Last week, Anders Behring Breivik brought downtown Oslo to its knees with a bomb that turned city buildings into rubble and killed 6, and then crept onto a nearby island to murder more than 70 teenagers and young adults of Oslo’s progressive Labor Party. Detailed in a 1500 page manifesto, Breivik claimed that this unspeakable violence was an attack on what he says is the “cultural Marxism” and “Muslim domination” of Norway. Specifically, media pundits have universally described this political stance as opposition to “multiculturalism”, brought on specifically by the migration of Muslim communities into Norway and throughout Europe.
Interestingly, the reaction from the Left in the U.S. was more silence than I expected.
While the European progressive and right wing political community have passionately debated and mutually denounced Breivik’s actions, and media pundits in both countries have debated the impact of this on European immigration policy and positions- the Left in the U.S. has said very little. I can’t understand why.
Seventy-two teenagers, the future of progressive Norway, have just been murdered by a man whose manifesto is a remarkably clear, and not at all insane, analysis of conservative power. Besides the aching in my heartstrings at the thought of 76 murdered youth, Breivik’s stated desire to internationalize the Tea Party Network, in my book, represents a grave threat to the balance of movement power internationally and opens the door to a right wing sector that is linked across oceans- something we do not ever want to see.
His attack was well planned. After bombing downtown Oslo, Breivik pretended to be a police officer and boated to an island where the young people were attending a Labor Party camp. In Norway, police do not carry guns, and no one, therefore, perceived him as a threat. Breivik called groups of young people to him, supposedly to inform them of the bombing in downtown Oslo, and then reportedly with a handgun, and then with a shotgun, shot each teenager twice, to make sure they were dead. He shot them as they jumped into the ocean to escape. He shot them as they cowered in fear. Glen Beck, once Fox New’s main host and now a right wing radio pundit in the U.S., compared these children to Hitler’s youth, and framed Breivik’s actions as those of patriot.
Breivik’s manifesto argues that culture and the economy, not race, are the axis on which his critique spins, the degradation of both, he claims, by Muslim immigration, was the motivation for his attack. Of course, it is the argument of the new right, to foist upon the world culture wars and economic pain, while claiming scientific objectivity, or political common sense, or ahistoric analysis- all the while under the pretense that race is not the issue.
But it is.
Culture and the economy spin on their own axis, and it is a racialized one. Racism is the reason that in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, law enforcement assumed and declared it an act of international terrorism enacted by Islamic radicals, rather than a homegrown angry white man and his network of angry white men. Breivik claimed Timothy McVeigh as his inspiration, and the parallels are clear. Racism is the reason that immigration, and not Islamaphobia, is being debated as the cause of this attack. Racism is the reason Breivik chose to attack this multiracial group of young leaders, to draw the attention of and provoke an attack by Muslim fundamentalists. Just as in the Obama-era U.S. race is the issue.
But it is not the only issue. Complicating the racial politics of Europe is the true burden that immigration places on a racist society. If a society is constructed to provide equity only for a limited group of people, then any new players ruin the game. Norway is a beacon when it comes to the provision of basic rights and needs. It deploys a political framework of democratic socialism, using a high tax rate to provide for the health and well-being of the nation-state and its people. But Norway’s political stance is birthmarked by cultural hegemony, and it is that cultural hegemony Breivik attacked to preserve.
This presents, in my opinion, a fascinating challenge for Leftists in a heterogenous society. How do you make socialism, or any brand of true equity, work in a pluralistic society? How do you adapt a society from homogeneity to pluralism while maintaining the concept of each according to his ability, all according to their needs. It’s clear that when a society is homogenous, it is easier to implement policies that require a citizenry to share. It is also clear that homogeneity is a subjective standard. Throughout Africa and Asia, there is perceived homogeneity from the external gaze, and yet internally ethic differences, linguistic differences, differences of region and relationship to western power create and entrench political fragmentation and economic inequity. The racial homogeneity of Norway is perceived, and through that perception experienced. And it is that experience of perceived and historic homogeneity and reinforced cultural hegemony that allows the analysis that the integration of Muslims into European society is impossible and should be resisted with the most vicious attacks possible, on the youngest visionaries alive.
Of course, this analysis of Central Asian and African immigration to Europe neglects the root causes of said immigration. It ignores the racism that pushes and entrenches Muslims at the edges of European society and politics. It forces immigrant communities in Europe into a dependency that no one wants, while ignoring the massive contributions of Muslim communities to European society. It also, fundamentally, is in opposition to basic human rights, and standards of democracy that have been core to Norway’s political machinery for hundreds of years.
Perhaps because Norway is a racially white nation, the U.S. Left cannot see the inherent and critical connections to be made here, or the potential threat of internationalizing institutions like the Tea Party. Perhaps, because many of us know so little of Norway, we do not see the incredible distinctions between the reaction of Bush after 911 to Norway’s president two days ago, when he said, according to this tweet:
7/23/11 2:33 PM
In the aftermath of terror: Bush 9/11 – “We will hunt you down”, Stoltenberg 22/7 – “We will retaliate with more democracy” #oslo #norway
I, of course, am no expert on immigration in Europe. I do not claim to know or understand all the complexities, and have, without doubt, missed some significant piece of information or analysis. But I am clear that a progressive institution that potentially provides a powerful counter to U.S policies on immigration and social welfare has been attacked, loudly and brutally. It’s youngest members murdered in cold blood, with calculating precision, based on arguments that fuel the conservative right here in the United States. I am clear that the conservative right worldwide heard this call to action, as did the everyman/woman in Norway. Throughout Europe and indeed all over the world, the question of how to respond to this degree of atrocity with more justice is on the minds of many.
And that should matter to us all. For we are the mirror of each other, across all lines. These tracks that train us to oppose the basic rights of everyone to live fully and thrive wherever we are can be broken. The European and American media need to get it right. The question is not “if” we can share resources without murder and oppression. The question is how and when.