Monday, August 1, 2011

Why Breivik may still win

After the horrendous attacks in Oslo and Utøya, Norway has been united in hope and sorrow. Our leaders have repeatedly stressed that we will remain an open and friendly society, and that we should not be frightened. "The answer to the attacks must be more democracy and more openness," said our PM Stoltenberg repeatedly in the news, sincerely and well intended. "If not, then those who were behind this will have achieved their goal." The terrorist seemingly doesn't want democracy or openness; but in response to his terror, that is seemingly exactly what we are going to give him.

But: the entire argument may be upside down.
It could be that Breivik felt that his voice was ignored. It could be that Breivik were angered and frustrated that his viewpoints were locked out of the public debate. It could be that the cultural conservative ideologists and Islam-critics actually want more openness and democracy. Now, Stoltenberg is claiming that we will meet this attack with more openness and democracy. However, it might be the case that the viewpoints of cultural conservative ideologists and Islam-critics are even more stigmatized and outlawed than ever. Yes, it might even be the case that such stigmatized people will be angered and frustrated.

There is no basis for democracy when all patriots and nationalists are ignored, ridiculed or persecuted.
- Anders Behring Breivik

First of all, a word about the opinions of terrorist Anders Behring Breivik: they are not wildly uncommon. Surely, Breivik is going way far in his manifesto, and to most of us he would also be an unpleasant encounter in an internet debate. But the general idea that Islam is dangerous and growing in the West at an alarming rate is not uncommon. The idea that we should revitalize Christianity in the West on the expense of Islam and in some cases secularism is not uncommon. And the arguments that the most sophisticated among the cultural conservatives are perpetuating are not as stupid or ungrounded as the left-center spectrum of politicians and commentators portray them to be.

This fact should not disturb any of us more than just slightly. Because even though they are many, they are averagely sensible and empathetic people. Heck, they might even have a point or two. Unfortunately however, there is already a certain stigma towards cultural conservatives, something that by nature screws up the brains of the people in question; if you isolate a voice from the debate, its viewpoints will miss the corrections from other ideas, and will grow to a beast like a forsaken hedge. It may create for itself an entirely isolated worldview.

Screenshot from Breivik's
YouTube video
Breivik had obviously lost his faith that traditional politics in Norway would have any effect, and his worldview had had the time and space to grow into something very different than ours. He even came so far as to see himself as a sort of commanding templar knight in his own fairytale. But Stoltenberg is wrong when he suggests that the terrorist did not want democracy at all. In his manifesto, Breivik underscores that he indeed supports democracy, but also that the democracy of today is not legit. His reason is primarily that schools and media are biased, so that cultural conservatives like him are ridiculed and locked out of public debate. Such arguments are clear signs that he feels stigmatized by the power elite.

Still, cultural conservatives are being further stigmatized by this event as we speak. In many of the speeches that are held, people are condemning not only Breivik's horrendous actions, but also his political opinions. In times of sincere sorrow they forget that a significant amount of people have similar views to Breivik, and that they too may be mourning over this terrible tragedy. I only see that such speeches will stigmatize and isolate the broader group of cultural conservatives further. (The spirit of unity and brotherly love that this country is experiencing right now does not really welcome everybody, does it?) I fear that such an atmosphere could indeed recruit more extremist templar knights. Then Breivik will win.

So in light of the applauded stand of our Prime Minister, I find it ironic and slightly troubling how sincere voices on the relatively sane side of politics are advocating that Breivik's manifesto should be ridiculed and silenced. Google is even working on changes in its algorithm that will make it difficult to locate the manifesto online! This is precisely the opposite of what Stoltenberg was celebrated for suggesting as a response, namely more openness and more democracy. This feels more like censorship and manipulation.

I suggest that we actually follow up the words of our dear Prime Minister. I suggest that we indeed meet this tragedy with openness and democracy. Then let us not embrace tools of censorship and surveillance, but rather remember that more openness and democracy includes welcoming both cultural conservatives and fundamentalist Muslims to the honest debate. This, I suggest to you, is the better way to fight violent extremism.

Warrior of Agape: Is Anders Behring Breivik a Christian?
Dr Robert Ford: What do we know about Anders Behring Breivik? Very little


  1. I'm glad you're thinking and writing about this, because I feel like I should be (thinking) but don't have the time to. Plus you have a unique perspective.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. Breivik went to these extremes because he felt that he didn't have a voice in society as it is. If we have a more open society that will listen to everybody, without automatically labeling them. We have to argue our viewpoint constructively instead of using ad hominem arguments. If we do this we will hopefully avoid anybody feeling ignored to the point where they go to these extremes again.