27 July 2011
I have been in a state of shock since I first saw the devastation in central Oslo on the television screens at my gym last Friday.
As with most other Muslims, my first concern was whether the Oslo bomb had been placed by Muslims or others. While all of the speculation on television was about Al Qaeda and its affiliates, or possibly a Libyan connection, I recall the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 and do not believe in rushing to judgement. However I was conscious of the scope for a backlash against all European Muslims if the bomb had been planted by terrorists motivated by their mistaken understanding of Islam.
The true horror of the day became apparent once we learned about the shootings on the island of Utoya. In one sense, bombing people is easy, as the bomber plants his device but does not see his victims die. Shooting people involves killing them one at a time, in front of you, and it takes a special callousness to shoot wounded teenagers in the head as they lie on the ground. Worse still, the victims came from the same ethnic, religious and social background as the killer, and it requires even greater callousness to kill your own kind rather than killing “the other.”
The purpose of a letter of condolences is to help comfort the bereaved. However I know from past experience that composing such a letter also comforts the writer.
On Sunday I wrote one to the Norwegian ambassador, someone whom I have not met. The following day, I contributed to the electronic book of condolences being compiled by “Hope not hate” and yesterday I prepared the first draft of the Conservative Muslim Forum’s statement.
I downloaded “2083 A European Declaration of Independence” the day that I first became aware of it. Although it is hard to get yourself to read such a hate filled 1,500 page document, I have now turned every page on my iPad. Some pages I read in full slowly, some I speed-read and others I skipped very quickly. However the poor structure of the document means that you have to go through it like this to be sure something important is not missed. The absence of page numbers is a nuisance; the page numbers given below are those generated by Adobe Acrobat Reader when viewing the document.
My purpose was to try to understand what would make him do something so terrible. Despite its contents, I found reading the manifesto therapeutic. What I got out of the manifesto is listed below, in no particular order.
Update 24 August 2012
Today the Norwegian court concluded Breivik's trial by finding him sane and convicting him of his murders. The conduct of the Norwegian government and people over the last year has been commendable.
I wrote above five days after the killings that I thought Breivik was sane, and am pleased that the court has reached the same conclusion after meticulous examination of the facts.
Sindre Bangstad is a postdoctoral fellow of the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo in Norway. I recommend his article "Norway: terror and Islamophobia in the mirror." He writes: ‘Fjordman’ turned out to be a 36yr.-old former Norwegian student of Arabic at the University of Bergen and the American University of Cairo, and an MA graduate in Media Studies from the University of Oslo by the name of Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen. A worker at a day-care centre in Oslo, Jensen had experienced some kind of ‘far right epiphany’ as a result of 9/11.
From page 1,301 of Breivik's manifesto:
3.135 Economical/social impacts of mass deportations
Economical impact once a cultural Marxist/multiculturalist regime falls and an Islam free territory (Country) is established?
Illustrative example (after deportations);
Population: 10,4 million
Muslim population: 1990: 500 000, 2008: 1 million (10%)
1 million Muslims
100 000 are retired (+70 years)
250 000 are aged 41-69
250 000 are aged 21-40
400 000 are aged 1-20
Individuals paying tax: 300 000-400 000
Individuals not paying tax: 600 000-700 000
Social economic results after deporting 1 000 000
A few particularly affected professional groups:
80% of taxi drivers are Muslims
60% of public transportation workers are Muslims
20% of health care workers are Muslims
50% of the restaurant industry is Muslim
Short term economic effects would be disastrous. Problems to maintain public transportation systems, taxi industry paralysed.
Despite the hate filled content, at one point the manifesto did make me laugh out loud, and I have reproduced the section from page 1,301. You have to read to the very end of the quote!
The most important message from the manifesto is that Breivik sees the world in black and white, in a completely Manichean way. In this he is no different from the people he most detests, the fanatics of Al Qaeda. There is absolutely no recognition of any of the nuances that there are within Islam, just as Al Qaeda see a monolithic “West.”
Since the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings first brought Al Qaeda to global attention, so much focus has been placed on terrorists motivated by a perverted understanding of Islam that we have tended to forget that terrorists come from many sources. The reality is that any religion can be twisted and perverted if one wants to.
Timothy McVeigh was an inactive Roman Catholic; David Koresh was a Branch Dravidian, a sect which was an offshoot of an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, Baruch Goldstein was a Jew and sadly some Jews still celebrate the killings he carried out.
Breivik’s manifesto reproduces large numbers of blog postings and other articles which paint a highly distorted view of Islam. The language they use is so extreme that I would not be surprised if it did not drive some Muslims towards support of Al Qaeda as “defenders of Islam” while others like Breivik end up believing that Europe is under mortal danger from Muslims.
I was never a fan of President Richard Nixon. However, I still remember a phrase from his 1969 first inaugural address, about lowering our voices, and have quoted the extract below:
We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfilment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them.
To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.
When we listen to "the better angels of our nature," we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things—such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.
Greatness comes in simple trappings. The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.
To lower our voices would be a simple thing.
In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another—until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
We can start by ensuring that in Britain we have sensible discussions about our political and religious views, without feeling that we need to shout at each other.
Breivik was the hardest kind of terrorist to stop. An intelligent individual, acting alone and planning meticulously for years.
I remember how the USA came together in the days after 9/11, including America’s Muslim community, and President Bush’s visit to a mosque a few days after 9/11. Sadly that unity is being lost today amidst the anti-Muslim venom that is commonplace amongst parts of the US blogosphere and from some US politicians grubbing for votes.
London came together after the 7/7 bombings. Today despite all attempts by interested parties such as right wing extremists and Muslim extremists to paint a different picture, I believe our country is still primarily united against those who want to set Muslims and non-Muslims against each other.
I have been touch by the many scenes on television of Muslim and non-Muslim Norwegians coming together in this time of grief. It is essential to retain that sense of unity as the weeks go by.