So it was Anders Behring Breivik, a white conservative Christian Norwegian nationalist with anti-multiculturalism and anti-islamic beliefs who carried out the Oslo and Utoya attacks. I guess most people initially thought it was an Al Qaeda attack and/or hoped it wasn’t so. Now the attacks were clearly aimed at a political party and not the state; this suggested a domestic issue instead of a global struggle. Nevertheless there were some reasons as to why also terrorism experts thought it could be Al Qaeda:
Oslo and Utoya attacks: Why we all thought it was al Qaeda « Christine Scott Cheng
Why would al Qaeda attack Norway? Current commentary (Robert Zeliger in Foreign Policy, James Dorsey in al Arabiya, Thomas Hegghammer and Dominic Tierney in The Atlantic last year) suggests the most likely reasons are: 1) anger for re-publishing the Danish cartoons 2) participation in the conflict in Afghanistan and Libya 3) Iraqi Kurdish Islamist Mulla Krekar 4) Norway is a soft target relative to US, UK.
(Read also this CSM article)
I think one of the first experts to call an actual claim by a jihadi organization was Will McCants who stated that at the Shmukh forum Abu Sulayman al-Nasir stated that the Helpers were involved in the operation. He has been severely criticized for this at Electronic Intifadah and by Glen Greenwald at Salon.com. I think that in particular EI’s critique is unwarranted. McCants clearly stated that the Abu Sulayman claim should be taken with a grain of sal and he cannot be entirely blamed for journalists who take over the claim without any qualification. I do think however that he wasn’t careful enough by posting a claim made by a not very reliable figure in this regard and he should have realized that posting it on his blog could have been inflammatory.
As soon as it became clear that the perpetrator was a white Norwegian guy with some nativist and Wilders’ Freedom Party sympathies another game emerged. The link with Wilders’ ideology and rhetoric was immediately picked up by his opponents. Well first I should add that as soon as it appeared that the shooter was a blonde white guy the staunch anti-racists of the conservative and liberal right wing stated that this did not mean it wasn’t a Muslim and people discussed the alledged radical outlook of converts. After that proved to be nonsense in this case, the debate on the Internet turned to Wilders and his ideology. His supporters denying any responsibility by Wilders for the terrible attacks. A minority however, after the condemning the attack when they still thought it was Al Qaeda, were actually supporting the attacks for example by stating: ‘As things turn out now, the perpertrator is a right wing extremist. In that case the attack is the only correct answer to a totalitarian leftist state where right wing people are silenced‘. Another person stated on his photoshop blog (where he frequently attacks left wing and Muslim politicians in satirical photoshops) that the perpetrator should enlist in a new course: “Choosing sensible targets as an anti-islamist” thereby showing a picture of, what appears to be, an attack on the Kaaba in Mecca and the people who go there to the Hajj“. Satire of course. But these people constitute a minority as far as I can tell. Others condemn the attacks and as far as I can tell now most Freedom Party supporters I know abhor the attacks. The reactions on Twitter and Facebook however are starting to resemble the reactions towards (salafiyyah) Muslims after the murder on Van Gogh in 2004.
There are differences in those reactions as well of course. After the murder on Van Gogh many so called shock sites mentioned the supportive reactions onf webfora after the murder and made big headlines out of it (although see here). More important in this regard is that many debates started with contemplations about ‘Islamic terrorism’ but when it became clear that the attacker was probably not Muslim people started talking about psychopaths and lonely crazy guys. That may be true but even lonely psychopaths are influenced by political context and political ideology. Furthermore, as my colleague Linda Duits pointed out on Twitter, is it a coincidence that Breivik shot the pretty girls first? And is there a similarity between this terrorist attack, the misogyny of Mohammed Bouyeri (the killer of Theo van Gogh) and, for example, (school) shootings in the US and Finland? The gender issue does deserve more attention I think.
In this case an obvious link may seem Breivik’s interest in the Dutch Freedom party. There is of course no direct link between ideology and violent action, not even when the ideology condones, supports or even calls for violence which is not the case in Wilders’ Freedom Party ideology. It just doesn’t work like that. Nevertheless, as far as we can tell now, we should also not treat violence as something that is completely inseparable from ideology; ideology can legitimize violence and can give meaning to it and can give a particular direction. It is in that sense not that strange that a man who appears to be a anti-multiculturalism and anti-islam nativist directs his actions not to Muslims but to social-democratic politicians. It is these politicians that are blamed for ‘islamization’ and the multicultural drama in the nativist discourse. As Paul Woodward explains:
From Pamela Geller to Anders Behring Breivik — how Islamophobia turned deadly in Norway — War in Context
The World War Two iconography they employ — battleships, tanks and squadrons of bombers — makes it clear that they regard their campaign against “Islamization” as a kind of war. One of the battles in that war played out in Oslo yesterday.
Breivik, who probably sees himself as one of SIOE’s “freedom fighters,” describes himself as a cultural conservative and anti-Marxist liberal. In his comments at Document.no, he says little about his religious beliefs and seems to see his Christian identity primarily as a cultural identity.
Breivik is much more specific in identifying the sources from whom he takes his own ideological direction: Robert Spencer, Fjordman, Atlas [Pamela Geller], Analekta [Informatics], Gates of Vienna, The Brussels Journal, and The Religion of Peace.
These are the preeminent voices promoting fear and hatred of Islam across Europe and America. But they also form — at least in Breivik’s mind — the “epicenter” of “political analysis” on the threat posed to cultural conservatives by multiculturalism in Europe and America. He recommends Fjordman’s book, “Defeating Eurabia,” as “the perfect Christmas gift for family and friends.”
Do any of the leaders of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE) advocate that their “freedom fighters” should adopt violent tactics such as those employed by Breivik? Perhaps not. Indeed, I have little doubt that in the coming days we will hear many vociferous disavowals of their having any association with the Norwegian. But have no doubt, while they might have a sincere revulsion for Breivik’s actions, they cannot so easily disassociate themselves from the ideas that drove him to murder almost a hundred innocent people.
Two years ago, Breivik called on fellow Norwegians to form a youth action group “that represents our ideological platform (anti-racist but critical of multiculturalism / Islamization etc).” He saw the group developing as part of Stop Islamization of Europe or as a new group that would model itself on SIOE and the English Defense League.
Those in the anti-Islam movement who now want to distance themselves from Breivik will proclaim that they are opponents of hatred and maybe that’s true — but that’s how he sees himself too: as a man dedicating his life to combating the “hate ideologies.”
It may surprise you, but also Jihadists see themselves as the vanguard of people fighting hatred and injustice. One can even say that governments use violence in their fights against hatred and intolerance as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have learned us. Even when it is true in the case of many anti-islam nativists that they abhor violence and even in the case of many salafi Muslims as well, the ideology can be used (or should one say abused) by others who directly engage in violent acts or call upon others to do so. History has taught us that the black and white rhetoric identifying and framing a dangerous, common enemy constituting an existential threat that is everywhere, can be very dangerous. As in particular social movement research shows however the actual turn to violence is not so much determined by ideology but on changes in political opportunities that trigger escalation and that can produce particular narratives that appeal to violent groups and individuals and in turn the content of these narratives can inform, shape and direct conflict behavior in the direction of either escalation or de-escalation of violence (DellaPorta 2008: 227-228).