July 28, 2011, 8:30 pm
By TIMOTHY EGAN
It passed with only scant notice, as with so many of the rude extremes of American life in a kinetic media age. The bodies of those Norwegian children slaughtered by a terrorist had yet to be fully recovered, let alone buried, when Glenn Beck compared the victims to Nazis.
The summer camp where children of the Norwegian Labor Party went for soccer, swimming, political debates and lectures “sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth,” Beck said in his national radio broadcast.
No, Beck wasn’t justifying the killing of 68 people on Utoya Island. He was merely muddying the humanity of those young people executed by Anders Behring Breivik, the self-professed “Christian Knight” who has confessed to the attacks. But Beck’s Web site, The Blaze, was full of justifications for the mass murder of innocents, and provided a sampling of the troubled audience he caters to in this country.
On Tuesday, after the site posted the story of the lawyer’s description of Breivik as “insane,” the first comment to follow was this: “I really feel for the guy. He loves his country so much that to see his own culture eroded away by multicultures that the govt is letting in, drove him to this heinous act.”
There were many, many more, of a similar vein. “You gotta like the guy,” another person wrote. “He speaks the truth” and has the mettle “to prove it.”
For an establishment variant of this larger “truth” behind the crime, there was the durable Pat Buchanan, writing on American Conservative’s web site. “As for a climactic conflict between a once-Christian West and an Islamic world that is growing in number and advancing inexorably into Europe for the third time in 14 centuries, on this one Breivik may be right.”
In other words: the madman was onto something with his manifesto.
For all of these reasons, Breivik cannot be dismissed as a lone crackpot whose xenophobia got the most of him. To call him insane and let it go at that is too easy, for him and for the rest of us. His hatred — of Muslims, immigrants and, most of all, fellow Norwegians elected to lead their country — is a familiar virus transplanted to a peaceful country.
When it turned out that the terrorist who shocked the world last Friday was no Islamic extremist, but a blue-eyed, light-haired Nordic, those who see hatred coming mainly from one religious extreme were quick to place the case in a box of isolation. The crime was about evil, critics like Michael Medved argued, not ideology.
It was about both. In his own words, Breivik connected his violence to a warped Christian version of jihad. “I prayed to God,” Breivik wrote, to “ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevailed.”
I live in the Pacific Northwest, a place with a deep northern European tradition, from Nordstrom to retail co-ops, with progressive if process-driven politics. It is also secular, like much of Europe. After the murders, more than 500 people packed into the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Through tears and prayers, they tried to fathom the unfathomable. How could one person mow down children from his own country?
Certainly, one answer is the evil that kills a soul, and overrides all reason. But another is the political component — fitting that hatred into a larger narrative.
Take a look at comments from anti-immigration groups across Europe this week. As with Buchanan and the followers of Glenn Beck, these people did not go so far as to cheer the killings. But they portrayed the terrorist attack in Norway as an act of frustration, brought on by liberal policies to dilute an ever-shrinking native European population.
“What happened in Oslo shows how desperate some people are becoming in Europe,” Stephen Lennon, the hard-right head of the English Defense League, told the Associated Press. “It’s a ticking time bomb.”
In Italy, Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament who belongs to the anti-immigrant Northern League, expressed open sympathy with many tenets of Breivik’s philosophy.
“Some of the ideas he expressed are good — barring the violence,” Borghezio told Il Sole radio. “Some of them are great.”
We should not try to ban or overlook this kind of speech, whether it comes out the sewage end of Glenn Beck’s Web site, or from a member of the European Parliament. It needs examination, in the same way that sane people have to understand why a reading of the Koran could lead someone to strap on a suicide bomb.
As Muslims become a greater presence in Europe and the United States, the cultural struggle will be one the great tests for the West. It is not a war, not so long as its battlegrounds are parliaments and playgrounds, and its voices are people like Sabria Jawhar, a columnist for the Saudi Gazette. “Outlawing the burqa will create a tremendous divide between non-Muslims and Muslims,” she wrote last year. “But wearing the burqa in the West is just plain stupid.”
Such is the Western tradition: argument, reason, civil laws trumping religious ones. It was encouraging to see Norway’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, insist that his wounded country would fight back with “more democracy.”
The alternative is war under the banner of heaven, as both Breivik and his hated Islamists advocate.