On Norway

Still from a BBC interview of Stephen Lennon (of the English Defence League) by Jeremy PaxmanThis past weekend was dominated by two major death-related news stories: the bombing and subsequent massacre in Norway on Friday, and the death (to me at least, sudden and unexpected) of the singer, Amy Winehouse, in London on Saturday. Readers abroad may find it astonishing that I put the two stories in the same sentence, but Amy Winehouse was a big star here even if she was a one-hit wonder in some other countries, even though, as one article published in today’s Guardian notes, her “celebrity hadn’t waned despite the fact that she hadn’t released anything new for five years”. So, I make no apology for discussing them together, although the Norway incident is certainly the most important. We have finally seen what the European far right, the modern “Eurabia” trend of conspiratorial neo-antisemitism, is capable of, and what the rhetoric of bigotry which has become mainstream and acceptable in the western right-wing press leads to. (More: Khaleda Akhtar.)

On Saturday I was reading a lot of tweets complaining about the “disablist” language being used, specifically the trend of calling Anders Breivik a madman or a nutter. One tweet I recall compared the use of anti-Muslim slurs with slurs related to mental illness (there is an article expanding on this issue at Liberal Conspiracy here). To me, the comparison does not hold, because the anti-Muslim slurs are (and were, in the hours immediately after the attacks before it became obvious who was responsible) accompanied by harassment of, and assaults against, Muslims in the streets. People know the mentally ill come in different types, that not all would commit mass murder, and (most importantly) are not all aligned with one another. If a Muslim did it, people would say “the Muslims did it”; if it was someone with mental illness, nobody would say “the nutters did it”.

More to the point, this insistence on calling someone who commits a heinous and perverted act a nutter seems to be an easy way of avoiding accepting the reality that evil exists, and people will do evil things while perfectly sane, whether for fun, or for personal gain, or out of some bizarre ideology as was the case here. I am not talking about calling someone’s politics mad, or calling them a “right-wing nut”, “Marxist lunatic” or something similar; I am talking about the assumption that the criminal must be “mental”, rather than evil. I have not read Breivik’s manifesto, but nobody who has done has suggested that it bears the hallmarks of mental illness, or even of extreme embitterment (for example, that of Marc Lepine, who carried out the massacre of women in Montreal), but of hard-set nationalism and bigotry, particularly against Muslims.

There were two brilliant articles about this incident published today, one by Charlie Brooker in the Guardian and another by Craig Murray on his own site. Brooker takes apart the ridiculous guesswork that made up the news coverage of the incidents on Friday night, while Murray notes that right-wing activists whose rantings may have inspired Breivik get an easy ride compared to Muslims who are suspected of links to terrorism:

Isn’t it extraordinary that right wing terrorists are seldom called terrorists, and are always said to have acted alone. Muslim terrorists, however, are always part of the international al-Qaida network, even when they and their motives were obviously homegrown. Any connection by any Muslim terrorist to any mosque or preacher is sufficient to condemn that mosque or preacher loudly in the media as an instigator of terrorism – even though they may never have heard of the terrorist. There are people in Guantanamo for approaching a decade just because they were at the same meeting as someone else. Yet exactly the same kind of links by Breivik to his right wing hate preaching US inspirers like Geller are simply glossed over by the mainstream media.

This may, of course, be because during the past decade, the majority of successful terrorist attacks have been by Muslims; far-right terrorism was known of before (Oklahoma, Soho nail bomber) but although a number of incidents have happened such as neo-Nazis stockpiling weapons, they have carried out no successful attacks which have caused anyone’s death. This has now changed, and one hopes that there will be less tolerance for the “Eurabia” conspiracy theories and allegations that there is some sort of Muslim/leftist plot to take over Europe. This kind of theory about another religious minority has already led to one genocide in Europe, and we know that many of those responsible for this propaganda against Muslims are Jewish, and almost all of those who are not are vehemently pro-Israel, so they have no excuse to plead ignorance. Regardless of whether they knew anything about Breivik or support his action, as “Flying Rodent” at Liberal Conspiracy notes, the potential of their rhetoric for inducing violence should have been obvious:

Melanie Phillips and the gaggle of paranoids that make up the internet’s nutty ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement are loudly insisting that they don’t advocate acts of violence or terrorism.

For now, let’s assume that’s true and move on from there.

What, exactly, do they imagine it is that they are advocating?

I ask because the message they’ve been sending out loud and clear is that Europe is under threat of imminent enslavement, and quite possibly genocide, at the hands of a sinister cabal of Marxist fifth-columnists in cahoots with one of our largest ethnic minority groups, the latter of which they portray as irrevocably violent and totalitarian.

Unsurprisingly, they’re stridently in favour of “resisting” this theoretical dictatorship.

That being the case, what kind of “resistance” do they expect the urgent threat of Nazi-Commie-Jihadist European domination to inspire in their readership? A sudden upsurge in the creation of idiot blogs?

… I think that now, more than ever, fingers need to be pointed squarely at those who have been disseminating this poisonous cack, and searching questions need to be asked.

First up – What the fuck did you think you were doing?

The enthusiasm Breivik showed for the so-called English Defence League led to them being put on the defensive, and Jeremy Paxman attempted to interview Stephen Lennon, AKA “Tommy Robinson”, on Newsnight on Monday evening. Lennon gave the obligatory condolences to the people of Norway and insisted that his organisation condemned violence and all forms of extremism and that they were called “naive fools” by Breivik, but then insisted that there was an “undercurrent of anger” that could not be swept under the carpet. In other words, a veiled threat from the same political tendency: if you don’t listen to us, there is going to be violence. The EDL are already well-known for violence, and despite the rhetoric from Lennon/Robinson about “extremism”, the language we hear shouted at their rallies is aimed at all Muslims, and Islam itself (such as “Allah, Allah, who the f*** is Allah?”), the EDL itself having been formed in response to al-Muhajiroun’s demonstration at the soldiers’ parade in Luton. The practice of throwing the behaviour of individual Muslims, or small groups of Muslims, at the entire Muslim population is common on the British right, and not only the far right (note this example in Standpoint from September 2008).

For the entire period since 9/11, there has been a steady stream of propaganda against Muslims in the west, not only in the right-wing blogosphere but also in the mainstream right-leaning press in the English-speaking world and probably beyond, and much of it has consisted of outright lies — claims that Muslims are somehow taking over Europe when they are under-represented in all major political parties (and thus parliaments) in Europe, the proof offered consisting of occasional concessions to Muslim sensitivities, often by commercial organisations seeking to please customers, and many of the alleged concessions (to do with piggy banks or tinted swimming-pool windows) are false, or distortions of the truth, anyway. The American right no doubt resented the French and Germans for staying out of Iraq, but they are certainly not being “taken over” by Muslims but passing repressive legislation against their respective Muslim communities.

It should surely be expected now that any future incidents of racists stockpiling weapons or conspiring to launch acts of terrorism or “war” will be treated as harshly as if they were Muslims training for jihad or raising money for such, and that violent provocations by the EDL or any spin-off will not be tolerated. The EDL, however, are not the Islamophobic right’s brain trust, by a long shot. It remains to be seen whether the mainstream journals of the British and American right will be somewhat more responsible about commissioning articles by conspiracy-minded bigots like Patrick Sookhdeo and Mark Steyn. They must not be treated as a pressure valve for a groundswell of anger against an over-powerful Muslim community, because such a thing does not exist. They are dangerous propagandists, trading on demonstrable falsehoods, whose rhetoric could, given the right circumstances, cause terrible violence. Free speech or not, no purportedly responsible journal or politician should touch them.

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