Tue, July 26, 2011 | Rubin Reports | By Barry Rubin
Norway Terror Attack: Lessons and Illusions
Once one gets beyond the polemics and clichés, there is a huge amount that could be learned from an honest discussion about the mass murders in Norway. Let’s look at some of them.
An editorial in the New York Daily News contains both valid points and dangerous silliness. It begins:
In his ravings, Anders Behring Breivik, confessed murdered of 76 people, repeats a familiar refrain: He killed to save his country, his continent and Western civilization itself from an attempted takeover by Islam.
The trouble with a 1500-page manifesto is that one can find almost anything in it. For example, people, groups, and sites who have been cited once or twice in that manifesto are now being called complicit with the murders. In the case of one group in that position, Breivik actually attacked them for being non-violent! Another author in the United Kingdom had two articles footnoted by the killer that didn’t even deal with Islam. Now people are being incited to go after her in revenge.
Of course, Breivik did see Islam as a threat, but he didn’t attack mosques, he attacked two government targets: a camp of the ruling party and a government building. Thus, the main target was not an “Islamic takeover” but his view that the country was being destroyed by left-wing policies, of which unlimited immigration is one. I have no agenda in making that point, but it is surprising that this hasn’t been a bigger focus of the discussion. Breivik was not a single-issue guy.
A second question is whether his violent action “proves” that there is no such problem regarding Islam. Radical Islamist violence is not mindless. It is a response to a problem. Many view this problem as the oppression of Muslims. My opinion is that it is a strategy for revolutionary takeover, a radical Islamist government, and the fundamental transformation of society. Of course, this is far more likely in Muslim-majority societies.
The Daily News continues:
Breivik’s belief is the photo negative of al-Qaeda’s contention that the United States and its allies are hell-bent on destroying Islam.
That’s a clever point and has some merit. But after studying Islamism for 30 years, I’d say that equally or more important — and certainly the one used more in inner and sophisticated Islamist circles — is the idea that the real crime of the West is “preventing” Islamist revolutions by supporting existing regimes. On this one, they are right generally. The first argument is propaganda; the second is programmatic.
To argue that Western governments want the Islamists to win and take over their societies is paranoid. To argue, though, that Western governments follow bad policies that make it look that way has a lot of merit. Left-wing movements — as in Norway — hope that the Islamists will benefit them. They are wrong. An analogy here is the Communist Party in Germany (at Stalin’s orders, of course) arguing that the growth of the Nazis would benefit them at a certain point. They were dead — literally — wrong. That doesn’t mean the Communists were pro-Nazi, it meant that they were disastrously stupid.
But the next contention of the editorial is more questionable:
The belief, that Islam at large conspires to triumph over all Judeo-Christian society, is a delusion.
Of course, the trick here is to say “Islam at large,” that is all the Muslims, everywhere and all the time. So yes the extremists on the Breivik channel do help the people who say that the threat is a “delusion.” But if radical Islamism gains hegemony and then largely controls the dominant devision of contemporary “Islam,” then it will be no illusion at all.
For now, we know that large elements of Muslims — especially revolutionary Islamists and notably the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the far less significant al-Qaeda — want that triumph because they say so all the time. So do Hamas and Hizballah and Iran’s government, less often perhaps but often a lot. They can quote extensively from Islamic texts — the same ones that “counter-jihadists” point out — and thus persuade Muslims a lot more easily that they represent “authentic Islam” than can moderate Muslims.
That’s one big reason why “reform” or “moderate” Islam is so weak. Others include the fact that the radicals are willing to kill and intimidate people, have more supporters, and have more money.
What most decidedly isn’t a delusion is:
- Revolutionary Islamist movements seek to take over all Muslim-majority countries.
- Where they have taken over they seek to transform those societies permanently into Islamist-run dictatorships. Iran and the Gaza Strip are the two most prominent current examples.
- Revolutionary Islamists seek to wipe Israel off the map and expel Western influence. In practice, they also seek to get rid of Christians. Their seizure of power is against Western interests.
