Dare Anyone Call Breivik a Martyr or Blame His Victims?

It’s high time acts of terrorism were unequivocally condemned and the actual perpetrators blamed for the violence they unleash. Makes a pleasant change to blaming everyone and everything else, including the victims.

Let me quickly deal with a few non-parallels between me and this mass-murderer.

I gather Breivik thought highly of JS Mill and George Orwellso do I. Sadly, though, Breivik’s knowledge of Mill doesn’t apparently extend to even an elementary understanding of the great man’s ‘harm’ principle, which it’s safe to say was comprehensively infringed by a double massacre with a death count of approximately one hundred.

Breivik had a problem with Muslims, whereas I don’t. My problem is certain aspects (ok, a lot of aspects) of Islam and its spoilt, tantrum-prone bastard of a political sibling, Islamism. But Islam and Islamism are ideologies and I have every right to criticise, srutinise and mock them as I might Nazism, Conservatism, Mormonism, Scientology or Monster Raving Loonyism.

I don’t have a problem with Muslims because there are good Muslims and there are bad Muslims, just as there are good and bad Norwegians, good and bad Christians, and good and bad Norwegian Christians. To lump all Muslims together and give them certain characteristics is plain dumb and makes as much sense as lumping together any other group of Homo sapiens.

Finally, Breivik was a racist who was opposed in principle to immigration, whereas I’m neither of these. (Interestingly, though, Breivik’s dislike of Muslims doesn’t necessarily make him a racist – have a read of this for a good discussion of that point. But regardless of that, his dislike of Muslims is still hateful, unjustified and dumb, and he is a racist because of his white supremacy beliefs.)

The most notable aspect of the reaction to Breivik’s crimes has been the unequivocal and widespread condemnation, and I will go so far as to say that this reaction has been quite refreshing.

It’s a shame such clear condemnation should warrant recording here because it should be the normal and universal reaction when human lives are erased in an orgy of violence. Unfortunately our analysis of terrorism, especially Islamic terrorism, is warped to say the least and for whatever reason – possibly the fear of being branded racist or intolerant – we have become accustomed to various grey shades of morality when it comes to Islamic terrorism.

Analysis of Islamic terrorism might use the word ‘martyrdom’ or encourage us to view the acts in various contexts, be that the deeply-held religious beliefs of the perpetrators or ‘injustices in the Muslim world’ (never mind that many such injustices are committed by Muslims against their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters in the name of Islam, such as Shia/Sunni bloodshed).

And that’s not all.  When there are, say, acts or threats of violence against those who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of speech and expression, such as Danish cartoonists or Salman Rushdie, the blame is often placed squarely at the feet of the victims for causing the violence or threats bestowed upon them. Transpose this ‘blame the victim’ approach to rape victims to grasp just how shameful and grotesque it is.

Whatever the intricacies of the analysis of Islamic terrorism, one thing is disturbingly common: it stops short of a complete and clear condemnation. So-called Muslim leaders are often the worst offenders but it’s also a trait shared by a wide cross-section of other commentators. I suggest setting yourself the following piece of homework: when the next act of Islamic terrorism takes place, compare that reaction to reaction to Breivik’s crimes.

Besides the obvious human cost of Breivik’s barbarity, I agree with Sam Harris that another unpleasant consequence will be the increased difficulty of frank discussion about Islam. It will also give the nonsensical term ‘Islamophobia’ deeper and stronger roots.

The events in Norway were horrific, especially as many of the victims were young and civically-minded, being so enthusiastically engaged in the machinery of democratic politics. If we’re going to take on board just one lesson from what has happened, it should be that all acts of terrorism must be condemned in such clear language.  Refusal to do so can only signify approval, to one degree or another, of these heinous crimes.

Post Script, 4 August 2011: I see Douglas Murray, writing in The Spectator, shares some of my opinions on this.  His piece is dated earlier than my blog entry but I only read it on 3 August when I bought the magazine, promise.