Anders Behring Breivik had no legitimate grievance

Gavan Titley and I have published an article on The Guardian’s Comment is Free today stating why we think that the political mainstream is far more involved than we would like to think in the development of Anders Behring Breivik’s idea on multiculturalism and immigration.

Despite the fact that Anders Behring Breivik was not permitted to publicly justify his actions in public on Monday, a scrambling defence of his repertoire of prejudice is already in full swing. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bruce Bawer, who is quoted by Breivik in his manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, emphasises his repeated warnings that a rightwing extremist may use violence to address “legitimate concerns about genuine problems”. Bawer blames mainstream politics for failing to address the corrosion of Europe by Islamicisation and multiculturalism, meanwhile The Jerusalem Post cautions that “Oslo’s devastating tragedy should not be allowed to be manipulated by those who would cover up the abject failure of multiculturalism”.

Racism is often justified as an aberrant reaction to understandable provocation; the focus on “multiculturalism” in the aftermath of the Oslo tragedy draws attention to contemporary racism’s most elastic alibi. The “failure of multiculturalism” is an article of faith in European politics and, like all acts of faith, it depends on the acceptance of an underlying mystery. Despite the denunciations of this “failed experiment”, there has never been a time in Europe where multiculturalism was the dominant ideology. As Ralph Grillo has argued, state practices, in the few countries that have adopted them, are characterised by a “weak” patchwork of policy initiatives and aspirational rhetoric. Yet critics have consistently assumed the damaging existence of a coherent “strong” form, which is always “unbridled”.

Multiculturalism has historically been accompanied by accusations of “reverse racism” and “unfairness to whites”. Since 9/11, politicians and commentators have held it responsible for an extraordinary range of social and political problems. The overwhelming power attributed to this semi-fictional project, and the fact that it is often critcised in countries with small immigrant populations, with no real history of multiculturalism in practice, should give pause for thought.

It is widely recognised that racism underwent a change in the post-war period, shifting from being an ideology of racial hierarchy to one of “natural” cultural incompatability. The so-called “new racism” of far-right parties during the 1980s and 1990s ingested the language and logic of multiculturalism, and portrayed ordinary – white – people as victims of an elite imposition, hypocritically denied their “right to culture”. These ideas are pressed into service in the emerging defence of Breivik’s political despair. In extreme versions, multiculturalism is regarded as self-hatred, in more nuanced attacks as a laudable experiment that foundered on the rocks of their difference and “our” naive generosity. Both versions portray “multiculturalists” and “immigrants” as an internal threat to a given national culture, and an otherwise pristine state of social cohesion.

The vision of multiculturalism as a conspiratorial alliance between varieties of leftists and “Islamists” is a staple of the Islamophobic blogosphere. In his analysis of Breivik’s document, Doug Sanders points to the influence of “Eurabian” writers such as Bawer, Mark Steyn, Melanie Phillips and Robert Spencer in agitating for a millenarian vision of a civilisation under attack. This début-de-siècle genre mirrors the fin-de-siècle European obsession with decadence and moral decay, the difference being that it is now Muslims, rather than Jews, that threaten to devour their tolerant hosts.

What makes the narrative of multicultural failure toxic, however, is its mainstream acceptability. There is no cordon sanitaire between the out-and-out Islamophobes and the political mainstream, and the past decade has proved that the traffic of ideas goes both ways. The myth of excessive generosity allows for tighter migration regimes, compulsory integration projects and neo-nationalist politics to be presented as nothing more than rehabilitation.

Recent recitations of the comforting narrative by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, garnered significant publicity. More attention needs to be paid to the mainstream racism it has given legitimacy to elsewhere in Europe. The former Dutch immigration minister Rita Verdonk proposed a system of “integration badges” for immigrants. The former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared a “battle of culture” against multiculturalism and Islam, and his culture minister, Brian Mikkelsen, explicitly targeted a “medieval Muslim culture” in Denmark. Päivi Räsänen, the new Finnish interior minister, proposed prioritising Christian refugees in the interests of cohesion and to “prevent discrimination”. While these examples are drawn from contexts now associated with far-right electoral successes, they illustrate how the alibi of an “utterly failed” multiculturalism has provided political capital to centrists and liberals for quite some time.

