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The Breivik Veto

A case study in how to marginalize dissent.

May 21, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 34 • By MICHAEL MOYNIHAN
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Swedish journalist Martin Aagård flatly stated that Breivik is representative of an entire strain of thought: “After having seen Anders Behring Breivik cry while watching his own propaganda film in an Oslo courtroom, I will never again understand those who voluntarily identify as ‘cultural conservatives.’ ”

It is of little consequence to those deploying the Breivik veto that his ideology, such as it is, consists of a single theme​—​a pathological hatred of Islam​—​and owes a greater debt to al Qaeda than to Edmund Burke. Breivik, who planned on capturing and beheading Norway’s prime minister and has spoken fondly of “martyrdom,” said in court that “militant nationalists in Europe have a great deal to learn” from al Qaeda.

But while al Qaeda boasts a network of supporters and aspiring shahids, Western Europe isn’t teeming with Breivik acolytes. He claimed to have operated within a larger underground revolutionary movement, telling investigators that he was but one soldier in a network of “Knights Templar” warriors, but this was quickly determined to have been fantasy. When the Norwegian media managed to track down a Breivik supporter, it was one twitching college student living outside Worcester, Massachusetts.

The media’s curiosity to discover whether there was a cadre of violent ultranationalists behind Breivik, while entirely justified, isn’t evenly applied. The Muslim extremist analogue to Breivik’s anti-Muslim extremism could be found in Toulouse, France, where earlier this year the homegrown Islamist Mohammed Merah massacred French soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren​—​lest they grow up to be Zionist enemies. Despite the obvious parallels to the Norwegian massacre, there was considerably less media concern with the rotten ideological milieu that shaped Merah. When the prominent Swiss Muslim Tariq Ramadan weighed in on the killings, he dismissed Merah as “a victim of a social order which had already doomed him and millions of others” to the margins of society, and certainly not a man “driven by racism and anti-Semitism.”

According to Ramadan, Merah found “two political causes through which he could articulate his distress: Afghanistan and Palestine.” But no one has suggested that critics of Israel or opponents of France’s participation in the Afghan war are flirting with “the central conceptual model of Mohammed Merah’s world.” And they are right not to.

Michael Moynihan is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.

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