Few people on the European Left have spoken with greater candour about their “palpable relief” that the recent massacre in Norway was not carried out by an Islamist terrorist but instead by a blond haired “Christian fundamentalist” than British Labour MP Tom Harris. Writing just three days after the killing spree took place, he said: “Here, thank God, was a terrorist we can all hate without equivocation: white, Christian and far right-wing.”
In the days that followed, relief turned to finger pointing. By Tuesday, the recently launched Huffington Post UK had run a piece by Charles Delalande castigating influential right-wing commentators such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, Melanie Phillips and Douglas Murray for either downplaying Breivik’s atrocities by dismissing them as the work of a madman, or for being conspicuously reluctant to make any comment at all.
The latter (entirely false) charge -- clearly containing the scurrilous inference that their alleged hesitation derived from some degree of common cause with Breivik’s thinking -- attracted so many complaints that Huffpo was forced into a humiliating climbdown. The piece was removed.
But the broader political-psychological impulses which gave rise to it continued to take shape.
As the week progressed, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Norwegian chairman of the Nobel peace prize committee and secretary general of the Council of Europe, was being widely quoted across the European press as warning that we had all been too “preoccupied” with “radical Islam”.
On Saturday he issued a stark rebuke to European leaders such as Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angel Merkel for their criticisms of multi-culturalism: “We should be very cautious now, we should not play with fire,” he said.
By Sunday, the Guardian’s far-Left attack dog Seumas Milne had nailed it: “…What is most striking is how closely [Breivik] mirrors the ideas and fixations of transatlantic conservatives that for a decade have been the meat and drink of champions of the war on terror and the claim that Islam and Islamism pose a mortal threat to western civilisation.”
Further down his piece he added:
“But the same neoconservative zealots who have always insisted that non-violent (Muslim) "extremists" must be cast out because they legitimised and provided a "conveyor belt to terrorism" have now been hoist by their own petard.
“That is exactly the role many of their own ideologists have been shown to have played in the case of the butcher of Utoya. When David Cameron denounced multiculturalism in February, he also announced to the delight of the [English Defence League] – that the British government would now be taking on the "non-violent extremists" because they influenced those who embraced violence.”
We can expect a lot more of this sort of thing. So it is vital to unpick the flaws in the thinking that lie behind it without delay.
First, the facts of the matter, or least what we can reasonably surmise. Anders Breivik, so far as we know, had never killed anyone until he unleashed mayhem in the centre of Oslo and on the island of Utoya. His admissions to police that he had in fact perpetrated the killings but that he was not guilty of any crime does suggest criminal insanity.
The haunting photo, endlessly reproduced, of Breivik’s understated but confident smirk beaming out of the back of a police car gives additional weight to the notion that the man is a psychopath: someone capable of inflicting enormous pain and suffering without a scintilla of remorse, or even a recognition that pain and suffering have been inflicted.
But psychopaths can also be political. Communism and Nazism can both be understood as psychopathic ideologies, and both employed psychopaths to perpetrate their crimes. Anders Breivik was not a “motiveless malignancy”, to appropriate Coleridge’s appraisal of Shakespeare’s Iago.
He bombed the heart of power in his nation’s capital; he slaughtered the children of the Left on Utoya island. He may not have been capable of recognising his actions as criminal, but he was certainly capable of identifying his targets, and those targets were political in nature.
What Milne and company seek to do with this is to argue that since many of Breivik’s political gripes – multi-culturalism, political Islam, excessive immigration, a denial of Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage, Western self-loathing and so on – are also shared by mainstream “transatlantic conservatives” then Breivik and writers such as Bernard Lewis, Melanie Phillips, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mark Steyn (all named by Milne) are in an important sense part of the same political camp.
To be sure, they are as appalled as everyone else about the slaughter in Norway. “But” says Milne, “the continuum between the poisonous nonsense commonplace in the mainstream media in recent years, the street slogans of groups like the EDL and Breivik's outpourings is unmistakable”.
Milne’s logic is marred by elementary flaws. The fact that Breivik and the afore mentioned writers share some common concerns in no way means they share a common world view. Communists and Nazis shared many of the same concerns: both were anti-capitalist; both were anti-democratic; both were anti-individualist; both were anti-Western. But the existence of certain similarities in terms of what they were against, did not imply an identity in terms of what they were for.