The political class should reflect before responding to the tragedy in Norway, particularly when “austerity” politics may make the scapegoating of immigrant-descended and Muslim groups worse. No easy connections can be made between the recorded thoughts of a killer and the complex circulation of political ideas. However, writers who have consistently warned of the need to defend an ailing civilisation have questions to answer when a massacre is explicitly justified in their terms. And mainstream politicians, content to lazily peddle an exaggerated story of multicultural excess and Muslim difference are not exempt from this criticism.


8 Comments

  • Jannik Thorsen

    July 26, 2011

    “Racism is often justified as an aberrant reaction to understandable provocation; the focus on “multiculturalism” in the aftermath of the Oslo tragedy draws attention to contemporary racism’s most elastic alibi. The “failure of multiculturalism” is an article of faith in European politics and, like all acts of faith, it depends on the acceptance of an underlying mystery.”

    It all depends on what you define as “racism”. This is the true elastic concept, which gets bandied about when anyone wants to smear the ideological opposition. You havent defined this concept, so its impossible to evaluate the truth value of your statement.

    The failure of multiculturalism is not an article of faith. Its backed of with multiples of statistics and research, as well as many historical cases, and the main culprit in this case, is mass immigration directed towards western european states.

    Whenever you have different ethnic, cultural or religious groups occupying the same national territory, the risk of conflict arising increases dramatically.
    This is an iron law of history, and no amount of sofisticated marxist analysis can explain this regularity away.

    “Multiculturalism has historically been accompanied by accusations of “reverse racism” and “unfairness to whites”. Since 9/11, politicians and commentators have held it responsible for an extraordinary range of social and political problems. The overwhelming power attributed to this semi-fictional project, and the fact that it is often critcised in countries with small immigrant populations, with no real history of multiculturalism in practice, should give pause for thought.”

    “unfairness to whites” is a reality whenever one employs policies like “affirmative action”. Which exactly is “reverse racism”. Blatantly denying this fact makes it clear that your thinking is muddled.

    5-10% minority population of a very different ethnic or cultural background can have a huge impact on a country. If you want your analysis to make sense, you need to take account of the sort of immigration your dealing with, when combined with the host population. Not only numbers count, but also which types. Your argument is therefore not convincing, when you omit important parameters.

    “It is widely recognised that racism underwent a change in the post-war period, shifting from being an ideology of racial hierarchy to one of “natural” cultural incompatability. The so-called “new racism” of far-right parties during the 1980s and 1990s ingested the language and logic of multiculturalism, and portrayed ordinary – white – people as victims of an elite imposition, hypocritically denied their “right to culture”.”

    You clearly have a very weak grip of reality. Lots of surveys have been conducted in western Europe through the last 20 years. They all confirm the same pattern. The general electorate want less immigration, if not a total halt of immigration, especially concerning people of very foreign descent.
    The majority of politicians on the other hand, have kept on applauding mass immigration as some inevitable historical outcome, while at the same time relaxing immigrtion policy.
    This is not some fantasy as you imply, the facts spesk for themselves, and they dont support your case.

    “These ideas are pressed into service in the emerging defence of Breivik’s political despair. In extreme versions, multiculturalism is regarded as self-hatred, in more nuanced attacks as a laudable experiment that foundered on the rocks of their difference and “our” naive generosity. Both versions portray “multiculturalists” and “immigrants” as an internal threat to a given national culture, and an otherwise pristine state of social cohesion.”

    no one is defending Breiviks terrorists attacks as you imply. Many parts of his analysis in his manifesto are in my opinion correct, but this is pretty far from supporting his cause.
    When one employs nondemocratic terrorist methods, one distances oneself from the political system entirely. Whether one defends islamist, rightwing or leftwing causes, is irrelevant. The method of conduct sets one apart from the political debate.
    Even if he calls himself a “conservative”, his methods imply that he is in fact a revolutionary, and much more in line with traditional marxists who endorse similar means.

