Before commencing this article which comments on media coverage of recent events in Norway, SSY would like to express our solidarity with those in who have suffered due to these events, and our condolences to those who have lost loved ones.
In a conversation on Saturday night down my local, a Scandinavian friend of mine noted that as soon as the identity of the killer behind the bombing in Oslo and the attack on a youth camp in Utoeya had been revealed, words such as ‘terrorist’ – which had been bandied about by various people appearing in the media prior to the discovery of the killer’s identity – ceased to be used. In light of this conversation, I was intrigued today by Charlie Brooker’s column, in which he notes that the initial Western response to both tragedies was keen to point the finger at Muslim extremists. When it transpired that the killer was in this case white, Christian and right-wing, the language of ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’ paled into the background, and in some cases disappeared altogether. This is in spite of the fact that the killer is being charged by Norwegian courts under anti-terrorism laws, which makes sense, since by all definitions of the word ‘terrorist’ he most definitely is one.
Nonetheless, what the sudden drop in frequency of words related to ‘terror’ in regard to the shooting/bombing suggests is that this sort of rhetoric is reserved for particular types of extremism – largely that conducted by extremist Muslim groups such as al-Quaeda. For the western media, the word ‘terrorist’ does not sit well when used to describe a white Christian (with the possible exception of the IRA, but the discourse surrounding them has its own, seperate factors). It is so difficult for the Western media to conceive of a white non-Muslim terrorist that invocations of al-Quaeda and 911 are required in several western tabloids in order to establish some sort of conceivable context: see here for the Guardian’s selected excerpts from the world’s press. In these extracts, taken from a variety of sources in a variety of cultures, there is a clear trend. Western print media constantly feels the need to evoke al-Quaeda and 9/11 when writing about acts of terror.
To continually refer to extremist Muslim terrorism in the same vein as anti-Muslim terrorism has a rhetorical effect which centres the discourse of terrorism around Islam. When Le Figaro prints: ‘it is worrying to see the legacy of Bin Laden taken up by fundamentalism from the opposite end of the spectrum’, it associates terrorism with a ‘spectrum’ which ranges from anti-Muslim extremism to Muslim extremism. The killer’s other motivations, such as his desire to purge Europe of what he calls ‘cultural Marxism’ his hatred of the Norwegian government’s current immigration policy, and his hatred of immigration in general, are downplayed in comparision to his views on Islam (an example of this is today’s Telegraph, with its leading headline ‘Norway Killer: massacre was to save Europe from Islam’, where the only mention of the killer’s anti-Marxist motivations are included as a direct transcription of the judge’s ruling). The language of terror and terrorism has become the language of oppression, used to perpetuate a growing and misfounded association of Islam with extremism. The proof that this misfounded conflation between Islam and fundamentalism exists is manifest in the difficulty found by the Western media in conceiving of a terrrorist attack that is not linked to Muslim extremism.
It is therefore left to eastern news sources to point out the obvious: that extremists and fundamentalists are found in every religion and in none.
What is truly sad is that the constant invocation of 911 and Muslim extremism is now the focus of all self-conscious print-journalism – this article included – which thus continues to focus attention on the killer and his fascist motivations, a focus which is of no help or comfort (and most likely no interest) to those who have been affected by the deaths.