Norwegian terrorism suspect Anders Behring Breivik may have attained what he hoped for — worldwide notoriety. The young man has shaken Norway to its roots and out of its complacency. Apparently, for a whole decade, he functioned as a one-man sleeper cell, meeting his mother once a week for dinner, blogging incessantly, playing violent computer games and writing a manifesto about what he perceived as Europe's cultural annihilation by the liberal political class that has been bringing a lot of Muslims to the continent as immigrants.
While he was indulging in these pursuits, he was gathering the ammunition he needed to build a powerful bomb and commit mass murder. The attack occurred in Utoeya, an idyllic island where the Labor Party's youth wing was meeting for a multicultural learning experience. Supposedly the site where the teens were meeting has belonged to the youth wing of the labor party since World War II. Year after year, Labor Party political aspirants have descended there for their summer pow-wows.
In trying to search for a similar site for conservative youth in Norway, I came up empty. Since World War II Norway essentially has had one-party rule, and Labor has had a stranglehold on the development of political leadership and philosophy in Norway. The Labor Party of Norway may be interested in multiculturalism, but history shows that political pluralism and multi-party rule are largely absent in Norway, with political conservatives, apparently, marginalized there as oddities. This, of course neither explains nor justifies Mr. Breivik's heinous massacre, but it highlights that even Norway, enlightened and advanced, has some milestones to cross to become a vibrant pluralistic democracy.
If Mr. Breivik ever aspired to be a political leader in Norway, he would have had no choice other than to join the Labor Party. Apparently he didn't do that.
An angry right wing extremist, a Eurocentric Christian, as he describes himself in his writings, Mr. Breivik was obsessed and alarmed by the emergence of a Europe diluted by Arabs. He is not unique in his dread of a nascent Eurabia. Germany's Angela Merkel, Britain's David Cameron and France's Nicolas Sarkozy have all, at one time or another, used their Muslim citizens as whipping boys, sternly lecturing them about their lack of assimilation, even as Muslims are ghettoized in Europe, huge swaths of them impoverished and unemployed.
Apparently Mr. Breivik was listening, reading and imbibing these sentiments, lending them his own twisted interpretations. He was also buoyed by all and sundry U.S. blogs and writings against Muslims. But when it came time to put his ideas and antipathy in motion, he may as well have taken his instructions from Osama bin Laden. He descended on Utoeya, dressed as a policeman, to plug several innocents with bullets described as splintering to pieces within their bodies to cause more harm than regular ammunition.
Mr. Breivik is being characterized now as a madman by Norwegian authorities. This reaction is understandable because regular folks want to draw a sharp contrast between themselves and men like Mr. Breivik. It is more comforting for Norway to see him as an aberration, one of their own gone bad by madness. Another favorite word to describe men like Mr. Breivik is "evil."
Evil is supposed to sum it all up, an act of the Devil, inexplicable and insubordinate to human will. When it comes to members of al-Qaida, though, Western descriptions are consistently florid. By the standards of the West, Arab extremists are not merely mad and evil men, instead they are also malicious, calculative, organized, patient and ruthless existential threats, even when they act alone, and they must be conquered by all means possible, including war. The folly of the West lies in this kind of lack of insight and hypocrisy about radicalism.
Radicalism is universal. No country is exempt. The causes can be religious, political, social and economic. Arab extremism is rooted in religion, politics and economics. Disenfranchised, young religious zealots continue to enroll in the ranks of al-Qaida, in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Northern Africa. In failing or failed states like Afghanistan and Pakistan the Taliban waits in the wings and extremism in these nations is a political grab for power. But in Europe and the U.S., the extremism of lone actors is often rooted in social causes.
For example, Mr. Breivik's father, a Norwegian diplomat, divorced Mr. Breivik's mother when Mr. Breivik was merely a one year old. By the father's own admission, he lost all contact with his son when Mr. Breivik was 15 years old. The father, who currently lives well in France, has not only deplored Mr. Breivik's actions to the media but has also expressed regret that Mr. Breivik did not kill himself in the rampage. He seems mortified that he will be marked for the rest of his life by the actions of a son he never bothered to know or nurture.
While it is true that most kids from broken families do not grow up to emulate men like Mr. Breivik, the opposite, that most men like Mr. Breivik come from dysfunctional and fractured families, is true in the West. Madness may be genetic, but it does not bloom in a vacuum. Childhood trauma, neglect and abuse all contribute to the delusions, hate and anger of mad men. Mr. Breivik didn't arrive at age 32, rifle blazing, without the forces that shaped him — his absentee father and his search for significance in a world devoid of paternal guidance and love.
With so much social dystopia and malaise in the West, the presumption that radicalism of the young is a peculiarly Arab phenomenon has to be replaced by the more realistic view, that all ethnic groups are susceptible to the lure of radicalism, albeit for different reasons. Yes, most terrorist attacks we remember have been the acts of Arab extremists. But will that continue to be the case? With the carnage he created, Mr. Breivik forces the West to confront its own image in the mirror of truth.
Usha Nellore, Bel Air