The Lesson of Norway

The Wall Street Journal writes that the recent terror attack in Norway is turning politics into a game of ‘who knew Breivik?’.

Media reports have suggested Mr. Breivik had links to the British far right and claimed to have been in touch with the English Defence League.

But the EDL denied in a statement late Sunday it had any “official contact” with the 32-year-old.

The prime minister’s spokesman said any possible links to the EDL was something that should be investigated by the Metropolitan Police and other authorities.


There are likely to be two consequences to Breivik’s attack. The first is legal. Some political associations are now going to become clearly derogatory. Dealing with the English Defence League (EDL) for example, is likely to be seen as damning as dealing with say, the Muslim Brotherhood and as likely to put you on a watch list, at least a secret one.

The second follows from the first. There is probably going to be heightened surveillance and monitoring of such groups. They have been de-legitimized by Breivik’s actions and are much more likely to be treated indistinguishably, as threats, from al-Qaeda in the future. In fact they may rated as more dangerous since Breivik’s horrid competence suggests that they can shoot straighter than al-Qaeda.

And there seems little reason to argue that such treatment is unfair, given the horror of events. What will be interesting to observe is whether Breivik’s reaction will also change the calculus among politicians who have had to be wary of Islamic or leftist extremists. It has often been said that ‘terror works’ on the principle of “no man, no problem”. Will politicians, already afeared of the “militants” and “youths” on the one hand have to be wary of the Breiviks too?

What is interesting is what Breivik did not do: he did not attack people who were anti-Jihadi, but who were anti-Nazi and anti-violent as well. Except indirectly that is, in the sense that he has made it difficult for them to maintain a separate and legitimate footing. But this may happen eventually for the same reason that Jihadis attack Islamic moderates: they want to leave no room for sensible people, thus leaving the field clear for them.


The danger point in every political struggle occurs when the extremes try to shape and monopolize the narrative through punitive acts.  What clandestine and armed action does is is impose extremism on a whole spectrum of political opinion through the “purge” and the knock in the night. Most damaging of all, it can destroy debate entirely through a process of delegitimizing political ideas which a ruling elite is eager to extirpate.

This heightens the need for responsible people to occupy every inch of legitimate space in the fight against the proper dangers presented by the Left and radical extremism. The lesson of Norway is that unless these political positions are staked out by the sane forces, they will be occupied by the insane opposition to the detriment of all. As it is, the effect of Breivik’s act will be to make it unprofitable to stake out any legitimate position at all.

FW De Klerk, the last President of apartheid-era South Africa, who is best known for engineering the end of that system, highlighted the problem in a remarkable speech on June 1, 2011 which seems to speak exactly to the situation. De Klerk “won Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in 1991, Prince of Asturias Awards in 1992 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with Nelson Mandela for his role in the ending of apartheid.” But in that speech delivered only a short time before Oslo, De Klerk talked about not only the victories of the post-apartheid country he helped to build, but also its dangers. He spoke especially of the danger that extremism of any kind produced.


It is unacceptable to sing songs calling for the shooting of anyone. The historical context is irrelevant. It would be equally unacceptable for Afrikaners to sing Boer War songs calling on people to shoot the English – or for Americans to sing World War II songs about killing Japanese people. It is incomprehensible that the government of a non-racial democracy continues to support this song.

It is unacceptable for Julius Malema to call whites criminals – and to add that they should be treated as criminals and that their land should be seized without compensation. It is even more unacceptable for President Zuma to sit on the same platform, smiling, while Malema, as a key office bearer in the ANC, makes such racist comments. Malema’s behaviour is irreconcilable with the Constitution that the President has sworn an oath to uphold.

It is unacceptable for the Judicial Services Commission to ignore unambiguous constitutional requirements regarding the manner in which it should be constituted – and then to refuse to fill vacancies on the Cape bench, despite the availability of eminently fit and proper candidates, simply because they happen to be white.

It is unacceptable for COSATU and the SACP to set as their mid-term vision the utterly unconstitutional goal of “worker hegemony in all sectors of the state and society.”

