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And Now Begins The Propaganda Phase...

  • Charles Recknagel

A woman holds a candle amid a sea of flowers and lit candles placed in memory of those killed in the July 22 bomb and shooting attack in front of Oslo Cathedral on July 25.

A woman holds a candle amid a sea of flowers and lit candles placed in memory of those killed in the July 22 bomb and shooting attack in front of Oslo Cathedral on July 25.

When Anders Behring Breivik launched his attack on Norway's Labor Party, killing more than 70 innocent people, it was certainly the act of a cold-blooded killer.

But it was not -- any more than were the attacks of September 11, 2001 -- the spontaneous act of a madman.

Instead, both acts were calculated to draw the world's attention to the perpetrators so that they could deliver something even more dangerous. And that is their vision of how the world should be, in place of a reasoned debate about how the world is.

Breivik revealed his intentions in the 1,500-page manifesto he published online before he carried out his assault.

"Your arrest will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase" he wrote. Or, as he stressed more obscurely in his own self-made terms, "a Justiciar Knight is not only a valorous resistance fighter, a one-man army, he is a one-man marketing agency as well."

A Justiciar Knight is a term that needs to be explained, because it exists only in the head of its creator. It is -- in Breivik's mind -- a ranking officer in a new order of liberators who usurp power in Europe by crushing its democratic institutions.

Specifically, that means eliminating political parties that espouse multiculturalism so that, in Breivik's words, "muslim individuals who do not assimilate 100 percent within 2020 will be deported."

Why multiculturalism is bad and why Muslims should be deported is not something Breivik spends much time discussing. It is simply necessary because, again in his words, "around year 2000 I realized that the democratic struggle against the Islamisation of Europe, European multiculturalism was lost.... It would now only take 50-70 years before we, the Europeans, are in a minority."

Of course, Breivik's demographic projections are nonsense and in Norway, where immigrants make up 10 percent of the population, he faces no imminent danger of falling into a minority at all. But arguing about facts is emphatically not what Breivik is about.

Instead -- and despite penning his manifesto in the West's lingua franca, English -- he is no more interested in holding an argument about immigration than bin Laden was in debating the dangers of Western culture to Muslim societies. For both men -- Breivik longing for an idealized "European" Europe and bin Laden for the Khalifate -- the argument phase is over and violence is necessary.

Even Worse Than Violence

That is precisely what makes both Breivik and his astonishingly similar twin bin Laden -- both well educated and articulate -- so dangerous to the rest of us. We can't help but pay attention to their violence and overhear their message, even as their provocations make it more difficult for us to hold the kind of reasoned dialogue they despise.

In both the West and the East that dialogue today is about globalization and the extent to which societies are ready to open themselves up to dramatic cultural changes. There is no doubt these are serious questions and that strong differences of opinion exist around them. There also is no shortage of people -- from great thinkers to rabble rousers -- who want to address them.

But by grabbing our attention with mass, incomprehensible murders, terrorists do much more than just try to silence these voices for a moment. They also hack away at the level of trust needed for reasoned discourse. The attacks make it easier for fearful people to believe extremists speak for whole societies and, that in turn, only advances the terrorists' own cause.

Two decades ago, at a time when the world seemed to be at a turning point with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of free markets and democracy, Francis Fukuyama received wide attention for a treatise arguing that the forces of globalizing liberalism would sweep competing ideologies from the field.

But he predicted it could be an uneasy process. Cultural frictions, he cautioned, could create angry young men ready to lash out at the unfamiliar worlds brought so close to their door, and he warned that the effects of their lashing out could far exceed their own actions or indeed their own small numbers.

Those are warnings we should remember today. Certainly, Breivik's bloodshed is too meticulously planned to be the act of an insane man. But most certainly it is the act of an unspeakably unbalanced man, and one who is bent on trying to unbalance us.

The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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