Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, July 25, 2011
As self-confessed Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik waits behind bars for a late-September trial for at least 76 killings he committed, attention has turned to the circle of anti-immigrant writers, bloggers and political figures whose ideas he cited as motivations for his atrocities.
As they learned that their ideas had formed the ideological basis for one of the deadliest acts of terrorism in recent European history, these writers and leaders have delivered responses that range from denunciation to denial to awkward arguments that the killer was correct in his motives, but his actions damaged their common cause.
Mr. Breivik, 32, used a brief, closed-door pretrial detention hearing in Oslo on Monday to bring further attention to his rationale for the Oslo car-bomb blast and island shooting rampage at a camp for children and teens. He told Judge Kim Heger that he wanted the killings to send a “powerful message” about his politics, she told reporters after the proceeding.
Mr. Breivik told the court he had been carrying out a detailed plan, with what he claimed were accomplices elsewhere in Europe, to “save Europe” from multiculturalism and Muslim immigration, and to punish Norway’s governing Labour Party for being tolerant of Muslim minorities and immigration.
While he seemed to have organized and carried out his terrorist attack entirely on his own, he said that he had two “cells” of accomplices. On Monday the English Defence League, a right-wing party with similar beliefs to his, admitted to having met with him, leading to speculation their members might form part of the Europe-wide “Knights Templar” Mr. Breivik says he organized.
Norwegian officials did not allow him to appear in public or wear a uniform–reportedly one he created for his self-declared “army against multiculturalism.” As a rare instance of a lone gunman who chose not to die in a blaze of glory, he apparently hoped to turn his trial into a grand publicity opportunity. Instead, the judge ordered him jailed for eight weeks without bail, four of them in isolation, before his late-September trial.
His ideas–though certainly not his actions–draw upon a wide circle of popular right-wing voices who have argued in recent years that Muslims and people from Muslim backgrounds are a cultural and demographic threat to Western societies.
His 1,500-page manifesto released on the morning of his mass killings and titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” draws heavily on arguments made by right-wing authors and bloggers who warn of a “Eurabia”–a continent dominated by Islamic politics. Many of these writers believe that Muslims are an ideological conspiracy rather than simply a religion or an ethno-cultural group.
Frequently cited, quoted and praised in his manifesto are such figures as Bruce Bawer, author of the bestseller While Europe Slept; Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-Muslim provocateur and leader of his country’s anti-immigration Freedom Party; Mark Steyn, the Canadian columnist and author of America Alone: The End of the World As we Know it; the British columnist Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan; Gisele Littman, the author (under the pseudonym Bat Ye’or) of Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis; and the anti-immigration blogs Gates of Vienna, Atlas Shrugs and Jihad Watch.
None of these authors have advocated violence. But their warnings of impending Islamic takeover–a concept that is widely dismissed as implausible in conventional scholarly and political circles–sometimes carry an urgency that might seem to invite angry responses.
“European officials have a clear route out of this nightmare” of Muslim demographic growth, Mr. Bawer has written. “They have armies. They have police. They have prisons.”
Mr. Steyn has written that multicultural policies are a “suicide bomb,” that Muslims in Western countries are “a threat to the survival of the modern world,” and that Muslims are destined to take over the Western world because “they’ve calculated that our entire civilization lacks the will to see them off.”
Such language, considered extreme but hardly materially menacing before, takes on a whole new tone in the wake of the atrocity.
As a result, many of these authors have struggled publicly to respond to the inclusion of their arguments in the killer’s rationale, and to find a way to distance their own ideas from those of Mr. Breivik.
On one extreme is Mr. Wilders, whose Freedom Party is lauded by Mr. Breivik as his model of a European political party and whose ideas are the closest to his own. Mr. Wilders believes that Muslims subscribe to a political ideology bent on the domination of Europe and are best compared to Nazis.
Mr. Wilders, whose party holds 15 per cent of Dutch parliamentary seats, was quick to distance himself completely from the killer.
“The attacker is a violent, sick psychopath,” Mr. Wilders told Dutch radio, adding that he “abhors everything the man stands for and what he has done.”
Another tack was taken by Mr. Steyn, whose ideas are cited several times by Mr. Breivik to support his case. Mr. Steyn has argued that Muslim cultures pose a demographic threat to Europe.
In an article on Monday for the U.S. conservative publication the National Review, Mr. Steyn dismissed any suggestion that he had been an inspiration, arguing that because Mr. Breivik had not killed any Muslims, his actions could not have been influenced by anti-Muslim or anti-immigration writers.
But a more direct–and, for some, shocking–response came from Mr. Bawer, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Mr. Breivik’s manifesto “makes it clear that he is both intelligent and very well read in European history,” and that he has expressed “legitimate concern about genuine problems,” but had sadly found an “unspeakably evil solution” to those problems.
The great tragedy of Mr. Breivik’s act, Mr. Bawer wrote, is that it discredits the anti-Muslim and anti-multiculturalism causes: “It will, I fear, be a great deal more difficult to broach these issues now that this murderous madman has become the poster boy for the criticism of Islam.”
A more humble response came from the author whose work was arguably responsible for launching the entire genre. Ms. Littman, the Swiss-Jewish author who writes under the name Bat Ye’or, coined the term “Eurabia” in a 2005 book.
“Of course I regret if this man took inspiration from what I wrote or from what other writers wrote,” she said Monday in an interview with the Associated Press. Like many of these authors, she preferred to describe Mr. Breivik’s action as mental illness rather than a coldly rational response to a set of ideological beliefs rooted in such works.
“As an insane person he should have been treated before, and I am greatly saddened for all the young innocents who tragically lost their lives, and for their families,” she said.
But she warned that her ideas, and those of fellow authors and leaders on the anti-Muslim right, could continue to have violent repercussions if Mr. Breivik proves influential. “I’m afraid that this is something that other people will imitate.”