In the first of two articles, Gavan Titley, co-author of The Crises of Multiculturalism: Racism in a Neoliberal Age, writes about the broader issues framing the trial of Anders Breivik.
It is by now well-known that Anders Breivik regards his court appearance in Oslo as an inverted show-trial. Providing both a stage for him to reject the legitimacy of a state he charges with encouraging creeping ethnocide, and a platform for a propagandistic explanation of the July 22nd attacks, he is free to fist-bump every morning with imagined Knight Templars, and to dismiss the execution of young Social Democrats as an act of goodness.
Given that he wrote at length, in his manifesto, about the propaganda value of his potential trial and the trials of ‘patriots’ in general, there has been much debate in Norway about the decision to televise proceedings (though cameras are banned from his testimony, from the evidence of victims, and when the bomb blast footage was screened). Concerns that he is being provided with a platform have been countered by arguments concerning the need to ‘expose’ the malignancy of his views; to link them to awareness about emerging networks of activity among the far-right in Europe; and to affirm the ‘enduring values’ of democracy in full flight.
Of course, lessons don’t walk in straight lines, and one observation on the first week of the trial is that its meaning is contested. The first psychiatric assessment of Breivik, as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, provided a prophylactic against political analysis. It was useful to glib mainstream analysis, content to dismiss the extreme right as a democratic pathology. It also provided an alibi for the networks of racists who wanted badly to disown the messenger while ramping up the message.
This diagnosis has been successfully challenged, but as Aslak Sira Myhre has recently argued, the daily focus on procedural details and biographical fragments may also serve to depoliticize. It seems more likely, however, that the trial will be appropriated to enforce a familiar set of lessons, ones that have been taking shape ever since the first reports of an explosion in Oslo began to break.
Breivik’s trial presents a unique opportunity, but also a challenge, to a raft of political interests that wish to simultaneously disown him as a violent aberration, while also insisting on the general legitimacy of his ‘cultural’ concerns. This double movement was instigated as the events of July 22nd unfolded. Revealing the ways in which the commonplaces of imperialist logic are routinized by ubiquitous media, the rolling news of the Anglophone world continued to frame the events in terms of Islamist violence for up to 5 hours after Norwegian journalists, tweeting in English, had first suggested (and then clarified) that this was not the case.
Barely pausing for breathlessness, the cadre of security policy gonks on media retainers assimilated the fact of Breivik and his actions, but shifted the terrain to wonder as to whether this did, in fact, show that multiculturalism had gone too far in Norway, and by seamless – racial – extension, Europe.
In the immediate aftermath of July 22nd, Breivik’s anti-Jihad network of living citations rushed to insist that they could not be in any way associated with his actions. In effect, they were forced to dissociate themselves from the performativity, and thus political seriousness, of their own ideas.
Having spent at least a decade building significant blog followings and carving out lucrative media careers as what Pierre Bourdieu terms ‘negative intellectuals’, it transpired that those who spoke of war and struggle - or of European implosion and multicultural treachery - did not mean to speak of war and struggle, or of real implosion and actual traitors. Forms of political speech predicated on their claims to a widely repressed truth were recast as irony. Political identities claiming ‘courageous’ opposition to political correctness ducked for cover in a bespoke postmodern relativism.
The psychiatric defence was extended, particularly by those implicated in his manifesto, to contend that Breivik is insane, but driven insane by the intolerable contradictions of something called multiculturalism. The overlap between Breivik’s civilizational diagnosis and ours – so they claimed - is a testament to the power of our consistently repressed truth, but this shared diagnosis does not suggest that we – the ‘keyboard warrior’ and political allies hailed by Breivik in court on Wednesday - can in any way be associated with what he proposed as a cure.
This must be countered. Breivik cannot be dissociated from the evident increase in violent and often lethal racism in Europe – from the racist murders in Florence to a steady stream of attacks on Muslims and Islamic institutions – nor from the spectrum of new street movements and parliamentary parties that share the fundamental tenets of his anti-Muslim racism.
Equally as importantly, his thought cannot be allowed to be dissociated from mainstream political culture in Europe, where liberal opinion has openly embraced perspectives that routinely cast ‘Muslims’ as threatening, alien, essentially non-European subjects (Martin Amis) ‘thought experiment’ can stand as an exemplar here.
While the gestation of anti-Muslim racism in Europe is complex - stemming from the ‘culturalization’ of the problem of asylum-seekers in northern and western Europe from the 1980s onwards – it is often wrongly assumed that it was a stable property of the far-right, subsequently appropriated by the ‘centre’. If forced to be black and white, the opposite conclusion would be more accurate: the fact that Muslims were regarded as a legitimate source of liberal and conservative aversion had no small impact on the strategic inflation of anti-Muslim rhetoric among far-right parties.
