Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for July 24th, 2011

The Terror Attacks in Oslo: Anders Behring Breivik on the Middle East and Islam

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 24 July 2011 15:07

[The subject is on the margins of the topics covered here at Iraq and Gulf Analysis, but in response to requests for commentary on the 22 July Oslo terrorist attacks, a few notes on the internet writings of the alleged suspect in the case are presented below as far as they relate to the Middle East and the Islamic world more generally.]

In his postings on the website document.no, Anders Behring Breivik comes across as an articulate and intellectual commenter. However, his writings also reveal an extreme leitmotif of an alleged grand conspiracy between most of the political establishments in Europe (often referred to as ”Marxists”, but also as “multi-culturalists”) and Muslims that are aiming to change Europe in the name of multi-culturalism. In their most pitched versions, Breivik’s postings merge these two concepts and refer to “multiculturalists” as the “facilitators of the jihadists”. It is clear from at least some of his comments that in the Norwegian context, Breivik sees the ruling Labour party (which was targeted in the Utoya attacks) as an important vector of that dreadful “multi-culturalism”.

Central to Breivik’s analysis is the concept of “dhimmitude”, which he has apparently picked up from one of his main inspirations, the Norwegian blogger Fjordland, who is a long-standing critic of Islam and political Islam. Fjordland in turn borrowed the concept from Israeli writer Bet Yaor. Dhimmitude is a reference to the status of non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, where they were protected but also lived as second-class citizens without the same rights as Muslims. Breivik uses this concept to make sense of his own teenage experiences in Oslo’s East End, where immigrants dominate several neighbourhoods and are increasing their demographic share. In Breivik’s view, this involves a process of growing “dhimmitude” or second-class citizenship for the remaining inhabitants of non-immigrant background.  People in these areas, according to Breivik, must increasingly conform to Islamic ways of life and norms rather than to Norwegian law.

Another distinguishing feature in Breivik’s writings is his rather implausible attempts to establish parallels from Middle Eastern to European history. In a typical example from document.no, Breivik at least three times tries to create such a parallel between the demographic development in Lebanon in the twentieth century and coming trends in Europe. Supposedly, according to Behring, Lebanon had 80% Christians in 1911, before a process of collaboration set in:

“We all know, by the way, what happened to the Christians of Lebanon. Lebanon was once a Christian country (80% in 1911). When the Muslims became a majority in 1970 (an increase of 40% in only 60 years) they declared war. The reason for the demographic growth [of the Muslims] was the appeasement policy of the Marxists (they allowed demographic warfare). The Marxists had anticipated that they would obtain a special dhimmi status, which of course failed to materialise. Today, there are less than 25% Christians in Lebanon and even the Christian Marxists live in difficult circumstances. Do you really believe that you [leftists, “Marxists”] will obtain special dhimmi status in Western Europe some decades down the line when ALL historical examples indicate that Christian Marxists have been back-stabbed time and again?”

Of course, Breivik’s estimate of “80% Christians” in Lebanon in 1911 is as problematic as its identification on a map one decade before it came into existence as a country. Or as those growth figures of the Muslims – truly remarkable as Breivik says, but might that have something to do with underestimates of Muslims in early accounts, different growth rates and emigration patterns rather than with “demographic warfare” as Breivik alleges? And who are those omnipotent Christian Marxists of Lebanon anyway?  But Breivik keeps going back to his Lebanon argument again and again (and its main source: Mark K. Tomass, whose 1997 journal article on the subject has not been quoted a lot by others), also when posting on mainstream websites like that of the Norwegian newspaper VG using a shorter form of his name.

Nor does Breivik shy away from commenting on Sunni-Shiite issues and the geopolitical tug-of-war in the region:

“I have never understood why the West focuses so disproportionately on Iran compared to Saudi Arabia, which after all is the most powerful and most dangerous Muslim great power. True, we should bomb those suspect installations [in Iran] but other than that we need to focus far more on Saudi Arabia. Could this have to do with the fact that Iran is not a big oil exporter?

Shiites make up a relatively small proportion of all Muslims and exercise no influence whatsoever on Sunnis. To be honest, I’d say we undermine our own interests by attacking the sole existing, relatively weak alternative to Sunni Islam. If Iran falls, the position of the Wahhabis will be strengthened quite significantly since they will have no competition. We should not forget that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim countries want to crush Iran. It is not Iran that is behind some 300 to 500 Wahhabi centres across Europe, and they finance only two out of 30 Jihad fronts worldwide.”

In other words, Breivik is somewhat clueless about the Middle East, but not more clueless than, say, an average US politician. Many of the sources he quotes copiously, including Daniel Pipes, are well-respected in the US public debate about the region, and the idea of Shiism as “the good Islam” and a potential ally for the United States circulated among many think tankers in the early days of the Iraq War. Like many respectable politicians, Breivik voices support for Christian separatism projects worldwide, including southern Sudan. He expresses sympathy with Lou Dobbs with reference to the way in which he was forced to leave the CNN. Also, contrary to what many newspaper reports claim, he explicitly criticises Nazism, both for its genocidal actions as well as its state-centred economic theories.

Rather, it is in his postings on Norwegian affairs that Breivik’s one-sided, black and white and extreme master narrative becomes most evident. He complains, “100 Norwegians have been killed in racist/Jihadi murders during the past 15 years without getting attention, but a single murder committed by a Norwegian racist prompted a vigil of 50,000 participants and the establishment of a commemorative fund”. To most Norwegians other than Breivik, it is difficult to see the “jihadi” motive in those murders, which may well have no other aspect in common that they were committed by people with an immigrant background. But with his conspiracy theory, Breivik sees a jihadi plot and externally imposes a motive of jihadism in every action by immigrants and their supposed native collaborators. Similarly, in a pun which perhaps should have made alarm clocks go off, Breivik describes former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland as “murderer of the Norwegian people”.

By the time Breivik posted his last comment on Document.no in late October 2010, he still seemed focused on a practical action plan for furthering his political views. Some of his posts feature calls to like-minded people for winning control over newspapers and NGOs as part of a long-term strategy.  Some of his sources of inspiration, such as Fjordland, have previously been explicitly anti-terrorist, and he himself highlights the Tea Party movement in the United States as a hopeful model to follow for European right-wingers (to some of whom he appears to have established links).  However, Breivik’s take on Middle Eastern issues at document.no are strikingly similar to a far more radical English-language manifesto, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”, that was released on the day of the Oslo bombings and has since been attributed to him, although parts of it are clearly lifted from other sources. The document repeats many of the themes of Breivik’s postings at document.no, including a paranoid fear of the Mediterranean initiatives of the EU as a door-opener for an Islamic conquest of Europe. There is also more detailed commentary on the Middle East, with quotes supportive of the idea of a Christian federal region in Iraq as well as the Syrian Baathist, Allawite-led regime, because of its protection of Christians! But the action plan in this second document is far more chilling and foreshadows the violence that was unleashed in Oslo on 22 July.

Whether today’s alleged mass murder already coexisted with the armchair generalist who wrote far-fetched but moderately eloquent postings on document.no in October 2010 or whether Breivik was subject to a subsequent  process of radicalisation that concluded with his violent attempt at declaring “European independence” remains to be seen.

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