The Monster Within: the Uncomfortable Truth Behind the Oslo Terrorist Attacks.
July 26, 2011 2 Comments
Whether he knows it or not, Breivik is a member of Al-Queda. It is with those words that The Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman chose to write his first words related to the Oslo attacks. Two acts of terrorism of extreme violence carried out without a slightest warning in a country mostly known for soccer teams and a stern refusal to be a part of the Euro zone. Wherever Europe chose to hide its best, brightest and quietest – Scandinavia – the curtain has now been pulled to reveal that the darkest stains of the Old Continent have spread to the parts we believed were kept out of the miserable stench of racism emerging out of the upmost western shores. The 2008 crisis did nothing to help a rise in extreme right fringes represented within France’s Sarkozian government, Britain’s Tories flirting with the BNP and Austria’s early 00’s dance with Jörg Haider. Regardless of the position, terrorism is terrorism: it is the refusal to adhere to the rule of law, a complete disregard for human life, and a basic, if at all, knowledge of what constitutes civil society. What is shocking the world as of today is not the scope of the attack, its suddenness, or its unusual location. It is the fact that Anders Behring Breivik was a white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 32 years old who couldn’t find another way to “spark a revolution” he believed to be necessary to rid the world of “the threat of Islamism”. Primitive fear of the other and outstanding political violence: Europe is facing its own failure to integrate, mix, and roll in with multiculturalism. The ghosts of the wars of the 20th century are passing by, sending a very chilly breeze. Antonio Fernandez gives us his insight on Europe’s old trends of xenophobia and the hypocrisy in national narratives.
“the flow of minute-by-minute particular details of the massacre provided by mainstream media cannot and should not prevent us from asking larger questions about Nazism as a European phenomenon, deeply rooted in the mind-set of European national narratives”
On Friday, July 22nd, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian man with extreme right ideas, allegedly a member of Swedish Nazi forum, killed at least 93 children in the island of Utoya. It is the worst attack suffered by Norway since the Second World War and has been described in the media as Norway’s Oklahoma moment. Behring’s outspoken hatred of Muslims, Marxists and multiculturalism, his call for a defence of what he perceives as a “decadent” Europe put him in line with the extremist ideas of the resurgent neo-Nazi movement in Europe. It is deeply worrying to observe how almost 70 years after the Nazis’ war on Europe and fascism, countries such as Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy and Spain, to name only a few, have seen the ideas of xenophobic, populist and demagogical political parties taking seats in their national parliaments. What should raise our concern, however, is the disproportionate and indiscriminate nature of the brutal twin attacks, which clearly mark a transition from street knife crime to what could be seen as a more violent and sophisticated form of terrorism in Europe. The question that runs through my head is probably similar to that of many: why? Obviously, the flow of minute-by-minute particular details of the massacre provided by mainstream media cannot and should not prevent us from asking larger questions about Nazism as a European phenomenon, deeply rooted in the mind-set of European national narratives and its devastating consequences. My intention with this article is to briefly navigate to the core of racism in Europe and offer a broader historical and philosophical perspective about the ramifications of power in the right to kill the other, which lies at the heart of European totalitarianism. Nazism should never occur in Europe again but the resurgence of organised racism forces us to wonder whether Europe has really learned its historical lessons. It is only by confronting the discomforting and uncomfortable truth of Europe’s colonial past that we may be able to fight terror – intellectually and physically – in all its forms, whatever traits the terrorists uphold and whatever the nature of terror inflicted.
“In Agamben’s words, the state of exception is that space where one who has been accused of committing a crime, within the legal system, loses the ability to use his voice and represent themselves- the individual can not only be deprived of their citizenship, but also of any form of agency over their own life”.
