Why Can’t the Right Be Honest About Anders Behring Breivik?

One of the most glaring hypocrisies surrounding the so-called “war on terror” has been the way that mass killings committed by non-Muslims have been treated as functions of mental illness while those committed by Muslims have been treated as functions of ideology. This hypocrisy is made explicit by a pundit like Marc Thiessen — here as elsewhere emitting right-wing hackery in its purest form — in the wake of last week’s Aurora shooting; Thiessen is keen to insist that James Holmes’s massacre in Aurora is categorically different from Nidal Hasan’s massacre at Fort Hood because “[t]he Aurora shooting was a senseless act of violence; Fort Hood was a terrorist attack.” (Never mind that Hasan’s undeniably horrific attack was directed at a military target and thus fit classic definitions of terrorism far less than Holmes’s.) Of course, the dichotomy between insanity and ideology is itself a misleading one: on the one hand, mass-murdering lunatics frequently come up with grand political theories to justify their actions; on the other, even committed ideologues are unlikely to undertake bloody suicide missions if they don’t have a screw or two loose.

The basic difference between how Muslim and non-Muslim mass killers are viewed is nowhere more obvious than in the reaction to Anders Behring Breivik’s killing of 77 Norwegians a year ago.

Breivik was about as committed an ideologue as one could hope for, as is made clear by his 1500-page manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. Throughout the sprawling manifesto, Breivik is explicit that he sees himself as representing the militant wing of the broader “anti-jihadist” movement — represented in the U.S. by the writers he most frequently cites, such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Daniel Pipes.

Of course, no one suggests that such writers (to which we could add others like Mark Steyn, Frank Gaffney, and Andy McCarthy) would approve of Breivik’s murderous rampage. Yet their sheer refusal to recognize any commonalities between his goals and theirs was quite brazen and frequently led them into outright self-contradiction. Thus we see Mark Steyn, who in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings mocked authorities for stubbornly refusing to take Hasan’s professions of his beliefs at face value…stubbornly refusing to take Breivik’s professions of his beliefs at face value:

It is unclear how seriously this “manifesto” should be taken….As far as we know, not a single Muslim was among the victims. Islamophobia seems an eccentric perspective to apply to this atrocity, and comes close to making the actual dead mere bit players in their own murder.

But of course, Breivik was perfectly explicit that he was targeting the Norwegian elite in the belief that only by doing so could he shock European nationalists into responding to the supposed Islamicization of Europe. Citing Steyn by name on page 338 of the manifesto, Breivik makes clear that he largely agrees with Steyn concerning the existential nature of the Muslim threat to the West, disagreeing with him only in thinking that this Islamicization can be reversed through bold action by European nationalists. Compare Steyn, writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2006 (the piece is no longer online but can be found here):

That’s what the war [against Islamism]’s about : our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder”–as can be seen throughout much of “the Western world” right now. The progressive agenda–lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism–is collectively the real suicide bomb.

And here’s Breivik, invoking the same tropes in much less elegant prose on page 12 of his manifesto:

As we all know, the root of Europe’s problems is the lack of cultural self-confidence (nationalism)…. Needless to say; the growing numbers of nationalists in W. Europe are systematically being ridiculed, silenced and persecuted by the current cultural Marxist/multiculturalist political establishments. This has been a continuous ongoing process which started in 1945. This irrational fear of nationalistic doctrines is preventing us from stopping our own national/cultural suicide as the Islamic colonization is increasing annually. This book presents the only solutions to our current problems. You cannot defeat Islamisation or halt/reverse the Islamic colonization of Western Europe without first removing the political doctrines manifested through multiculturalism/cultural Marxism.

Breivik’s ramblings about the threat of “multiculturalism/cultural Marxism” are relevant given the recent and rather laughable attempt by Daniel Pipes, another frequently cited source in 2083, to exculpate himself and his allies from their implication in Breivik’s worldview. Pipes — responding to a ThinkProgress graphic detailing Breivik’s reliance on various “anti-jihadist” writers — attempts to show that Breivik could equally be viewed as a leftist given his frequent references to left-wing thinkers like the Frankfurt School and liberal politicians like Barack Obama. Pipes further argues that Breivik, far from agreeing with the likes of him, Spencer, and Geller, “intentionally sought to damage and delegitimize” them by his massacre.

The flaws in Pipes’s apologia are so obvious that it feels almost superfluous to point them out, but here goes. The ThinkProgress graphic listing Breivik’s reliance on the anti-jihadist writers served some purpose in that Breivik was largely agreeing with them (on the alleged Islamic threat to the West, if not necessarily the proposed remedies.) His frequent citations of figures like Marx or Marcuse — or, for that matter, Obama or Blair — are completely irrelevant in this regard since Breivik was listing them as perpetrators or enablers of the Islamic/cultural-Marxist/multiculturalist/environmentalist attack on the West. (The basic incoherence of listing all these currents as if they were the same thing is by no means exclusive to Breivik.)

Similarly, Breivik’s criticisms of anti-jihadist writers that Pipes cites are notable primarily for how limited they are. To take the one example Pipes gives, Breivik writes:

The reason why authors on the Eurabia related issues/Islamisation of Europe — Fjordman, [Robert] Spencer, [Bat] Ye’or, [Andrew] Bostom etc. aren’t actively discussing deportation is because the method is considered too extreme (and thus would damage their reputational shields). . . . If these authors are to [sic] scared to propagate a conservative revolution and armed resistance then other authors will have to.

So, to be clear, Breivik agrees with Pipes’s allies about the threat Muslims pose to the West, and merely disagrees with them about the desirability of mass deportation, revolution, and “armed resistance” to deal with it. This is hardly of a piece with his paranoid rantings against leftism and “cultural Marxism.”

It’s been a bit of a scandal how quickly Breivik has been forgotten, and how easily his ideological inspirations have been able to shrug off his massacre. Like the Aurora shooting, Breivik is a reminder of how pervasive the double standards surrounding “terrorism” remain.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.