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July 26, 2011
In the aftermath of the worst attack on Norway’s soil since World War II, editorials and commentary from Arab media and elsewhere in the region began taking stock of the developments and what the “Norway massacre” means, especially for the ongoing debate in Europe on Islam and Islamophobia. In particular, the articles highlighted what they perceived as the immediate fingering of Islamic fundamentalists as the culprits. Moreover, some went so far as to connect Europe’s problem with the growing threat from the right wing.
The UAE’s The National noted exactly this phenomenon, reminding its readers that “The knee-jerk presumption on Friday was that the bombing was the work of Islamist terrorists — an unfortunate reflection of past attacks by al-Qaeda whose hallmark has been indiscriminate murder. But of course such madness knows neither creed nor colour.... We have an idea of where Norway's search will begin. Europeans have been battling a growing trend of radical right-wing hatred.... The weekend's violence must be a call to action…. There is far more that unites us than divides, and we are far stronger than murderers, no matter what their ideology.”
The Peninsula’s editorial continues on the same theme: “The attack in Norway shows that extremism, whether of Islamic or Christian variety, is toxic, anti-human, and kills. Extremists are driven by the ideology of hate they concoct from their own understanding of global affairs, which has no real connection to the religion they claim to be part of. In that sense, the religious extremism…wreaking havoc across the world is more rooted in social and political factors than theological teachings. Terrorists have always relied on religious texts to justify their heinous acts. If the Arab Spring is a watershed in the history of the modern world, the Norwegian attack is too. It shows how anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant hatred in the West has become a major threat to the peace of that region.”
The Gulf Times editorial team, on the other hand, contemplated the challenges Norway now faces in addressing some of the issues raised by the attacks: “An apparently civilised nation is having to face the prospect of a terrorist attack that cannot be automatically traced to a Muslim hardline group, proving that radicalism is not the mainstay of any one religion. If anything, the attacks seem to have used methods that are being called a mutation of al-Qaeda’s jihadist techniques in the post-9/11 era. Racism, always a useful tool for those who are in the business of terror, has been the trigger yet again.... Ultimately will Norway hunker down and sacrifice its civil liberties in the name of patriotism, like the US, or move on to a higher level of engagement with radicalised citizens, like the UK and Spain? In the land that instituted the Nobel Peace Prize, these are going to be difficult questions to answer indeed.”
The Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman posts an article by Yavus Baydar, who worries about the rising threat of Islamophobia in Europe. According to Baydar, “It must be clearly understood that the inefficiency of the social and cultural integration of immigrants (such as treating them as infants or inferiors by refusing them equal career opportunities), coupled with worsening economic policies and erratic central and local management, will be the strongest factor boosting the deep disintegration of many corners of Europe. This sort of future is much closer than anybody can imagine.... The EU must put a high priority on far-right extremism as a threat to its democratic, constitutional order.”
For Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Moor, however the attacks, signal a deeper societal malaise: “The Norwegian terrorist who murdered more than ninety innocent civilians, many of whom were teenagers, did not act alone. Or, rather, he acted within a cultural and political context that legitimises his fearful and hate-infested worldview. It is now clear that Anders Behring Breivik was exposed to large amounts of right-wing propaganda. This tragedy underlines the urgency with which normal people around the world must combat fundamentalist nationalists and chauvinists wherever they may be. But it also demonstrates the extent to which reactionary bigotry has infected mainstream thought.
Others chose to reflect on the initial assumptions that the terrorist attacks had to have been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists. These authors take the opportunity to highlight both the hypocrisy of European commentators as well as the fact that terrorism transcends boundaries, races and religions. Murat Yetkin, for example, writes in the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News,“It is once more understood in a very tragic way that terrorism has no color, no religion, nor nationality and it can hurt people in their most unexpected moment, most unexpected place, like a summer camp on a peaceful Norwegian lake island. Ruling an open and extremely democratic society, the Norwegian government was quick to spot the source of the attack. Yesterday, a number of European politicians were responsible enough to criticize the tendency that, while looking into Islamic fundamentalist terrorist activities – which they should – they had ignored rising Christian fundamentalist terrorist activities.”
Similarly, both the Pakistani Dawn and the Lebanese Daily Star go to great lengths to make that same point. Dawn’s editorial asserts, “In the West in the wake of 9/11 there has been a linking of terrorism to mainly al-Qaeda and other purportedly ‘Islamic’ organisations. Yet the opposite extreme exists too, and always has. Indeed, it feeds off the growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant culture in some countries. In the past, some parts of Scandinavia have had trouble with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. If a link is established between such groups and the gruesome tragedy in Norway, Europe must seriously reflect on the causes of such right-wing extremism.”
The Daily Star editorial notes the “terror knows no god,” and then goes on to explain, “Not to defend the militant group for a moment, but the allegations had to them a whiff of Orientalism. For many Westerners, each Muslim or Arab is a potential terrorist. It is true that there are many terrorists in the region, but assuming that terrorism as an offense is the preserve of Arab Muslims is to ignore the fact that those who carry out crimes of that ilk in the Middle East are pariahs in societies here. They are detested by Arabs and Muslims, two populations who have suffered more at the hands of Arab and Muslim terrorists than the rest of the world combined.”
An Arab News editorial agrees with these conclusions and adds that, despite the perpetrator’s being a fundamentalist Christian, “We can also state with total conviction that he is no more representative of Christianity than the 9/11 killers represented Islam. These are the doings of twisted minds, not of a religion. Tragically, as these attacks show, it takes only one dedicated fanatic to carry out, not only mass murder, but mass murder that targets the very fabric of a nation.”
The Khaleej Times editorial worries though that, given Norway’s reputation as a tolerant society, the attacks in Oslo are a bad omen for the rest of Europe: “The drama on the scenic island, though an isolated incident, has to be evaluated on a broader canvas…. [E]xtremism is neither a regional issue, nor associated with a particular ideology.... Apparently, politics and state of mind have more to do with such incidents of mayhem and barbarism than…religion or belief. All said and done, the fact that Norway had to face such a grim situation, irrespective of the fact that the country is a model welfare state and there are hardly any socio-political irritants that could [exacerbate] grudge to such an extent, is a horrible proposition.”
Not everyone is convinced that Europe must change course, at least not in the direction that the previous commentary points to. The Jerusalem Post editorial argues, “Undoubtedly, there will be those – particularly on the Left – who will extrapolate from Breivik’s horrific act that the real danger facing contemporary Europe is rightwing extremism and that criticism of multiculturalism is nothing more than so much Islamophobia....While there is absolutely no justification for the sort of heinous act perpetrated this weekend in Norway, discontent with multiculturalism’s failure must not be delegitimatized or mistakenly portrayed as an opinion held by only the most extremist elements of the Right.... Europe’s fringe right-wing extremists present a real danger to society. But Oslo’s devastating tragedy should not be allowed to be manipulated by those who would cover up the abject failure of multiculturalism.”
However, John O. Egeland, the editor of the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, takes to the pages of Israel’s Haaretz to make the case for a measured response to the attacks, without overreacting to the events. “The new terror which Breivik represents is not right-wing extremism in a Nazi or fascist tradition. His political profile is that of a classic Muslim-hater, who regards the government and the political elite as traitors because they are behind the immigration program.... There should, of course, be complete freedom to express the desire for a restrictive immigration policy. At the same time, both politicians and the media must be responsible and not contribute to sowing the seeds of hatred and extremism.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.