Anders Behring Breivik travelled to the island of Utoya dressed as a policeman after having left explosives in a governmental building. With chilling coldness, Breivik arrogated himself the right to end the life of 93 young boys and girls, members of the Socialist youths. They were not given the chance to speak, to say a word in their defence as, in Breivik’s mind, they represented everything that he stood against: multiculturalism, empathising with Muslims, and the perversion of Europe’s cultural purity. The island became a form of a state of exception and the young boys and girls became homo sacer, to use the terminology employed by philosopher Giorgio Agamben. In Agamben’s words, the state of exception is that space where one who has been accused of committing a crime, within the legal system, loses the ability to use his voice and represent themselves- the individual can not only be deprived of their citizenship, but also of any form of agency over their own life. Agamben identifies the state of exception with the power of decision over life. On the island of Utoya, Breivik turned the congregated into homo sacer, that is, human beings outside the reach of law by virtue of the state of exception, where no law applies. But, in Breivik’s own words, the end justified the means – he recognised the brutality of the massacre yet claimed it was necessary. A sort of instrumental rationality seemed to underpin the goal of his actions.
Racism in Europe emerged in the age of colonial exploration, when the European merchant class went overseas in quest for raw material and new markets. Thanks to technological improvement and the rule of Enlightnement, Europe moved beyond the Middle Ages and entered Renaissance as the descriptor and scriptor of the world, the beacon of civilisation, the civilising centre of the world to which the other peoples in the world should naturally tend. Soon, Indigenous populations were rendered primitive and backward or as having a civilizational deficit, in front of Europe’s perceived technological superiority. Different life styles and worldviews that did not conform to the standards of agricultural productivity and technological efficiency that had allowed Europe to overcome the medieval age were deprived of their legitimacy to exist by using violence dressed as liberal legality. The discourse of modernity justified colonial genocide in Australia, Africa and South America: the “end” of economic growth justified plundering and dispossession and soon the machinery of death began to emerge in slave plantations. Entire populations of human beings were dehumanised and excluded from the rule of law and, as Michel Foucault argues in The Will to Knowledge, the first volume of The History of Sexuality, racism became a technology by which the right to death was exercised by judicial agents that arrogated themselves the right to define law and, at the same time, to arbitrarily exclude the “other” from the rule of law.
In the 19th century, racism was institutionalised within nation-states, that ascribed European peoples with essentialised ethnic, linguistic, geographical and historical features, as if cultures were isolated and bounded entities. The construction of the non-European “other” (e.g. the Arab, the Hindu) as irrational, passion-led was a necessary step in the civilising process of killing and colonial expropriation: the perception of the “other” as a threat or dangerous mysterious entity enabled their dehumanisation and justified the massive taking away of lives. Again, the appropriation of the natural resources of other peoples in foreign lands (the irrational) had to be rationalised. As I mentioned before, it is the European nation-state that creates and defines law and lawlessness in order to remove any obstacle on the road to economic growth. This is a far-right ideology, the same ideology endorsed by Breivik: as Ibrahim Hewitt argues, “the notion of Europe’s and Europeans’ racial superiority – giving cultural credibility to the far-right – gave rise to the slave trade and the scramble for Africa leading to untold atrocities against “the Other”; ditto in the Middle and Far East”. Seen from this perspective, the rhetorical stance of Breivik’ anti-Muslim view is nothing new under the sun. As we have seen, the idea that Europe is being “occupied” or “conquered” by hordes of “barbarous” Muslims is well rooted in the European consciousness; and far from disappearing, it can be found in more recent literature such as Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, where the cultural features of a community of almost 100 million people is reduced to a number of stereotypes.
“The pursuing of geopolitical interests across the world by European nations (and non-European as well) requires the implementation of spaces excluded from the rule of law, as in the West Bank and Gaza, where human beings converted into homines sacri can be routinely and massively killed”.
