A Ridiculous Rapid Response
Why did so many "experts" declare the Oslo attacks to be the work of Islamic terrorists?
Read Slate's complete coverage of the tragedy in Norway.
Having had 16 years to reflect since Oklahoma City, we should really have become a little more refined in our rapid-response diagnoses of anti-civilian mass murder. Rather than make it more difficult, the number of contrasting features in the most recent case of Norway actually makes this task fractionally easier. The fruit bat and troll population of the recent scenery of catastrophe, enriched with Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell characters, permits a wider view of the various fields of fire and a greater variety of arguable motives for analysis.
Here is a secular Scandinavian social democracy, which is currently contributing forces to Western military efforts in Afghanistan and Libya. This consideration was what originally led some more orthodox conservatives to descry a "link." (Even though, for example, it is unclear whether the jihadist groups in Norway identify with Muammar Qaddafi or his recent calls for suicide efforts against NATO.) Moreover, the lethal attacks were launched against the youth movement of Norway's ruling party, that stout bulwark of multi-culti good feelings and outreach to Muslim immigrants. This might not have been the first objective of a terror faction striving to take Norway off the military chessboard.
Then again, the prime suspect in the pogrom, Anders Behring Breivik, seems to come complete with a Jared Loughner reading list of his own, as well as a background in white power Nordic enthusiasm. I was touched to see that a flirtation of his with Freemasonry was counted as "right wing" in some quarters. In the old days, Catholic fascism hated Masons almost as much as it did Jews. (Chilean President Salvador Allende was a Freemason, for example, in a tradition of leftist anti-clericalism that I am sad to see dying out.) And finally—though in this wilderness of mirrors it probably isn't finally—Breivik has apparently declared himself a passionate pro-Zionist as well as a sworn foe of all sorts of Islamization. More attention should be paid to that last aspect: The true "neo-Nazi" gangs in Europe have violent anti-Semitism in common with their ostensibly deadliest Islamist foes, whereas anti-immigrant populists of the Geert Wilders stripe in Holland seek respectability by standing up for Israel, very often against criticism from the multi-culti left.
The misreading of these and similar indicators has led to more intellectual chaos than the anti-Islamic witch hunt that followed Oklahoma City. The ruling Spanish conservatives, making the opposite mistake, falsely accused a home-grown Iberian gangster group of committing one of the most politically and militarily lethal actions of jihad on European soil: an "operation" that affected the outcome of a general election in a NATO state and also gravely damaged the coalition in Iraq. That week probably marked the high point of Bin Laden's coordination of a serious terror nexus in Europe.
One way of phrasing the question is this: Do the extreme jihadists and their most virulent opponents really have a symbiotic relationship? In tapes and sermons from mosques in London and Hamburg, you may find whole manifestos about the need to keep women as chattel, to eradicate the disease of homosexuality, to thwart the Jewish design over international finance, and other fantasies of the Third Reich mentality. Pushed to its logical or pathological conclusion, this would involve something that Europeans and Americans have never seen before: a conflict between different forms of fascism in order to see which assault on multi-ethnic democracy was the most effective.
There were signs of this mentality at work in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other demagogues saw Osama Bin Laden being used to trace the finger of God. And some of the descendant fans of Timothy McVeigh, through the medium of "9/11 Truth" and other arcana, have also tried to confect an overarching theory of illegitimate global power as it was exposed and challenged on that day. Again, though, one notices that the CIA and Mossad drew the plush assignment of actually choosing and rigging the target and organizing collusion and coordination, while leaving lesser rank-and-filers of al-Qaida to perform the lowly tasks of detonation. This sad, self-hating world view dissolves in freeze frame in the Abbottabad villa, with the chief guest wistfully flicking the channel changer and musing on the dear dead days when he was "the strong horse."
It also culminates in the wretched spectacle of the jihadist websites in Oslo, which had been getting ready with their original posts of joy when they, too, thought that their own holy cause might be involved—and then ceasing and desisting when it became clear that the perpetrator was some loser who had quite different reasons for wanting to slaughter a crowd of young people that day. Headline writers and newscasters should have waited before making any pronouncements, and thereby committing the indecency of suggesting that the killers were being selective, even choosy. So-called "experts" should have been ashamed to reverse-engineer the motive from the modus operandi, rather as Steve Emerson had done in Oklahoma by stating that the maximization of violence was "a Middle Eastern trait." A pale Christian rider from ultima Thule with a private view of the Book of Revelation may also be said to be infected with "Middle Eastern traits" of the sort that hell has not hitherto boasted.
Meanwhile, the streets and squares of Syria and the committees of the Libyan civic opposition fill up with eager and anxious people who want to know if they have been naive to place their bets—in some cases to wager their lives—on democratic transition, peaceful tactics, the transparent allocation of previously stolen funds for long-overdue reconstruction, and the removal of a parasitic military and police caste. Having long entreated Middle Easterners to phrase their demands in this way, we then go all hesitant when they agree to do so. This last month of Western and U.N. dithering has been one of the most unprincipled interludes of recent history, with even one ambassadorial overnight stay in the city of Hama apparently regarded as a red badge of courage on our part. If it turns out to be the best we could do, then the condemnation must be fierce.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Oslo by Roald Berit/AFP/Getty Images.