// archives

Anders Behring Breivik

This tag is associated with 2 posts

The Christian Threat

27 July 2011

The Christian Threat

By Gwynne Dyer

Three pieces about Muslims in the same paper on the same day (The Independent, 25 July). The first is a local colour piece about how there are a lot more Middle Eastern tourists in London this summer. Why? Because France has banned the “Islamic” veil (or the Babylonian/Roman/Byzantine/Islamic veil, if you want to be precise) that covers the face. So the high-spending female shoppers from the Gulf aren’t going to Paris any more.

So many of them are going to London instead that big London shops like Selfridges and Liberty are reporting a 40-45 percent in international visitors compared to last year. And since Middle Eastern shoppers spend about fifteen times as much as your average British shopper, they are more than welcome even if many of them look a little weird to the average British eye.

Two pages on, a story about how rickets, a bone disease that causes stunted growth and bow legs in children, is making a comeback in Britain. It’s caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight acting on the skin. And it’s Muslims (British Muslims this time), who keep their women indoors or make them cover every bit of skin when they go out, who are the main victims of this disease.

The researcher didn’t actually say that, of course. She said: “You get women living in certain communities that perhaps don’t go out much because of religious, cultural traditions. They’re covered up when they do. They don’t get enough access to sunlight, so they get vitamin D deficient…So (their children will) be presenting with rickets at around 18 months.”

Fair comment, but it’s striking that nowhere in that story does the word “Muslim” appear. It didn’t appear in the first story either. Everybody knows that both stories are about Muslims, but the galumphing etiquette that governs this discourse means that you mustn’t actually say so. It’s a well-meaning but idiotic attempt to compensate for the vicious anti-Muslim rants that you’ll see every day in other parts of the Western media.

And finally, on the letters page, an angry complaint by a British Muslim about the way that Western media jumped to the instant conclusion that the hideous slaughter in Norway was the work of Muslim fanatics. “Now that the architect of the Norwegian massacre turns out to be a blue-eyed, blonde, white, Christian, right-wing fundamentalist,” inquired Dr Shazad Amin, “where have all the so-called experts on “Islamic terrorism” suddenly gone?”

“I look forward to now seeing an equally vigorous explanation of how Norway was “always a key target” for right-wing neo-Nazi groups, supported by a plethora of experts on “Christian terrorism” to explain the theological basis for these attacks.”

If you hold your breath until that happens in the mainstream Western media, you will turn an attractive shade of blue, but we could try to apply the principle here.

Just as Muslims living in northerly climes with weak sunlight suffer rickets because of their clothing preferences, for example, so “Christians” living in countries with strong sunshine suffer very high rates of skin cancer because of their custom of wearing as little clothing as possible.

That is not really accurate, of course, because a majority of the world’s Christians are not white. What’s actually being observed is that people of European descent (most of whom are at least “culturally” Christian) get skin cancer a lot if they live in countries like Australia, South Africa and Argentina.

The fully veiled women shoppers in London are not just generic “Muslims”, either. They are almost all women from the Arabic-speaking countries of the Gulf, home to only a quarter of the world’s Arabs and only about 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.

But this is really just quibbling. The real question is: what can be done about the obsession with “Islamic terrorism” in the Western media, to the virtual exclusion of other kinds of terrorism. It is so strong that even after Anders Behring Breivik claimed responsibility for the Norwegian horrors and explained his (right-wing, Christian fundamentalist) motives, internet posts continued to argue that he was just a tool in the hands of Muslim extremists.

It’s the “hidden hand” theory of politics, and its adherents generally proceed by the logical process that the lawyers refer to as “cui bono”: who benefits from this action? It’s hardly an infallible indicator of who is responsible, because you have to allow for the crazies, and also for those who are miscalculating where their interests really lie. Nevertheless, it’s the methodology that the conspiracy theorists prefer.

So, then, who benefited from Breivik’s actions? Obviously he believed that it would serve his own delusional ideology (which he elucidated in a 1,500-page internet post), but who was really behind it? I’m drifting towards paranoia, I know, but stay with me.

