Monday, 25 July 2011

On the Norwegian terrorist attacks

The facts should be well known to everybody by now: Anders Behring Breivik, a Christian fundmentalist and white nationalist, killed more than 90 people in a bomb attack in Oslo and a shooting on Ut√łya island. However, the facts have been reduced to a side issue as most of the copy released by the media and other commentators has consisted mainly of speculation and finger-pointing.

This began with "pundits" and "experts" speculating on why a highly organised Islamist cell would attack Norway. The certainty of the blame being laid at the feet of the Islamic far-right is exemplified by the Sun's Saturday front page and by Fox News juxtaposing the story with that of the New York Islamic Centre.

Once it became clear that the perpetrator had no connection to Islam, the rhetoric shifted seamlessly. The Jerusalem Post was just one of those who said that this was not only "a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously re-evaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere." The comments sections of various online reports on the attacks included far less eloquent and more openly racist versions of this same sentiment.

However, it is worth noting that the statements released by the Norwegian Defence League and its sister organisation the English Defence League were unequivocal in their condemnation of Breivik.

The veracity of further claims that the EDL has a "history of being anti-fascist, anti-violent and anti-extremist" should be challenged. As I noted when dissecting their mission statement, there is a continuing disparity between the sophistry of their website articles and their behaviour on the ground. In distancing themselves from Breivik's attacks, the EDL are taking the very real splits and tensions between different sections of the far right and leaping from that to the idea that they are just a "peaceful and patriotic organisation."

After all, it should be noted that Breivik's criticism that the EDL "condemns any movement that use terror as a tool" and "believe that the democratic system can solve Britain’s problems" could equally be applied to the BNP. They, too, face criticisms from more openly neo-Nazi and terrorist organisations of being "too moderate" and yet are still demonstrably fascist, as are the EDL.

However, returning to the main point, this doesn't mean that the EDL or NDL are in any way culpable for Breivik's actions. The reports, such as that in the Guardian, overplay the supposed "links" and UAF's linking of the attacks to an anti-EDL protest in Tower Hamlets is dishonest. To use an example on the left, it is the same folly as equating the Socialist Workers' Party with the Red Army Faction. It is perfectly possible to disagree with both organisations, and from the same political standpoint, without making the leap that they are both the same. For anti-fascists, this is not just a question of political honesty, but also of tactics - as clearly resisting a murderous neo-Nazi terror cell is a very different matter to opposing a loyalist/fascist group whose street protests are prone to descending into violence.

In short, if we're looking for profound "lessons" from the tragedy that occurred in Norway, I doubt that there are any. We could say that with a more broad rise in far-right popularity we see a rise in acts of far-right terrorism, but this is hardly a revelation. It is also something that can apply to any political movement beyond the mainstream to varying degrees.

The only thing I will say is that, in all the speculation, hot air, and facile finger-pointing that surrounds such events as flies surround shit, we must be wary of the state's response. As we have seen innumerable times over, violence not perpetrated by the state quickly becomes an excuse for "clamp downs" and repression. This needs to be rejected, no matter where the repression is targeted. For a start, militant anti-fascism is about fighting our own battles rather than demanding that the state does our dirty work. Not to mention that such repression very quickly becomes generalised against all dissenting positions if it is not opposed.

I will end with the most important point, and the one which is quickly forgotten in hysterical clamour. The attacks in Norway were a terrible atrocity, and one for which the victims' families deserve unreserved sympathy. Regardless of anything else, that point holds true.