    “What makes the narrative of multicultural failure toxic, however, is its mainstream acceptability. There is no cordon sanitaire between the out-and-out Islamophobes and the political mainstream, and the past decade has proved that the traffic of ideas goes both ways. The myth of excessive generosity allows for tighter migration regimes, compulsory integration projects and neo-nationalist politics to be presented as nothing more than rehabilitation.”

    Nothing toxic about the narrative in itself. In fact it is pretty close to the truth. There is no “myth of excessive generosity”. Immigration policy has since the 60ties or 70ties, depending on which country taken into consideration, been very “open”. The british labour party even admitted that they wanted to make britain “truly multicultural, “rubbing” the rights nose in diversity”.

    So immigration policy in the west has been unprecedented open in the west, with generous welfare nenefits accompanying the newcomer. No myths here.

    “The political class should reflect before responding to the tragedy in Norway, particularly when “austerity” politics may make the scapegoating of immigrant-descended and Muslim groups worse.”

    Indeed they should. Branding everyone who does not embrace massimmigration and cultural marxism a “racist” and “islamophobe”, has made the political climate toxic.

    “No easy connections can be made between the recorded thoughts of a killer and the complex circulation of political ideas. However, writers who have consistently warned of the need to defend an ailing civilisation have questions to answer when a massacre is explicitly justified in their terms. And mainstream politicians, content to lazily peddle an exaggerated story of multicultural excess and Muslim difference are not exempt from this criticism.”

    You are right on one issue, no easy ideological connections can be made. Especially when one decides to use terrorist methods to reach ones goals. This is what the marxists have been saying for years when it comes to islam and muslim terrorists.
    Now when it comes to a christian fundamentalist commiting terror, the whole right wing establishment apparently has to take responsibility.
    No one demands that average muslims take responsibility for terrorist attacts perpetrated in the name of Allah. And no one expected that Gunter grass or the famed marxist Jurgen Habermass take responsibility when Rote armee fraction conducted terrorist attacks in the 70ties.

    Now all of a sudden democratic nationalists and conservatives have to atone for what one terrorist has commited.
    This just reeks of sick hypocritical thinking, and political opportunism. You are apparently nothing more than a leftwing politician dressed up as a “social scientist”.

  • Edward Graham

    December 21, 2011

    Interesting that the Author of this most edifying blog would not even bother to either delete or dispute the above comment. And congrats to the writer of the comment above. More and more people are beginning to see through the flimsy, duplicitous logic of the likes of Ms Lentin. I’d imagine she can only look forward to being pushed more to the extreme margins of the academic world, where she and others like her belong.

  • Alana Lentin

    December 22, 2011

    if my logic is flimsy, i wonder what the commenter’s is. Interesting how they think that those in the margins of academia like myself can nonetheless publish in top ranked peer reviewed journals!

  • Claire Khaw

    December 28, 2011

    Alana Lentin describes the problem ie that people don’t much like uncontrolled immigration, wrings her hands, and then offers no solutions. Still this is what the British taxpayer has been paying left wing academics to do. Perhaps one day soon enough of them will wise up.

  • Edward Graham

    January 19, 2012

    If your musings were in any way interesting there would be a little more comments made to your posts. ‘Top ranked peer review journals’ or not.

    The eye incorporated in your site design seems a little forlorn seeing as not many people seem to read it’s content.

  • Alana Lentin

    January 19, 2012

    Oh dear, how poetic you must have thought you were being. Next time check your apostrophes and ask yourself if it’s (correctly used) so uninteresting, why you are bothering to comment.

  • Edward Graham

    January 19, 2012

    I take it then that as Peer reviewed academic you see it more important to point out a simple mistake in grammar than actually engage with the one person who actually bother to challenge you.

    How mature of you. How academic.

  • Edward Graham

    January 19, 2012

    Whilst we’re at though, I’d check your own use of the English language in your last comment. Ever heard of a question Mark? How silly to point out grammar mistakes whilst making them yourself.

    Pathetically silly really.

    And you work in Education?

Leave a Reply