- In Western countries, Islamists seek to gain hegemony over Muslim communities both ideologically, religiously, and through instituting Sharia.
- More speculatively, they dream of total conquest. Of course, that is more speculative, less likely, and far longer-term.
The fact that the last paragraph is pretty unlikely does not invalidate the previous four paragraphs.
A lot of the discussion among “anti-jihadists” is based on quoting from Muslim religious texts, clerical interpretations, and political statements by Islamist groups. The mass media simply refuses to deal with this evidence. That’s why the arguments can easily be labeled fantasies. Yet if you can provide dozens of quotes and hundreds of actions as examples, who is it engaged in “paranoid and poisonous fantasies”?
I partly agree with the editorial’s statement that:
Demonizing a religion rather than those who pervert it is destructive and only wins sympathies to radical fanatics.
I wouldn’t use the word “pervert,” which implies the Islamists are lying. They are using material that actually is in Islam and if one doesn’t understand that then one is powerless to deal with it. But there’s also a nice irony in the quote: which “radical fanatics” are we talking about? The editorial no doubt wants to refer to radical fanatics like Breivik. It is also true, however, that it wins sympathies for the “radical fanatics” who deny that there’s a problem. And those people are far more powerful than the murderous Breiviks, a group that one can count so far on the fingers of one hand.
In fact, the editorial then proves my point:
Counterjihadists are fighting an imaginary enemy. In the United States Muslims constitute less than 1% of the population. In Europe, it is about 7%….[Muslim immigrants]…seek to practice their faith and to assimilate.
The editorial — and the mass media generally — defuses a serious discussion by making the only issue as to whether Muslims will take over. But the immediate dangers are different.
First, will the pool of potential terrorists and their supporters grow? We can add up attacks that total far more than the one in Norway. When, for example, a convert is inspired to murder a military recruiter in Arkansas or a radicalized Muslim opens fire at Fort Hood, this should be a warning bell. Will the number of attacks steadily increase?
Second, will Muslim communities be taken over — or at least the most energetic activists in them — by radical Islamists? There is real reason to believe this has been happening in many places. While one can show to a far more limited extent that “creeping Sharia law” in the West is affecting non-Muslims, it is certainly affecting Muslims.
And when, to cite just two examples, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a leading judge support the imposition of Sharia law on Muslims in Great Britain, can anyone call that a delusion?
Third, Muslims who want to “assimilate” may be targeted or even killed by Islamists, who might be receiving state subsidies. Virtually every “honor killing” is against a woman who wants to assimilate. And since moderate Muslims are few, subject to intimidation, and receive little or no support from the Western establishments, those who often control these communities inhibit assimilation and teach people not to do so.
Any Muslims who are secular in their behavior, want to stop being Muslims, or who believe themselves properly religious but disagree with the extremists are being victimized.
When a woman is murdered in an “honor killing” or has her rights trampled on by Sharia as radically interpreted, she is also a Muslim. Often, governments have turned these people over to control by the radicals. They also finance the radicals, either because of the looseness of Western laws, misguided “multiculturalism,” or a conscious belief that helping radicals who aren’t committing terrorism this week will ensure there won’t be terrorism in future.
Fourth, there are real decisions to be made: Should public schools allow prayer (only, in the US) for Muslims? Can women wearing a veil have that picture on their driver’s license? Are cab drivers going to be allowed to refuse seeing-eye dogs? Will governments register polygamous marriages and give social welfare benefits on that basis? What is the definition of practicing their faith?
And then non-Muslims are being affected by being forced to observe Sharia law in an increasing number of cases, small in the overall extent of society, yet narrowing the freedom of those who experience it.
The final sentence of the editorial says:
Those who see “Muslim domination” and “creeping Sharia law” around every corner are imagining things. Their fictions only feed extremism.
True enough. Nobody should see anything “around every corner.” But saying that the problem is only imaginary and ignoring the real problems is also a fiction that will “only feed extremism,” including Islamist extremism, the triumph of the most radical interpretations of Islam, and extremists who want their own societies to decline.