The week before the Norwegian tragedy saw a deluge of revelations of criminality and a firestorm of media criticism about the conduct of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Suddenly, all the media attention has turned to Norway and terrorism, and the Murdochs are off the agenda.

I’m not going to say anything that might get me sued, but if you like a really big conspiracy theory….


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 10 and 11. (“The researcher…months”; and “That…Muslims”)

The Terrorist Threat, Part XXVI

22 July 2011

The Terrorist Threat, Part XXVI

By Gwynne Dyer

You could almost hear the enormous sigh of relief as journalists around the world welcomed the news that there had been a big explosion in Oslo and many shooting deaths on a nearby island. There’s been practically no foreign news for them to write about – it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, and all the major villains of international politics are on holiday – but this is terrorism, and terrorism always sells.

“Even if one is well prepared, it is always rather dramatic when something like this happens,” said Prime Minister Jens Stolteneberg with admirably Norwegian restraint. But restraint is not the dominant mode in journalism, and plenty of people were willing to hypothesise on who caused the explosion and why. The leading theories were:

1. It was Islamist terrorists taking belated revenge for the cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten six years ago that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. They would have had to be very ignorant terrorists, since Jyllands-Posten is a Danish newspaper and Oslo is in Norway, but the distinction may not be clear if you live far away and you didn’t pay attention in geography class.

2. It was Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafy carrying out his threat earlier this month to attack European targets in retaliation for European help to Libyan rebels: “Hundreds of Libyans will martyr in Europe. I told you it is eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” There are six Norwegian fighter planes operating over Libya, after all.

3. It was an extreme right-wing conspiracy with its roots in Norwegian politics, taking aim at the ruling Labour Party.

It’s starting to look as if the last theory was correct, with Anders Behring Breivik, the sole suspect who has been arrested, cast as a Norwegian Timothy McVeigh. The point is that if you are not Norwegian, it doesn’t matter much. Indeed, even if you are Norwegian, it shouldn’t matter much. This is a big media event and a tragedy for those directly involved, but it is not actually a big event.

A hundred people killed in a train wreck or an airline disaster is a two-day story in the country where it happened, and a one-day story that does not lead the television news (unless there are particularly dramatic pictures) in the rest of the world. Whereas a hundred Norwegians killed in a bomb attack and a shooting spree once in a half-century makes headlines around the world.

This is quite understandable in some ways: we know that we all have to die eventually, but we feel entitled not to be murdered by strangers. Besides, news is really news precisely because of its scarcity value. If there were bomb attacks and shooting incidents in Oslo every day, most foreign media would soon stop reporting it on a daily basis. There would be a piece of reportage or analysis every month or so, and that would be it.

The problem is that terrorism gets people’s attention, just as it is intended to. It then becomes the basis for making policy. And often that policy is very expensive, very intrusive and very foolish. There will now be thousands of new metal detectors, and thousands of new “security” personnel to run those machines and carry out body searches, at the entrances to public buildings across Europe and probably beyond.

There may even be armed guards at youth camps run by political parties. It will create some employment at a time when it is needed, but that will presumably not be the aim of the exercise. The goal, or so we will be told, is to reduce the likelihood of such a terrible event happening again. But you can’t do that. All you can do is to move the terrible events around.

If you make all government buildings everywhere totally impenetrable, with overlapping layers of tight and time-consuming security, then the next bomber with a grievance will just blow himself up in a bus. Or in a supermarket, or at a major sports event, or just in a crowded city street. Unless you are willing to legislate against more than a dozen people being together anywhere, terrorists will continue to enjoy a “target-rich environment.”

Fortunately, these terrible events are very rare. They are rare partly because governments keep track of individuals and groups that show some interest in terrorism, but mainly they are rare because there really are not that many such individuals and groups.

The ordinary citizen’s safety lies in statistics, not in ever more elaborate “security” measures. You are still more likely to die from falling off a ladder or drowning in the bath than you are to die in a terrorist attack. When they tell you to re-shape your life or your foreign policy in response to the “terrorist threat,” tell them to go jump in the lake.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 12. (“This is…it”; and “Fortunately…groups”)

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.