Nurturing an 'Oslo moment'
By Raffique Shah
July 31, 2011
My instinctive reaction when I first learned of the carnage that Anders Breivik unleashed in Norway was, "He is a very mad man...sick!" I imagine most persons reacted similarly to the terror, the deaths of innocent Norwegians this lone lunatic inflicted within a few hours. Norway is one of the least controversial countries in the world. It is wealthy, it has a near-perfect blend of economic and social policies, and it provides a refuge for less fortunate people from elsewhere in this imperfect world.
So what could drive anyone—Islamic fundamentalist, right-wing extremist, anarchist—to launch a deadly attack in Oslo and the nearby Utoya resort island? Norway is not America, poking its nose and death-dealing drones in poor and poorly-armed countries across the world. It is not France, where President Sarkozy promotes xenophobia as national policy. It is not Britain, which has metamorphosed from a lion into Washington's lap-dog-of-war. These countries invite retribution. The same cannot be said of Norway.
When details on Breivik and the horror of the well-planned attacks he executed emerged in the ensuing days, I realised that this man was neither sick nor mad. He is the toxic by-product of a range of sub-cultures of intolerance and fundamentalism that stalk the modern world. Even more chilling, what happened in Norway could happen here.
Breivik is one manifestation of a resurging wave of Hitler racist clones that has risen from the ashes of Nazi Germany and mushroomed across all of Europe, from France, Britain and Holland in the west, to Poland, Ukraine and Russia in the east. It is chewing the soul of America, the Tea Party movement being the visible part of this destructive iceberg.
It has spawned Islamophobia, a warped view of one of the world's established religions. Mark you, Muslim fundamentalists like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and their clones across the world, have provoked this world-view of a religion that is supposedly rooted in peace. A Muslim greets another saying, "Peace be unto you." Some self-styled purists in the faith have changed the rules and practices to the extent that I, who was born a Muslim, do not recognise the religion I once practised.
That said, a similar metamorphosis has occurred in other mainstream religions. Christianity has seen the rapid rise of extremism in its many money-driven offshoots. Interestingly, Breivik saw himself as one of the ancient Christian crusaders, a latter-day knight centaur. And Hinduism has not escaped the warped elitism that seems to the lowest common denominator among religious extremists.
This culture of intolerance of others, of their right to practise religion as they see fit, or not to believe in God, is not restricted to religions or people of faith. It looms large in politics, in our day-to-day existence. While technology has provided man with tools of development, these very instruments are used for nefarious ends by the likes of Breivik. Indeed, the Nordic terrorist, like so many of his fellow-purveyors of hate and destruction, used the Internet to gain "kno wledge", to write a voluminous "manifesto", and to promote his crazy ideas.
Which brings me to the prospect of cyber-fed and cyber-led madness taking root here in Trinidad and Tobago. Readers who monitor "blogs" would know of what I write. While the so-called "social networks" have served as a useful tool in freeing up expressions of opinions, and even triggered welcome political and social changes, they are, regrettably, crude weapons in the hands of cruder minds.
The venom and rabid intolerance of others' views that are peddled via the Internet are alarming. Partisan politics hold centrestage, with adherents to one party or other hurling vile abuse at their perceived enemies. The language is invariably coarse. The exchanges are acidic. And worst of all, the persons who promote the mischief remain faceless.
The bile spewed, which can lead to erratic, Breivik-like madmen resorting to violence, is not confined to the Internet. Many radio talk show hosts spew untreated sewage via the airwaves, and their callers compress the "tatah'' into potentially explosive manure. There are exceptions to this generalisation—David Muhammad and Dale Enoch come to mind. But sober, informed discussion and debate are sorely lacking on the nation's cluttered airwaves.
This tripe has already triggered mindless violence in other countries. An online article titled "A Willing Executioner", credited to "Left Coast Breakdown", tells of Oakland (USA) police pulling aside a wayward, speeding truck—only to face pistol and rifle fire. When they eventually arrested the wounded driver, Byron Williams, he told them he was on his way to massacre everyone at the offices of two liberal organisations, the Tides Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Why? According to the article, "Glenn Beck had been railing on his television and radio shows about Tides, which he identified as part of an "evil'' network, funded by George Soros, that represented an existential threat to the United States. Beck had vilified Tides on 29 different shows, weaving an image of a shadow network of traitors and corrupters bent on destroying America."
Williams told police, "I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there."
This article, and others I read in the wake of the Breivik madness, point to the dangers of extremism and fundamentalism in any form—religious, political or secular. All it takes for an "Oslo moment" is one fool to believe what he hears or reads, and a decision to act in the name of some nebulous "cause".
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