The “rationalised” irrational logics of the slave plantation, the Bantustans in South Africa, the Nazi concentration camps and the present day prison state of Gaza or Guantanamo, the wall in the West Bank and in the US Mexican border or the fence in the North African city of Melilla are physical metaphors of the mental barriers of many Western countries. The economic system that governs our lives requires the constant fabrication of states of exception, in cultural and physical space. The pursuing of geopolitical interests across the world by European nations (and non-European as well) requires the implementation of spaces excluded from the rule of law, as in the West Bank and Gaza, where human beings converted into homines sacri can be routinely and massively killed with the legitimation of Israeli law and probably, with the legitimization of theories like Huntington’s.
Are Breivik and fellow extremists aware of the absurdity of their claims? How can they not possibly see or at least have a hint that migratory movements in this globalised world are the consequence of military conflict, hunger, poverty mainly caused by neoliberalism, which is a perpetuation of the very same capitalist economic system that has generated the same dynamics of irrationality (the serial, industrial calculation of death and human exploitation) in the name of economic efficiency? Why is it that racism and the luring appeal of “the motherland” remained alive and well, taking hold of more more European ideological mindsets? We educate our children to be efficient and successful in the same kind of society and economic system in which the (extreme) right wing has felt most comfortable. I do not know of any school where the colonial period of European history is honestly taught from the standpoint of its victims. Rather, education in European schools is mostly Eurocentric and multiculturalist, which has been conceived as the mere unarticulated juxtaposition of cultural atomistic entities, without contributing to erase the walls of otherness between European and non-European citizens. Ignorance breeds hatred and only this can help us understand the barbarous irrationality of Anders’ actions. It is hard to believe that, 75 years after the Holocaust, ignorance and racial stereotyping is still fomented and legitimated by the media, shaping the opinion of a significant segment of the European population who uncritically accept barbarity and irrationality as a normal and acceptable discourse. As long as we are trapped in the vicious circle of instrumental rationality that places efficiency and economic benefits above moral and ethical principles, we are prone to repeat the same mistakes and we will never understand why an individual can decide on its own the killing of other human beings. Like George Bush’s government decided unilaterally the massive killings of Iraqis for geostrategic, instrumental reasons, just like the International Monetary Fund pack of privatisation measures sparked the seed of nationalist, ethnic hatred in Yugoslavia during the 1990’s for the instrumental purpose of extending neoliberalism in the region.
Finally, I must admit that recalling Angela Merkel and James Cameron’s words certifying the death of multiculturalism a couple of months ago, using a nationalist rhetoric that is not far at all from one of the points in Breivik’s extremist agenda, supports my claim that still in the 21th century, politicians have not learned anything about our most recent past. The discourse of the nation as an homogeneous entity (an idea that is not supported by facts) continues to generate and perpetuate the very same irrational mental barriers that have driven Europe to its darkest times. As I write this article and read the news, what I find is a disheartening display of evidence that something is very wrong in our European societies: the English Defence League blames the Norwegian government for the attacks, most media headlines and governments have claimed, without a single fact, that the attacks were caused by Islamist militias, the perpetrator is not a defined as a terrorist but just a lunatic killer, avoiding any reference to its Christian supremacist views, defying all logics….isn’t all this irrational and barbaric, yet it’s part of our everyday life? Perhaps in Europe the fine line between rationality and irrationality is not clear as rationalising the irrational is deeply engrained in our history. As long as long Europe looks itself in the mirror and confronts the origins and consequences of its own actions, barbarity and irrationality will continue to undermine the prospect of a better and more just society for everyone.
Antonio Cuadrado-Fernandez is an independent researcher who obtained his PhD in postcolonial literature in the School of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he has taught literary theory, Ecopoetry and Catalan language. His research focuses on the relationship between art and biodiversity, cultural politics, philosophy of mind and cultural/human geography. He also loves progressive rock, growing vegetables and all kinds of coffee. He is a freelance translator, Spanish and Catalan Tutor and enjoys volunteering for the U3A group teaching Spanish to elderly people in Norwich.
Antonio has already contributed to the OISC project writing about the Spanish uprisings.