One man has committed mass murder, but exposed a host of contradictions for an entire continent.
Norway has suffered a collective tragedy. Not only has its relative peace been shattered, but also the casualties from this weekend’s massacre include a disproportionate number of its young active citizens.
It will be sometime before this small country, whose entire population is only 60% that of Greater London, recovers from a massacre the death toll of which is 2-3 times that of 7/7.
Such an event would be sadly commonplace in the destabilised places in the world, where the state is weak – such as Iraq or Pakistan. But it is a humiliation as well as a tragedy for Europe, where such destabilisation has not usually occurred and where the writ of the state is strong.
Nonetheless there are many issues that emerge from this event, and it is conspicuous that Europe’s political leaders are avoiding addressing them. They are, instead raising a series of much easier issues for themselves to address.
The issues the political class are choosing to address – the wrong ones – mainly surround questions of security: How do you secure a society from lone gunmen? Is there sufficient information sharing between governments? Is this threat comparable to the ‘Al-Qaida’ bogeyman? – To which William Hague replied – ‘no’, saying Al Qaida was still a bigger threat!
This last answer from Hague needs reflecting upon, as it explains the political response to this crisis. They hope to deflect attention from the serious problem Europe faces from racist and xenophobic attitudes, the rise of the far right, and a worsening economic situation. They hope to keep the domestic and international policy agenda firmly focussed on the Islamic world and Muslims. All of this shows the paradoxes and stark contradictions in policy making towards Muslims and non-Muslims.
European xenophobia vs Muscular Liberalism
The rise of the far-right across Europe has been noticed by many over the past few years – whether the rise of Jorge Haider in Austria, the right-wing parties in Eastern Europe some of whom are in conservative political groupings in the European Parliament, or the BNP and EDL in the UK.
Concerns about this stem from Europe’s 20th century experience with fascism, and centuries of bloodshed. The nation state identity adopted by Europe could be argued to have institutionalised base tribal attitudes that are exhibited in contemporary nationalism, as well as 20th century European fascism.
Paradoxically, the policies adopted 30 years ago aimed to diminish such attitudes – the doctrine of multiculturalism – is attacked as having failed by politicians across Europe, who reinforce racist views demanding Muslims integrate and westernize, ban symbols of Islam [like hijabs, niqabs and minarets] and who frequently criticise immigration [even though their economies depend on immigrant labour].
When British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed this issue in February 2011 at a security conference in Munich [of all places!], calling for a new ‘muscular liberalism’, he was praised by the leader of France’s racist National Front, Marine Le Pen – illustrating the political affinity between ‘muscular liberals’ like Cameron and the extreme right wing.
Muscular liberals like Cameron, Blair before him, and Sarkozy, would doubtless argue from a different perspective. They have no problem, fundamentally, with non-European culture saturating Europe – whether from the United States or the Indian subcontinent. But they dislike the rise of Islam in Europe because they see a new value structure being adopted by Muslims [increasingly joined by European converts] in favour of liberal values. This is problematic for politicians who have, over the past ten years, endorsed military enforcement of these liberal values into the Muslim world – and who see the failure to intellectually convince Muslims of these values.
The far-right dislike all forms of foreign culture. Indeed, if they weren’t so repulsed by the fact they view Islam as foreign, they might feel they have more in common with the socially conservative values exhibited by religious people generally. Moreover, these people have often opposed their troops being sent off to far away lands to kill and to die for causes that seem to have little to do with national security.
Both racist xenophobes and muscular liberals are unified on anti-Islamic rhetoric, and policies that would force Muslims to integrate. But they differ on social values and foreign policy.
Muscular Liberals dominate the political class
Europe’s political class is dominated by politicians from the centre ground. Some of these are real muscular liberals. Others merely respond to public concerns about the economy and immigration.
Increasingly, this class of politician is seen as detached from the concerns and aspirations of the masses.
Their solution to dealing with the concerns of their majority populations has been, historically, to push for greater economic growth, in the hope that economic prosperity will diminish the appeal of nationalist and right-wing groups.
That is, in part, why their policies continue to include colonial interference in far-away lands – which is why they have developed strategies to address Islam domestically and internationally – which includes aborting multiculturalism and adopting a more aggressive assimilationist approach.
It is also why they continue to appease and over-represent the interests of the ‘wealth-creators’ – the banks, financial institutions and big business.
But this policy, after the crash of 2008 and the current Eurozone crisis, alienates the political class even more from the masses – whose jobs, homes and benefits are less secure than they have been for years, and who are consequently ever more willing to listen to the far right.
Europe’s societies become more fractured by double standards
Not only is there a growing fault line between the ruling class and the majority population [fuelled by the double standard in how wealth creators are treated versus consumers], but Europe’s Muslims find themselves caught between a far-right – that hates foreigners and anything foreign – and the political class, who dislike their adherence to their Islamic values, as it is part of a global revival of a rival ideology, which threatens the hegemony of capitalism in the Muslim world.
Hence, when Muslims [amongst others] see rank double standards in the way the Norway massacres have been covered, it alienates them further from politicians and the media.
They witness the media blaming ‘Islamic terror groups’ for the attacks. Later, when it was clear Muslims had nothing to do with it, they heard the self-confessed murderer-for-political-ends described as a ‘lone madman’, and not a ‘terrorist’ by politicians and the media.
This double standard is all too obvious, as is the silence of politicians regarding the Islamophobic media coverage, which they helped to create in the first place.
But we will now see another double standard. The 7/7/ bombings resulted in a hastily assembled series of workshops and discussion, after which [but not out of which] the Prevent strategy emerged. An argument rapidly dominated that the cause of the bombings was an Islamic political ideology that needed to be tackled. The argument evolved into not merely clamping down on ‘violent extremist’ ideas but any ‘extremist’ ideas. This is the current working model in the UK and elsewhere, leading to extrajudicial pressures on speakers, visitors to the UK and groups.
It is highly unlikely there will be any comparable strategy to deal with the philosophical ideas that may or may not have contributed to the ideology of Anders Behring Breivik – said to be a practicing Christian and a Freemason. His links to the English Defence League are being questioned. But whatever actions politicians take regarding individuals and fringe groups, we are certainly unlikely to see the banning of right-wing conservative thinkers from the airwaves, who may or may not have influenced the ideas of the ‘fringe’.
Decades after two world wars, which emerged in the heart of Europe, and after centuries of bloodshed, the future does not yet look stable for Europe. To this day, it has not found a model that brings sustained harmony between states and between peoples. The looming economic problems only look likely to make the future less certain. This one man has committed mass murder, but exposed a host of contradictions and questions for an entire continent.