Bernard Lewis, Melanie Phillips, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mark Steyn are all fundamentally committed to western-style liberal democracy, and (in sharp contrast with Milne) they are among its most vocal and intelligent supporters.
To say that they and Breivik shared an opposition to some of the same things, that Breivik was aware of this, and that that is therefore evidence of a continuum between them is as ludicrous as saying that shared opposition to prostitution, for example, was evidence of a continuum between Victorian moralists and Jack the Ripper since the latter would certainly have been aware of the thinking of the former.
All Milne and company are ultimately left with is the same old authoritarian agenda repackaged on the back of a modern day tragedy: the problems of a social-democratic, multiculturalist Europe which is largely the creation of the Left must never be discussed. The debate must be suppressed.
It is at this juncture that we encounter another incarnation of the fatal flaw in the Left’s analysis of the Breivik affair: the assumption that it was a crime of the Right in the first place.
To be sure, the terms Right and Left are slippery. But, standing back for a moment, it is important to understand that the way they have come to be used has always benefited the Left in propaganda terms since the sense in which there is a relationship between centre-Left and far-Left is, in reality, much more pronounced than the sense in which there is a relationship between centre-Right and far-Right.
Yet Left and Right are used as if they were each other’s equal and opposite. The Left had Stalin, but the Right had Hitler. Both have their dark sides, which it is only fair to acknowledge.
But this is wrongheaded. There are vast numbers of politicians and writers on the centre-Left with a far-Left past. The number of centre-Rightists with a far-Right past is miniscule. Huge sections of the centre-Left in the 20th century were at one time or another apologists for Soviet communism. Only a small smattering of mavericks on the centre-Right ever made common cause with Nazis or fascists, and when they did the affiliation was almost always fleeting or opportunistic.
In other words, there is a continuum between many on the centre-Left and many on the far-Left (they frequently disagree purely about the means) but there is not between most on the centre-Right and most on the far-Right (they disagree fundamentally about means and ends).
Oblivious to (or in denial about) this, there is a deeply held assumption in Leftist thinking that Anders Breivik and his equivalents, real or imagined, are the same as the neo-cons plus a penchant for violence, plus a couple of steps further down the same road plus, perhaps, a dash of criminal insanity. That, in essence, is what Milne means by a “continuum”.
But the fact is that Phillips, Lewis, and company are at least as ideologically far apart from Anders Breivik as Milne is, though assuredly for different reasons.
Indeed, it is possible to go much further. Since the leading centre-right commentators are fundamentally committed to liberal-democratic-capitalist values and the rights based philosophical principles which underpin them they are diametrically opposed to the collectivism of someone like Anders Breivik in a way that far-Leftists such as Milne are not.
And what applies to Left and Right also applies to the relationship between Islamists and Islamist terrorists. In contrast with centre-Right and far-Right but similar to centre-Left and far-Left, non-violent Islamists and violent Islamists do in fact aspire to much the same end result. They simply disagree on the means to get there. There is no “conveyor belt” from centre-Right to far-Right but there is one from non-violent Islamist to violent Islamist.
In embarking on the blame game, it is Milne, it turns out, who is hoist with his own petard due to his inability to think his arguments through.
Finally, there is one more flawed assumption to deal with – that the massacre in Norway is evidence that we have taken our eye off the ball. Encouraged by the centre-Right, we have focused far too much attention on the far-Left/Islamist nexus and have now been caught with our pants down. It’s all been an embarrassing surprise.
Except that it hasn’t. Certainly not to Mark Steyn, certainly not to me and equally certainly not to many of the people on the centre-Right who have been warning of an upsurge in far-Right (as well as far-Left/Islamist) violence for years.
Our core concerns about Europe are that it is a continent in decline, a continent which has lost the will to defend itself, a continent unsure of its own identity, a continent where democracy is atrophying, a continent whose elites have ruled discussion of major pathologies in the European body politic out of court, a continent where large sections of the European population have nowhere to go to get their concerns addressed but the extremes, a continent where the centre-ground risks being hollowed out completely.
Or put another way, and in short, our concern about Europe is that it is a continent which is handing the initiative to people like Anders Behring Breivik.
Robin Shepherd is owner/publisher of the Commentator. His book, A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel, is out in paperback.