It is unacceptable for Gugile Nkwinti, our Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, to declare in Parliament last year that all “colonial struggles are about two things: repossession of the land and the centrality of the indigenous population.” Just think for a moment about the implications of this statement. He is actually saying that

  • the colonial struggle is not yet over;
  • whites are colonialists whose land must be repossessed;
  • only South Africans who are ‘indigenous’ should be regarded as being central to our society. People from minority communities must presumably be content with a peripheral or second-class status.

Can one imagine the outcry that would rightly ensue if a member of the United States government were to call for the re-establishment of the centrality of the white majority?


All his examples had to do with racial politics, but in a larger sense, De Klerk was addressing the challenge of facing extremism. What he left unsaid was that if the ANC, who he helped into power, did not moderate its extremist tendencies then other similar violent movements would arise to oppose it.

What was imperative, he concluded, was that the responsible men had to fill every available inch of space offered by South Africa’s legal system or see the action drift into the arena of blood and street theater. The rise of extremism did not mean that men of good will should relapse into the lies of political correctness  — that is the lesson for the Left — but on the contrary to ever more urgently speak the truth — but speak it within the legal democratic space. It was imperative for political points of view not to be silenced by extremists but to express themselves ever more loudly in peaceful venues.  The greater the violence on the extremes, the greater the need not for less speech, but for more. De Klerk continued:

The fulcrum on which South Africa’s future will pivot is our Constitution. It is a carefully balanced document that represents an historic compromise between all the significant sectors of our society. It makes provision for a fully democratic society; it is based on the rule of law; it protects the fundamental rights of all our citizens; it entrenches our language and cultural rights; it envisages a society based on equality and human dignity. It is a transformative document that rightly rejects the status quo. If we can maintain this excellent Constitution I am confident that our future will be secure.

I believe that we are approaching a pivotal point in our history where all South Africans of goodwill, regardless of their race, circumstances or political affiliation will have to rally around the constitutional rights, values and vision upon which our new non-racial democracy has been established.

The country is balanced between success and failure. If the forces of history come down on the side of constitutional values we can all look forward to a positive future. However, if the balance tips against the constitution, the consequences for all South Africans could be very dire.

The main force seeking to disturb the constitutional balance is the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution.
According to the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics analysis, the establishment of our non-racial constitutional democracy in 1994 was not the end of the liberation struggle – but only a beach-head on the way to the ultimate goals of the revolution.


In the coming days there will be efforts by the Left to de-legitimize certain kinds of speech. And whatever one may think of some groups like the EDL — and I do not think much of it —  that is entirely the wrong approach. What is imperative is to de-legitimize violence; to set as beyond bounds the method of the gun, the car bomb and the knock in the night. Unless this lesson is properly extracted from the tragedy in Norway then Breivik and all other extremists would have won.

JRR Tolkien rejected all parallels between his masterpiece, the Lord of the Rings, and contemporary political struggles like the Great War or World War 2 because no earthly battlefield could so simply reflect the fight between good and evil. There were orcs “who embodied all the evil” of men on either side of any question who would dominate the debate for as long as it was largely based on power and force; not upon reason. De Klerk’s speech highlights the need to “occupy every inch of democratic space” in the struggle against those would enslave us, lest the crisis become a contest between Orcs of every description among us. De Klerk ended his speech thus:

My message … is this:

  • Do not accept developments in South Africa that would be unacceptable in any other genuine democracy in the world;
  • Think about – and actively support – other, much more effective, ways of promoting genuine equality, non-racialism and a better life for all our people;
  • Consider the concrete steps that you can take to support the work of NGOs – like our own Centre for Constitutional Rights – that are fighting night and day to protect our Constitution – and your own fundamental rights.

I can assure you that your future happiness, prosperity and security – and the future of everyone in this country – depend on it.


Perhaps no speech in recent times has been so unwittingly prescient. De Klerk gives no other advice to men of goodwill except to try; for unless they did something evil would triumph. “I will bear the Ring, though I do not know the way.”

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