What happened last week in Norway is horrific. The deeds, the immediate aftermath and the lasting impact on those affected are nothing but negative. There’s a murky cloud of commentary surrounding the terrorist attack, though, and finger-pointing is going on. Some of the most interesting is the link between the extreme conservatism in both the West and in Islamic countries:
Two main anti-Muslim talking points are now taken for granted in this country: First, all terrorists in the West are Muslims; second, we are in the midst of a global civilisational war. These are the dual planks upon which Uncle Sam squats in his Afghani outhouse.
Objective sources have done an excellent job of discrediting the first of the two claims that inform the 21st century American experience. The second point however – that we are engaged in a war of civilisations – is one that I agree with. But the combatants are not Islam and the West. Instead, the war is between the normal, sane people of the world and the right-wing zealots who see doom, destruction, hellfire and God’s Will at every turn.
Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck – the peddlers of the faith – all share the same core afflictions.
These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves – and the rest of us with them.
This article’s a hard-hitting one, but it raises a point I respect: that the response to the attack, from the Norwegian Prime Minister, was that the country would seek to expand its openness, not shrink from it. It seems natural to call for greater security and the like, but no society can protect itself sufficiently from such attacks. There is always a risk to living with other people, and if an unhinged terrorist with a strong dogma has the intelligence and time to plan an attack, it will cause destruction. But a society built from the gradually earned good-will of millions of people must not be fragmented and shattered by the actions of one or few, because that represents victory for the extremists.
We don’t have to look far in our own societies to find those who have bought into the bile. The ongoing vitriol and suspicion of ‘boat people’ arriving on Australian shores is one example, and one that contributed heavily to an election result. The Daily Mail in the UK practically froths at the mouth over immigrants. And the words ‘Islam’ and ‘terrorist’ are paired too frequently.
We shouldn’t be scared of other people. We need to fight those who say we must be. It’s not a fight that can be won with violence, and it will never be decisive, for group instincts run deep. We need to direct our suspicion and anger towards the ideas, organisations and individuals promoting segregation, generalisation, stereotyping and fear of ‘them’.
Today, here in Norway, many politicians and people state that “today we are all AUF” (the name of the youth party). And we are. Just as we all were Japanese when the earthquake struck, or as we all are Somalis when we read about famine. This feeling of community is a part of being human. And this communality, the shared experience of humanity, is essential to hold onto. In the face of inhumanity, we have to be more human. Because there is only this one world, brutal and beautiful, and we only have one fragile life to make our difference in the world we all share as home.