July 30, 2011 in Opinion

Froma Harrop: Don’t confuse extremist with crazy

Froma Harrop
 

“What did the Oslo killer want?” asks one of many irritating headlines over the weekend. The Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, called for a number of societal changes as he massacred his countrymen in a meticulous assault, Foreign Policy reported. But let’s skip them and cut to the chase: Breivik was insane.

Moments after the bombs exploded in the Norwegian capital, the instant analysis pointed to Muslim terrorism and asked: What had Norway done to possibly provoke this massacre? Then it was discovered that the maniac resembled not some dark-bearded Islamic fanatic but Thor. Blond mane crashing over his muscled shoulders, Thor was the lightning god of Norse mythology – and of Marvel comics.

The suspect changed, but not the apparent need to put the rampage into a political frame and ask irrelevant questions. The question isn’t what Breivik wants but what he needs, which would appear to be a cell and lots of medication.

The person posing in a frogman suit was a twisted loser on the order of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Like another terrorist, “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, he stewed in a paranoid vision of evildoers ascendant.

Most weirdly, Breivik professed to hate radical Islam while diving into the same sort of self-aggrandizing fantasy as the criminals of 9/11. He fancied himself founder of a new Knights Templar, a military order started around 900 years ago to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land from Arab attack. Osama bin Laden’s followers sought to restore the lost glory of al-Andalus, 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain that ended five centuries ago.

These people don’t know where the video game ends and real life begins. Put them in the same room, and lock the door.

What Breivik is not is a “right-winger” in any conventional sense of the term. Calling this crackpot such puts him on a political spectrum occupied by people arguing about real things in the current century. Even “right-wing extremist” is pushing it. Once you place the likes of Breivik in the political debate, you distort the views of others concerned with similar-sounding issues.

And it’s happening. Consider this bit of unhinged linkage in the New York Times coverage. Breivik had railed against multiculturalism and open immigration, hence this line: “Yet some of the primary motivations cited by the suspect in Norway … are now mainstream issues.”

The reporter goes on to note that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also criticized “multiculturalism.” He should find out whether they also like blueberry pie.

Questioning multiculturalism is not confined to conservatives. Center-left-me is no fan of multiculturalism when used to deny the importance of “newcomers” adjusting to the host country’s mainstream values. Furthermore, while I support an orderly immigration program that admits people of different backgrounds, I find uncontrolled mass immigration troubling.

Am I in any way providing safe political haven for a lunatic hunting down children at a summer camp?

Let’s get to the bottom of what the Oslo killer probably wanted. He wanted his daddy. In his “manifesto,” Breivik complains that his father, long ago divorced from his mother, hadn’t spoken to him in 15 years. (The big flashing light in McVeigh’s biography is that his mother had packed up and left the family when Timothy was 10.) Breivik said he wouldn’t mind if the (new) Knights Templar executed his stepmother, even though he and she generally got along.

We may read the manifestoes out of curiosity, but to find the origins of these unspeakable crimes, look for the family crack-up or brain chemicals gone haywire. Those we call political extremists are often just extremely crazy.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for the Providence Journal.


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