Friday, July 29, 2011

Norway is a wake-up call

Are we really living in end times? Every new day brings a new outrage, a new horror.  No one seems to be safe anywhere — not even in the serene, scenic Norwegian paradise. But then, as Bible warns, you reap as you sow. And Europe is reaping what its politicians and assorted purveyors of hatred have sowed all these years.

The perpetual demonization and vilification of “the Other” and the endless talk of creeping Shariah and Islamisation of Europe couldn’t have happened in a vacuum. It had to show its results someday on the ground. And it did in Norway this past week.

Still there are many out there who continue to live in denial. Within the first couple of hours, television pundits, from CNN’s Richard Quest to BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardener, had persuaded themselves that the Norway attacks were the handiwork of “Islamist terrorists.” Soon Rupert Murdoch’s Sun was screaming: “AL QAEDA MASSACRE: NORWAY’S 9/11”.

Next morning the whole thing was turned on its head when it turned out that it wasn’t the Muslims after all but Norway’s own homebred, all-white, Christian zealot behind Europe’s biggest mass murder by an individual in recent memory. The wonks were in no hurry to condemn Anders Behring Breivik as a “Christian terrorist” though.

They went to great lengths to paint him as a lone ranger who had turned the guns on his own kind in a fit of rage. He did not represent the peace-loving people of Norway or Europe for that matter, they asserted. Of course, he didn’t. But was he an aberration? Was it a random act of madness? I wouldn’t think so.
Indeed, the more details about the attacks emerge, the clearer it becomes it was no chance act of momentary madness. Breivik is the product of years of hate campaign and propaganda against Muslims. So most tragic as these attacks are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, given the madness that has been going on in the name of fighting terror.

And those trying to portray Breivik as a lonely lunatic, an outsider, are not just wrong, they are out of sync with a dangerous reality. They are living in denial of the fast spreading malaise of rabid Islamophobia and intolerance on both sides of the Atlantic and its consequences.

This is not an isolated case of one man going off the bend but represents a growing threat. Breivik’s actions, patiently planned and executed over the past nine years, are entirely consistent with the periodic mass violence European fascists have carried out in recent years. More important, this “madness” was rooted in mainstream right-wing discourse that one even hears from politicians like Sarkozy.

There’s a method in the madness that targeted young Labour Party supporters on Utoya Island. Eskil Pedersen, the youth wing leader of the party, had been increasingly speaking for the Palestinians, calling for an international boycott of Israel.

The intense hatred for Edward Said, the Palestinian author of the seminal Orientalism who had the audacity to hold a mirror to the Empire, is matched by admiration for luminaries like Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer, all known for their “preoccupation” with Islam and Muslims.

So this monster’s manifesto indeed is Mein Kampf of our times, as The Economist puts it, in which Jews are replaced by Muslims as “the Enemy” who must be fought and expunged from the face of the earth. Breivik’s worldview is a lethal mix of Christian zealotry and extreme Islamophobia. And he isn’t alone.

Generations of Europeans and Americans have grown up on a heavy diet of bigotry peddled by politicians like Geert Wilders of Netherlands, who compared the Holy Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kempf, and Marine Le Pen of France and Newt Gingrich, Peter King and televangelists like Pat Robertson in the land of the free.
Feeding on the stereotypes and paranoia about Muslims, this new breed of fascism that not surprisingly turns to Israel for inspiration, poses a clear and present danger to our world. The gravest threat we face today comes not from the Islamic world but the radical Christian right and the secular fundamentalists who propagate the bigoted, hateful caricatures of Muslims, as Chris Hedges argues.

Breivik has killed many more people than the four “Muslim” bombers did in the 7/7 London attacks. Indeed, more people may have died in the violence by neo-fascist, radical right groups since the Great War than all the attacks, blamed on Muslims, put together.

Yet Western governments have so far treated such groups with kid gloves. Just as successive governments in India have dealt with the Hindu extremists despite their implication in recent terror attacks and mass violence targeting Muslims. Indeed, police turn on the victims after every such atrocity.

Inaction is a luxury the world cannot afford though, if it is to avoid more mindless carnage and a bigger conflict — in the West or in India. If we continue the way we are going, the confrontation that Samuel Huntington obsessed over all his life cannot for long remain an academic hypothesis. Norway is a wake-up call. Let’s not wait for the next great war to take place between Islam and the West.
Aijaz Zaka Syed in Arab News. Here

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