First the mea culpa. As news began to emerge of yesterday’s bombing and mass shooting in Norway, like many people I assumed there was an al-Qaeda or other Islamist connection. From London to Mumbai, simultaneous attacks have been a hallmark of Islamists, and there were several reasons why they might have wanted to target Norway.
I wrote a post for The Tatler on how the BBC listed those potential Islamist motives — the Satanic Verses link; the deployment of Norwegian troops to Afghanistan, although the country wasn’t named; and “cartoons of the prophet” — without mentioning Muslims, Islam or Mohammed. It was ridiculous yesterday and it’s still ridiculous today. The BBC clearly also thought an Islamist connection was likely — they just couldn’t bring themselves to say it.
But I got so caught up in mocking the BBC’s reporting that I failed to consider that it might have been anyone other than Islamists; I could have left open that possibility while still making my point, and not doing so was a mistake.
However, in one sense yesterday’s attacks are the exception that proves the “BBC rule.” If the gunman (who is also thought to be responsible for the bombing) had been of Middle Eastern appearance, and had shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he mowed down his victims, today many in the media would still be speculating about a possible motive, and the authorities would be urging us not to jump to conclusions, as was the case with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. But Norwegian police and media were reporting the “right-wing” connection within hours of the attacks, and by first thing this morning officials were describing the perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, as “a right-wing fundamentalist Christian.”
The rush to get Breivik’s profile out their suggests an eagerness to exonerate Muslims by the authorities, and the regularity with which the “right-wing” connection is being repeated by the media suggests both relief and relish: not only do we not have to report bad things about Muslims, we get open season on right-wingers.
Right-wing fundamentalist Christian. It’s a slam-dunk for the liberal-left; the ultimate caricature of conservative extremism; the bogeyman that had until now existed largely in their imaginations made real.
As I argued in this piece for Pajamas, two years ago almost to the day, the very term ‘far-right’ is an invention of the liberal-left, employed to discredit the opinions of anyone holding conservative views – just now I actually heard a BBC newsreader describe Breivik as ‘right-wing’ and ‘conservative’ in the same breath.
Think about it: when was the last time you heard or saw a reference in the mainstream media to the ‘far-left’?
Without getting into the whole left/right argument again, as I wrote back then, while the far-left espouse views that can fairly be described as extreme versions of more ‘moderate’ left-wing views, those who are labelled as ‘far-right’ (I’m not talking about apolitical anti-government types, but the ‘far-right’ as applied to Aryan Nation in the US, the BNP in Britain and similar organizations in Europe) don’t tend to be extremist proponents of, for example, lower taxes and small government.
As we learn more about Breivik (some scraps of biography are emerging), people on both the left and right will scrutinize his ideology as they did Jared Loughner’s after the Tucson, Arizona shootings. But there’s very little to scrutinize. Breivik and others who think like him are racists, pure and simple, and racism isn’t an ideology; it’s an irrational attitude that manifests itself as anything from unease to hatred, and one that isn’t exclusive to the left or the right.
After yesterday I’m a little wary of making predictions, but I’d be surprised if in the coming weeks the likes of Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann don’t try to draw parallels between the Oslo shooter and the Tea Party; the fun has already started at HuffPo and elsewhere in the lefty blogosphere.
You only have to look to the left’s reaction to the Tucson shootings to know what to expect. While yesterday’s tragedy unfolded in a small, faraway country, the profile of the shooter is such a perfect fit for the left that it’s going to hard to resist the temptation to make merry. And it’s not unthinkable that an increasingly desperate Obama might decide to emulate Bill Clinton’s ‘Oklahoma City’ strategy.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Anders Behring Breivik’s ‘anti-immigrant’ and ‘anti-Muslim’ beliefs are being trumpeted, the better to demonize anyone who expresses alarm over uncontrolled mass immigration.
Yesterday’s attack will also be seized on by the Christiane Amanpours of the liberal-left who have long been telling us that ‘all religions are the same’ in terms of violent extremism. But while the evil on display yesterday was the equal of anything displayed by al-Qaeda or the Taliban, there’s no comparison in terms of the scale of threat.
The circumstances of yesterday’s shooting rampage – the victims were trapped on an island for more than an hour – meant the death toll was unprecedented for such an attack, but so-called right-wing terrorism remains rare, and ‘fundamentalist Christian’ terrorism even rarer, the preserve of lone fanatics or small groups with minimal support. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Islamists remain committed to violence, and hundreds of thousands more, perhaps millions, sympathize with them.
Still, we’re rightly enjoined not to hold all Muslims accountable for the actions of a minority – albeit a rather sizable minority – of extremists. I fear that in the coming months the same courtesy won’t be extended to people holding right-of-center political views.