Major news networks came under fire recently for jumping to conclusions about the involvement of Islamist groups in the July 22 terror attacks in Norway.
Mainstream media resorted to premature “analyses”, conjecture, and even ‘citations’ from unverified Internet forum lurkers – all of which are highly irresponsible and were rightfully condemned.
A lot of Muslims and anti-racists heaved a sigh of relief on hearing that this latest outrage was, for a change, not inflicted by a Muslim group. For seemingly the first time in recent history, a reasonable argument could now be made that not all terrorists are necessarily Muslim or brown-skinned; an opportunity has risen to delve deeper into the ideologies that underpin these horrifying outbursts of mindless violence.
However, over a week after the quiet Friday afternoon peace was shattered by the worst massacre on Norwegian soil since the second world war, the media appears to have chosen to focus instead on the sensationalist ‘Christian crusader’ angle and the killer’s 1500 page “manifesto”; a lot of commentary has dwelt on whether this is the work of a single crazed man – or whether he represents the vanguard of a new movement.
What is beyond doubt, however, is that the man was clearly led by his politics – and within this lies one of the most important stories of this decade that the media should not fail to address.
The rising hatred
Norwegian security agencies have long reported that right-wing radicalism was on the rise in the country – with Scandinavia, incidentally, producing the largest amount of xenophobic, White Power music and literature.
As it happens, right-wing politics is being revived in several parts of the world – from the United States and Europe, to Pakistan and the Maldives.
Factors such as economic decline in the West, rising unemployment, and the increased globalisation that threatens the very concept of nation states, have seen a corresponding increase in anti-immigration, race-baiting, far-right ultra-nationalist groups.
Ideas that would have been dismissed as the lunatic fringe just a few years ago have captured the curiosity of the mainstream public in many societies.
This brand of politics – characterised by amplified slogans, demonisation of minorities, and central charismatic figures with a penchant for whipping up emotions, have reaped rich political dividends for many in recent years.
With deceptive names alluding to noble concepts of ‘Justice’ and ‘Freedom’, these groups thrive entirely on charged emotional rhetoric steeped in conspiracy theories and artificial feelings of victimisation and insecurity.
The anti-Islamic, race-baiting ‘Party of Freedom’ run by Geert Wilders recently emerged as the third largest party in the Netherlands. The BNP, that remains a pariah in mainstream UK politics, has also been making steady electoral gains over the past decade – with two of its members already in the European Parliament, including Nick Griffin, the much-reviled leader of the organization.
Cheap provocations, such as attempts of a much-criticized pastor to organize mass burnings of the Koran in the US, have increasingly found the easy media attention that they so desperately crave.
Mainstream media attention was also lavished upon the ‘Ground-Zero Mosque’ controversy in New York city – that was successfully used by conservative, right-wing politicians in the US to whip up anti-Islamic sentiments, despite revolving around a building that was neither at Ground-Zero and wasn’t even a mosque.
Far-right politicians, willing to let society burn in order to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, employ words and rhetoric that threaten the peace and harmony of society – with the full knowledge that they can always refuse to accept responsibility later.
Indeed, Geert Wilders was quick to distance himself from the Oslo killer – who had named him as one of his inspirations – but it is hard to accept that the man who spent years fanning flames of anti-Islamic hatred can suddenly absolve himself of all responsibility for the ideology that directly led to the massacre in Utoya.
While the West grapples with trying to deal with hate figures like Geert Wilders, controversial characters like Zakir Naik and Bilal Philips have inexplicably been invited by the Maldivian government to preach to the public – despite several other countries denying them entry citing serious allegations ranging from terror links to hate speech.
Local political parties and NGOs that have conferred upon themselves the onerous burden of representing Islam in the Maldives adamantly deny that they have any role to play in the increasingly radicalised Dhivehi society – and the rising numbers of Maldivian jihadists being discovered in militant madrassas or war zones of tribal Pakistan.
This denial comes despite their openly stoking flames of anti-semitism and anti-feminism, despite their emotionally charged diatribes on public podiums and radio talk shows, and despite the rapidly mushrooming “Islamic” book shops in Male’ that openly sell Jihadist literature with fiery titles and apocalyptic chapters glorifying war.
At least one English Defence League activist, currently hiding abroad, has admitted that his opinions could have directly influenced the destructive Islamophobia in Breivik.
And yet, the EDL– a toxic, occasionally violent British group accused of racism, have also denied the ties with the mass-murderer in Norway, despite the killer himself claiming close association with them.
Just as their right wing brethren in the Maldives, they too “reject all forms of extremism”, and vow to fight against it.
Hyperbole at home
The Maldivian society’s decided swing to the right in the aftermath of democracy is startling – the political dialogue is marked with hyperbole, and dishonest, wild rhetoric.
