Friday, 5 August 2011

Norwegian tragedy should act as wake up call

The initial reporting in the UK of the killing of 77 people by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway said much about the media mindset surrounding such events.
There was an immediate leap to link the killings to Al Queda and Islamic terrorism.
As soon as it was established that it was not an Al Queda attack, but a right wing fanatic the tone changed. It was no longer an attack on our society but the acts of a crazed mad man.
Even, once the facts were established, this did not stop a number of politicians and commentators here continuing to rehearse all the old clich├ęs about terrorism, despite the total disconnect with what had occurred in Norway.
The old adage of never wasting a good crisis sprang to mind as some in the media and political class used the opportunity to stir up the vista of fear to frighten people.
It seemed that another effort was being launched to use a tragedy in another country to justify more authoritarian measures taking away liberties here. The old cry of the dictator: give me your liberties and I will provide security resonated out once again.
Fortunately though these sentiments were not being voiced in Norway, where Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called for a response that brought "more democracy and more openness." This was exactly the response needed to such an attack on innocent people and democracy. It also reflected a country clearly secure in its identity, not seeking to look for a scapegoat for societal ills.
An extreme right wing fundamentalist Christian, Anders Breivik was anti-Muslim and anti-left, hence the shooting of the students at a socialist youth camp. He is apparently an admirer of the English Defence League in this country.
There has been a worrying synergy growing up over recent years between fundamentalist Christians and the far right with common ground developing over a hatred of Islam and anti-immigrant xenophobia.
It is interesting to see some of these fundamentalists seemingly stuck in a time warp, referring everything from environmental catastrophe to economic breakdown back to the old left/right divides of the Cold War era. For these individuals, there is always an enemy out there that has to be confronted, whether it be communism, Islam or simply the other.
The far right in this country has not been slow to exploit possible links to fundamentalist Christianity, targeting Catholics in particular for recruits. The BNP has in the past quoted Papal encyclicals like Rerum Novarum out of context in order to justify its creed.
Two years ago at the time of the European elections, the BNP ran an advertising campaign claiming that Jesus would vote for the party. Church leaders spoke out but the party ended up winning two seats in the European Parliament.
The tragic events in Norway need to be put in a proper context of the crazed killer motivated by extreme right wing idealogy. The most comparable individual to Breivik is probably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, not the 9/11 or 7/7 terrorists. He no doubt will be dealt with through the criminal process in Norway, which is what should happen. And hopefully, given the Prime Minister’s comments, there will be no resort to cutting the liberties of Norwegian citizens in the aftermath.
What these events do is to serve notice of the growing danger of the far right in Europe, with its appeal to the increasingly disenfranchised amongst the population.
The Norway tragedy show the dangers that extreme right wing ideology can bring about in disturbed individuals. Communities need to come together to counter the threat of the far right, whilst those charged with protecting the people from the threat of terrorism should refocus their efforts on the real dangers rather than getting caught up in an often illogical focus on Islam.

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