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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NORWAY: TRAGEDY AND REALITY

The "analysis" of the horrific events in Norway have begun and the distinct tendency among some analysts has been to tie the actions of the Norwegian perpetrator, Anders Behring Brievik to conservative political parties and religious groups in Norway.  These groups are identified as "right wing" or “fundamentalist Christian” and "anti-immigrant".  It should be clear from the outset however that these were the acts of a deranged individual.  No matter how virulent the rhetoric of some of these groups, none advocate mass murder.  If Brievik was somehow inspired by their beliefs, he, like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh from whom he apparently borrowed the formula for his  fertilizer based explosives, made his own warped judgments about the issues and pursued his own twisted response. 

While a logical analysis of the process which led Brievik to cold blooded murder of scores of young Norwegians is not possible because it would assume some level of linear thinking on his part, of which he has demonstrated he is not capable, the context of this terrorist act should not be ignored.  

The focus of Brievik's onslaught was immigration, especially that by Muslims. This is a political issue across Western Europe.  Anti-immigration parties and groups have sprung up in Germany, Switzerland, France, England, and Holland as well as Scandinavian countries. This is also not an exclusive political issue of the "right wing fringe".  French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel have both publicly declared that the prevailing European social policy of "multiculturalism" has failed.  Multiculturalism is the celebration by some and the rationale by others, of liberal immigration policies.  At the heart of these social policies for opponents are two main issues; the impact on traditional national cultures and the economic costs of immigration which are enhanced by liberal welfare programs.  The cultural impact comes about by the lack of assimilation by large numbers of immigrants who are essentially economic and political refugees who have seek to preserve and even expand their own cultures within their host countries.  The failure to assimilate has produced a two way negative reaction in some countries.  The riots in Muslim sectors of Paris were a reaction by immigrants against claims of discrimination and high unemployment.  Also in France the issue of face covering veils has produced anti-face covering legislation.  In Switzerland a ban of the construction of minarets associated with Islamic mosques caused much hand wringing by immigration supporters and multi-culturalists but is an important, if largely symbolic issue to Swiss who did not want to see their unique landscape come to resemble that of Baghdad. 

A proliferation of mosques, some providing a place of influence for anti-Western militancy on the part of angry mullahs, especially in Great Britain; the occurrence of terrorist attacks in France, Spain and London by “home grown” terrorists, and the perception by local populations that there is a basic contradiction between the precepts of Islam and those of Western liberal democracy, all have contributed to the acute discomfort of growing portions of these indigenous  European populations.

Such discomfort provides a fertile ground for extremist demagoguery and may indeed stimulate aberrant behavior among the mentally impaired. But the question of responsibility for irrational acts, be they immigration policies, immigrant communities, nationalist opponents, or violent perpetrators themselves, cannot be definitely or consistently assigned.  It seems inevitable however, that immigration and welfare policies in several Western European states will be modified as the strength of anti-immigration parties grows.

The situation in the United States is different in many respects.  Muslim immigration is relatively small and Muslim populations seem to have been more successful assimilating than in Europe. However strains have arisen against the background of 9/11 and the wide spread perception that America’s “moderate Muslims” have been reticent in publicly  speaking out against extremism in Muslim communities.  The issue of immigration however is an unresolved political controversy in the U.S. that has been diminished temporarily by the focus on the recession but which will have to be addressed soon. 

Immigration itself in the U.S. is not the major issue.  Illegal immigration is the issue and is the focus of legislation in various states, and the danger of demagoguery while still relatively small remains a slowly growing threat.  As in Western Europe, the prominent issues have to do with economic impact and changes to the national culture.  Successful assimilation seems to many to have been replaced, or at least deferred, by the concept of multiculturalism.  To many in the academic and political worlds bi-lingualism, ethnic based revisionism of American history and the promotion of self perception of immigrants as hyphenated-Americans instead of just Americans is all part of some mythical “social enrichment” process instead of a socially and politically divisive phenomenon similar to the more extreme situation in Europe. 

The world will always have the Timothy McVeighs, Gerald Loughners and Anders Brieviks and public policy cannot be formulated in direct response to their irrational and immoral acts but it would be wrong to ignore the broader political context and the strength and value of national identity

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