environment & politics

Patellar Reflex

Note the red headline in The Sun, which appeared on Saturday, and you’ll note the kind of thing that contributes to our problematic culture: a knee-jerk reaction in which we publicise that all atrocious acts (and in this case, mind-bogglingly sickening) are conducted by those with brown skin despite not having a shred of evidence to support that initial statement (aka journalism).

As Charlie Brooker so wonderfully explains:

In the aftermath of the initial bombing, they proceeded to wrestle with the one key question: why do Muslims hate Norway? Luckily, the experts were on hand to expertly share their expert solutions to plug this apparent plot hole in the ongoing news narrative…

On Saturday morning I saw a Fox News anchor tell former US diplomat John Bolton that Norwegian police were saying this appeared to be an Oklahoma-style attack, then ask him how that squared with his earlier assessment that al-Qaida were involved. He was sceptical. It was still too early to leap to conclusions, he said. We should wait for all the facts before rushing to judgment. In other words: assume it’s the Muslims until it starts to look like it isn’t – at which point, continue to assume it’s them anyway.

Still failing to see this as an issue? Well, perhaps the eventual conclusion that position is to fall in line with this camp:

As the death toll rises in the wake of the rampage which left scores dead in Norway, details are emerging of killer Anders Breivik’s attempts to foster links with far-right groups across Europe — including the English Defence League.

The EDL have responded with sickening claims that Norwegian authorities are party to a conspiracy to disguise the actions of a Muslim or left-wing extremist.

In a series of posts, the administrator of the EDL’s official Facebook page for London members claims a “cover up by the left”, laying out supposed evidence for his conspiracy theory before asking “why didnt he blow the mosque up?” [sic]

What started out as a truly awful tragedy, which sees the death toll continue to rise, and in which the lives of many families are ruined, is going to have many ugly consequences. Fortunately, the Norwegian Prime Minster, has responded in a heartening manner:

Stoltenberg, who was due to address the youth meeting today, has responded by calling for “more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence”. No calls for revenge, no overblown rhetoric, just a quiet determination that this proud, egalitarian nation will go on as before.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

2 replies on “Patellar Reflex”

I am equally concerned by efforts to plant the idea of the lone gunman. The media have been quick to focus on Breivik as an isolated madman, because obviously, only a psychopath could possibly carry out such a chilling atrocity. Only a loner, only a murderer, in the end, however terrible and not the product of something much more worrisome – namely the softening of centre politics in Europe and abroad by the rot which is hard-right Christian xenophobia, could have brutally murdered children and innocents. I don’t buy this.

It’s a magic act, trying to draw our attention away from the politics. The reasons, the rationale, the very choice of targets – was politically influenced. It doesn’t require any conspiracy minded theorist looking for tenuous connections with foreign hate-groups, for the gunman’s connections to his own party are well documented.

And they are far more telling than any possible links to the EDL or groups in Sweden. Norway’s Progress Party, which holds 41 seats, is the second largest party in government. This doesn’t even need to be expanded on, really. That hate and xenophobia have been allowed to penetrate so deeply, in an open and freely democratic society, is highly problematic.

“Lone gunmen” like Breivik are examples of this danger made manifest. And Norway is not alone in the creep of dangerous right wing nationalist ideology into “centralist” politics. We can see this in the States as well, with the US Tea Party effectively blocking a host of key issues from economics to abortion rights, hardening the already hardened right.

The state is very much responsible for Breivik, but not for its tolerance of immigration and Muslims in Norway, but perhaps, sadly, for its very tolerance of intolerance in the midst of its body politic.

Far-right groups are now scrambling to distance themselves from Breivik but this is disingenuous. They certainly are not working to distance themselves from the politics and speaking points which gave rise to his lethal outburst, nor their own long standing relationship with violence and violent members within the culture of their supporters.

I hope that out of such tragedy, centrist states across Europe and the world, will feel the need to examine their Faustian bargain with right-wing groups. And force such organizations in turn, to either distance themselves from violence and xenophobia, or be forced out of the political sphere. There is no room for the hard right to keep preaching hate and intolerance and at the same time expect equal protection and tolerance at the political table.

The message should be clear: it’s either seats or thugs, and you can’t have both occupying the same space.

Re: the lone gunman, absolutely. There’s a subtle, and racist, effort to divorce this (quite unintentionally) from what you describe.

What I find fascinating is the race to avoid any responsibility from any of those associated with this, including those Daily Mail writers who have been used as references in the killer’s ‘writings’. No one holds up their hands to say, actually, there is responsibility for promoting hatred and xenophobia.

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