In the beginning there was the media. They transmitted and shaped the news of the Oslo attack and the subsequent killing spree on the island of Utøya. Instead of informing us on what was actually known at that moment, journalists spawned wantonly all kinds of speculations on who was responsible for the attacks. When one doesn’t have information, the possibilities are endless, but on this occasion only one was repeated endlessly: “probably” it was Al Qaeda that was responsible for the attack, or an islamist group close to it, in retaliation for the publication of the Mohamed cartoons, or the participation of Norway in the occupation of Afghanistan. Such remarks reflect a political agenda that has been in the making for many years. We no longer need a José María Aznar who calls the editors-in-chief of the newspapers [Note of the translator: Hours after the Madrid bombing in 2004, Mr. Aznar had called the editors of Spanish newspapers to emphasize the government’s conviction that ETA was responsible]. The mechanism has been completely interiorized, so that such sentences come out automatically and become routine.
One does not need to back-up information with facts: suffice “expert opinion” in the ideological construction of the enemy. Once again the so-called experts played a fundamental role in fabricating news that afterwards turned out to be completely wrong. In Spain, it is impossible to have an attack or event attributed to islamists that does not immediately lead to the publication of an El País article by Fernando Reinares, “Senior Researcher on terrorism at the Real Instituto Elcano, and Professor at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos”. And indeed, after the massacres in Oslo and Utøya, El País digital immediately published an article of his that linked “the terrorist threat to Norway” with “the processes of jihadist radicalization that can be observed in some segments of the muslim community in Norway“. Although the column concluded with the admission that “this is a hypothesis on what happened in Norway yesterday, but not the only possible one“, in the text Reinares focussed exclusively on the Al Qaeda option. That is why it is no longer possible to consult the text: the author requested El País to redraw it from the digital edition, and it was published only in some regional editions of the paper. For the moment, at least, Google still has a cached version.
Screenshot of Fernando Reinares’s article, published online in El País on the 23/07/2011
A few days later, Fernando Reinares admitted, in the ‘Letters to the editor’ section, that the article had been written in a rush and that it had been published after the bomb blast in Oslo, but before the massacre on the island become known, and before it was known how the Oslo explosion had taken place. It was all Reinares needed to prepare a cocktail with the words “radicalization”, “global jihad”, and “muslim communities”. If there only had been a bomb in Oslo, and if Anders Behring Breivik wouldn’t have been seen indiscriminately shooting young labour activists gathered in Utøya, the article would not have been redrawn – such are the ethical and professional standards used in “terrorism studies”. The latter serve two fundamental functions: first, they legitimize the policing of what are essentially political issues; and secondly, they create networks that link certain research centres, the governments that fund them, the analysts that work for both of them, and the media that amplify their voices.
After the confirmation that the attacks were the work of a white individual with Norwegian nationality and far right leanings, the press oscillated between considering it the action of a disturbed isolated individual (especially in the US), and a dissimulated unease at qualifying it as a terrorist act (especially in Europe). Making a virtue of necessity, the same message had to be repeated but in a different form. The El País editorial does so with eloquence:
the events would have confirmed […] that the prevention of terrorist attacks cannot and should not be focussed on jihadism alone. There are social pathologies, probably with a more imprecise religious component, but fired up by racist fever, loneliness and frustration, that make their appearance even in the most advanced societies. Part of these pathologies can be observed in the social networks, because of the latter’s narcissist qualities. Once again we see that latent threats were not taken seriously, or that the means for controlling them were not available
While condemning the events, the editorial this time does not mention the Christian religion of Anders Behring Breivik, his fascist ideas, the fact that his “racist fever” was inspired by no less than John Stuart Mill, his admiration for neoconservative experts like Daniel Pipes or for the Israeli government, his inspiration in politicians like Geert Wilders, or his links with far-right European parties. The vague reference to “social pathologies” on the other hand allow to warn for the dangers of radicalization, while insisting that the internet and the society at large should be controlled, in pre-emptive fashion. Many commentaries talk about the “ingenuity” and the “innocence” of the Norwegian authorities, incapable of foreseeing what in general is impossible to predict.
If the literature on “global jihad” allows to stigmatize entire communities in Europe, “extremism” and “radicalization” and its variants permit to recreate at will many other enemy figures and the adequate dispositifs for controlling them. But if we look at the Europol 2010 list of “failed, foiled and completed attacks”, categorized by member state and ideological affiliation, we see the following:
The first thing to call our attention is how few “terrorist acts” are actually linked to islamism, a finding also confirmed in previous years. Second, the large majority can be attributed to a single organization, ETA, which explains why France and Spain figure so prominently in the graph. And all of this despite the fact that in 2010 the only incident worth mentioning was the shooting on March 16 in which a French gendarme was killed. Most cases in reality are so-called “aborted actions” by the police, or events that have more to do with the badly named “milieu” rather than armed organization per se. Thirdly, after ETA (and attacks carried out by Northern Irish and Republican groups) most attacks are those attributed to “far-left” organizations in the south of Europa, and especially Greece. Finally, not a single completed action is attributed to the far right, nor are there supposed to be failed or foiled plots. Perhaps the fascists, neo-nazi’s and ultra’s limited themselves in 2010 to writing in forums, blogs, and general trolling on the net? Of course not.
In reality, violent actions by the far right are usually classified as “vandalism” or “racist attacks“, hardly ever as “terrorism”. This has important consequences: the same actions by “separatists” or “radical leftists” are punished much more severely as those perpetrated by those belonging to the “far right”. Moreover, the latter are the object of far less zealous police scrutiny, sometimes even sharing common objectives, environments and forums.
Politically, Norway does not escape the conservative and racist wave that is engulfing the rest of Europe, just like other Scandinavian countries too. The neoliberal and anti-immigrant Progress Party to which Breivik belonged is already the second political formation of the country, with 22,9% of the votes in the last elections. But in Norway, with the lowest unemployment numbers if Europe (3,4%), the new nativist and anti-immigrant discourse even permeates the governing Labour Party. The coalition it is in wants to make immigration laws stricter, based on arguments that are more cultural than economic. At the same time it adopts and promotes an individualism that is markedly hostile towards the Welfare State. In this synthesis education, culture, common values and religion become selection criteria and ways to (re)segment the labour market. At the same time, the “war of each against all” – against the barbarians, but also those that have allowed the “invasion” to take place – converts the multitudes into a mob of predators devouring each other.
There are no police-oriented solutions against the Anders Beehring Breiviks of Europe, or those that might end up doing similar things like him. It is immensely hypocritical to be horrified by the criminal and racist consequences while those very same “popular” or “progressive” governments impose labour conditions that can only be characterized as semi-servitude, deny civil rights to certain “immigrants” and consolidate anti-terrorist legislation incompatible with fundamental liberties. The far right knows this all too well, and is quick to exploit said hypocrisy. Faced by the genocidal option, the only alternative is political, creating an overwhelming and empowering democratic movement, as the one that we have seen in Madrid lately.