shared experiences, without nationalistic prejudices, without fixed ideology, without sacred beliefs, without class attitude, without the need for visible organization, without illusions. And now they are grown up, nurtured by jihad, Tolkien and WOW, patient to progress stubbornly along the levels, certain of the significance of myth and quick on the trigger, and they will start rocking the boat. I can't see them not winning.
What remains unexplained is Breivik's turn to terrorism, and particularly his choice of young people, including teenagers, as his target. Erdal gestures in the direction of jihad on this point, perhaps implying that Breivik has learned from observing the jihadists that terrorism often has the effect desired by the terrorists. Erdal's reference to the "anchor effect" probably finds its application here.
Perhaps Erdal will respond and clarify this point.