After 9/11, the problem grew. With Muslim communities cast as overtly suspicious populations required not only to prove their political moderation, but to also satisfy ever-increasing thresholds of ‘cultural compatability’, Amis-style thought experiments proliferated.
It is only language barriers and media time that obscures this. There was some international coverage, for example, of a recent article by a True Finns parliamentary researcher , advocating – ironically, of course - ‘nationality badges’ for foreigners in Finland. But this is old hat; Rita Verdonk, when Immigration Minister in The Netherlands, proposed a system of ‘integration badges’ to be worn by allochtonen, denoting their achievements along an ‘integration ladder’.
But this old hat has been passed around. Whenever the EDL, or Geert Wilders, or Filip Dewinter claim the beard of gender equality, gay rights or freedom of speech, they are acting as ventriloquists, not innovators.
In a post on Foreign Policy, Paul Hockenos provides a good overview of the interplay of legitimate and illegitimate forms of anti-Muslim racism. The myth of multiculturalism’s failure, so central to interpretations of the trial, has been instrumental in facilitating these forms. But to conclude this post, I want to emphasize a point made soon after the events themselves, and which challenges the logics of dissociation.
As Elizabeth Humphreys and Guy Rundle point out in the introduction to On Utøya, the Social Democrats killed that day were murdered for reason of their politics, and could never have imagined that ‘they would be enrolled in the ranks of those murdered by the Right – the teachers and trade unionists of Latin America, the workers of interbellum Germany, the civil rights activists of the US deep South, anti-apartheid fighters, and countless others, across the globe. The attempt to dissolve these deaths into psychology, into anything but politics, is an insult to their memory, a true nihilism’.
Breivik targeted ‘traitors’: that is, a left putatively committed to imposing the multicultural experiment on a disenfranchised ethno-racial majority who are cowed into silence by ‘accusations’ of racism. Breivik sought to violently fracture the thick hegemony of ‘Cultural Marxism’ through political murder.
This racist geometry of problem ‘migrants’, problematic multiculturalists and heroic contrarians is near-ubiquitous. It has historical resonances. As Robert Patton argues in The Anatomy of Fascism, the delineation of internal enemies that weaken and betray the nation is arguably the only consistent dimension of different forms and mobilizations of fascism across time and context.
This has more recent lineage in the strategies of inversion held by Martin Barker, in the early 1980s, to characterize the ‘new racism’. But in recent years, it has provided a mainstream political tactic, and one that endures even as that mainstream mourns the victims of Utøya.
It structures not only the arguments, but the ‘courageous’ speaking positions, of professional anti-Muslim racists. The True Finns MP Jussi Halla-Aho, for example, who is quoted approvingly by Breivik in his manifesto, wrote in his own blog in 2006 that as most rapes in Finland are committed by immigrants, he hoped that it would be Green Party women that were raped, as they were responsible for the multicultural madness.
But look further to the ‘centre’. In the aftermath of the Toulouse massacre, both Sarkozy and the interior minister Claude Guéant explicitly deployed this triangulation to deflect any attempt to situate the massacre in a discussion of racism or foreign policy in France, and of course to make political capital in relation to the culpable tolerance of the left.
Breivik’s triangulation has also proved seductive to negative intellectuals keen to speak well-renumerated truth to multicultural power. It is hardly surprising to find it in Bruce Bawer’s recent potboiler The New Quislings, but the same logic structures the Danish liberals Karen Jespersen and Ralph Pittelkow’s publishing sensation Islamists and Naivists. It also enervates the multikulti self-abolitionists held responsible for Germany’s decline in Thilo Sarazin’s Deutschland Schafft Sich abb.
Hockenos is right to argue, in the piece linked above, that ‘the political mainstreaming of Islamophobia would have been inconceivable without the post-9/11 anti-Islamic discourse across European media and the blogosphere. In large part, this trail was blazed by intellectuals, who defended their positions in the name of liberalism and human rights’.
Blazing this trail, and securing a position at the apex of self-righteousness, also depended on Breivik’s triangulation, positioning left anti-racism as nothing short of political and cultural treason.
More articles from this author
- Boris Johnson’s law and order proposals are a scam
- The poisonous politics of Priti Patel
- The Battle of the Bogside
- Leave - Fight - Transform - founding statement
- The refugee crisis: the situation worsens in Greece
- Hiroshima 74 years on: campaigners demand no nukes, no war
- India's annexation of Kashmir sets a path for war