Anders Breivik: ‘Why Norway?’
‘One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests’ sounds like a quote you’d expect an Islamist fundamentalist group would subscribe to. And this is exactly what the Scandinavian community assumed in the aftermath of the explosions that devastated Oslo’s government district on Friday afternoon and the subsequent shooting spree on Norway’s holiday island of Utoya. Many commentators were quick to attribute responsibility to an al Qaeda-esque extremist group. The question which seemed to ring from the coverage by international news networks (from the BBC to Al Jazeera) was ‘why Norway?’
Speculation immediately revolved around Norway’s involvement with NATO in Afghanistan and Libya. Muammar Qadaffi himself had threatened to strike at the heart of Europe and, as a liberal open society unaccustomed to violence or terror of any significance since World War II, Norway may have been seen as a soft target. Another possible angle was that of a Muslim cleric facing deportation who had made similar threats of reprisal.
On this aspect, most were at least partially correct – the acts of terror did centre around immigration. But when the suspected terrorist was arrested, the international media was introduced to a creature they had not seen since before the turn of the century: A home-grown, right-wing, nationalist unhappy with multicultural societies and slack immigration policies. Tall with blonde hair, blue eyes and Norwegian citizenship – Anders Behring Brevik was the last person expected to be a terrorist. The peace-loving Norwegians believed an attack would be organised externally by an Islamic terrorist organisation rather than an internally-generated response their own politics.
Although bearing the general hallmarks of an attack by Islamic jihadists, from the beginning, the Oslo bombing and the lone-gunman nature of the Utoya shooting did not feel like an al Qaeda attack. It felt more like Timothy McVeigh or even Columbine. However, in this case the suspect was captured alive, not as a credit to the Norwegian authorities, but because Brevik wants to revel in the notoriety and media attention created by the story he wants to tell. Like Oklahoma City 1995, the incident seems to have been organised by an individual probably aided by an accomplice with a lesser role (whether or not the Norwegian suspect had an accomplice was unknown at the time of writing, although it appears as if he acted alone). Oklahoma was aimed at creating collateral damage. Similarly and in retrospect, the Oslo bombing served as a diversion to draw emergency resources away from his primary area of attack on Utoya Island.
Herein lies the problem with the assumption: It produces a distraction in which right-wing extremists can flourish. Because of the focus on al Qaeda over the last decade, extremists unconnected to al Qaeda who have maintained a low profile almost disappeared from the radar. The fact that Brevik posted extreme comments on extremist websites, was licensed to carry a range of firearms and purchased large quantities of fertilizer as early as May escaped the Norwegian authorities who did not manage to put the puzzle pieces together. Characteristics ascribed to right-wing followers are also believed to render them incapable of such criminality and immense destruction. Phrases such as ‘madman not linked to an international terrorist organisation’ and ‘acting independently’ or ‘chances of this happening again are slim’ seem to distance the threat posed by right-wing extremists. Brevik knew exactly what he was doing and the attack was well-planned over a number of years. This makes his kind as dangerous as any jihadist group.
If attitudes, ideas and beliefs exist across a political/religious continuum, even towards the extreme – that’s fine. They may not be pleasant views but it’s an acceptable part of individual freedom and democracy. Nonetheless, I think we do need to recognise and be concerned about attitudes which tilt over the edges of humanity. Fringe fundamentalist ideas at either extreme don’t play nicely with the rest of the continuum. A stark instance manifested by the variation of a John Stuart Mill quote featuring as the only tweet of a now-infamous Norwegian bomber.