Reasonable concerns about establishing diplomatic ties with the state of Israel ended up getting blown up into a full-fledged conspiracy involving evil Zionist doctors plotting to steal body organs from unsuspecting Maldivians.
A proposed change in curriculum was vocally derided as a sinister Israeli plot to undermine national sovereignty.
Disagreements over a regulation that would have permitted the tightly restricted sale of alcohol to foreigners at a business hotel, ended up being painted as a death blow to the very religious foundations of the Maldives – thanks to a shrill campaign started by the Adhaalath (Justice) party and aligned opposition groups that was marked with emotive language, and rhetoric carefully calculated to whip up fear, paranoia and hatred.
Adhaalath party leader Shaheem Ali Saeed would later boast at a recent party congress that it was their tiny party that “organised the largest mass-protests in the country”.
Yes, but at what price?
Birds of Feather
Emotive politics of the far-right contribute to, and depend on, a climate of fear and insecurity.
It is within this shelter of blind hateful ignorance that killers like Anders Breivik emerge, casting themselves in self-aggrandizing roles of ‘warriors’, ‘crusaders’ and ‘mujahideen’ to protect their religion and country from the evil, scheming subversive forces that only exist in their heads.
“If Muhammad was alive today,” he wrote, “Usama Bin Laden would have been his second in command.” The Norwegian killer spent over nine years working on his “manifesto” – but in reality, he could have just taken any random Islamist propaganda leaflet and substituted “Christendom” for “Caliphate” , the “Crusades” for “Jihad” and “Knights Templar” for “Mujahideen”.
Not surprisingly, despite being an avowed Islamophobe, he found ideological similarities with the al-Qaeda – and repeatedly makes references to al-Qaeda’s training manual.
Breivik also found that his ideology seamlessly fit with the Hindu fundamentalist groups in India as well. His “manifesto” quotes from several Hindutva propaganda websites, and applauds Hindutva advocates who ‘do not tolerate the injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control”.
Decades of sowing animosity towards Indian Muslims brought Hindu fundamentalists led by AB Vajpayee from fringe obscurity to national power.
But within their one term, the emotionally charged politics of the day resulted ultimately in the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Hindus in the Gujarat communal riots. The same forces would later unleash violence against Christians in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
The battle of Badr used by Jihadist leaders to stoke fire in their soldier’s hearts, finds its equivalent in the Crusades for Breivik – whose online “manifesto” honours such medieval figures such as Vlad the Impaler and Charles the Hammer.
One can thus easily see that there really isn’t any difference at all between these seemingly competing intolerant forces that are both the victims and perpetrators of the same far-right wing ideologies obsessed with their apocalyptic visions of global domination.
A suitable response
A quarter of a million people took to the streets of Oslo on Monday, to remember the dead.
Unlike nations like Pakistan that have swung so far to the right over decades of ideological poisoning, that thousands actually came out to garland the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, a liberal politician who spoke up for minority rights, Norway’s response to the horrors of July 22 reflects its vastly more mature, and strongly liberal social ideals.
“We will punish him, not by killing him or torturing him, but by defying his every wish”, said a teenager, whose friend was among those killed in the Utoya massacre.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside a tiny Church where a Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam performed a joint memorial service for Bano Rashid, an 18 year old Muslim girl whose promising life was prematurely snuffed out by the fanatic violence.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg greeted the audience at another memorial service in Oslo with the Arabic greeting “Salaam Alaikum”, drawing a cheerful applause – and pushing a stake through the heart of the dark forces that had sought to strike a wedge between the Norwegian people.
The King and Queen of Norway, who openly wept in a Church service for victims, had a similar response of defiance; in his address, the King said that freedom is more important than fear.
Across the board, Norwegian politicians have vowed to respond to terrorism with “more democracy”, “more diversity”, “more peace” and “more tolerance”.
The time has come for media and citizens around the world – including in the Maldives – to stop viewing the theatre of violence through the narrow lens of religion and nationality. The only solution to division, hatred and violence is to confront the language, thoughts and tactics of short-sighted, opportunistic politicians whose only political gimmick is to create a climate of fear and hatred towards foreigners, Jews, Muslims, Christians.
While the scourge of ultra-right wing extremism is the enemy of all societies and peoples, there is a strong message sent out when resistance emerges from the very people that these bigots claim to represent – when whites fight against Aryan supremacists, and Jews protest against Israeli military aggression, and Muslims fight against Islamist violence and hate-mongering.
The Norwegians have shown the way with a dignified, determined response of hope, and peaceful idealism that characterise their society.
It is now up to the rest of the world to follow in their footsteps and extinguish the climate of fear and hatred that allow these abhorrent acts to take place.
In Jens Stoltenbergs’ words: “No one will bomb us to silence. No one will shoot us to silence. We must never stop standing up for values… our answer to violence is even more democracy, more humanity”
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