Belfast Telegraph

Far-Right ideology of hate must no longer be ignored

By Laurie Penny

The language of lunacy is political. When I first heard that 'Islamist terrorists' had slaughtered up to 80 innocent people in Norway, I was at a gathering of Left-wing activists.

They're the sort of people who are ordinarily supposed to question knee-jerk assumptions about political butchery and the Islamic faith. But very few of us did.

"It's because they reprinted that Danish cartoon," someone said, reading from the newswires. We nodded solemnly.

We did not think to ask whether the ethnicity and ideology of the killers had yet been confirmed. And nobody used the word 'madman'.

The next day, even as The Sun's headline screeched that 'al-Qaida' had launched 'Norway's 7/7', it emerged that everyone's first guess had been wildly wrong.

Not only is the man responsible for the monstrous attacks in Utoya and Oslo a white, Christian European, he is also a fanatical anti- Islamist.

No longer was the killer a criminal mastermind, part of a sinister 'terror' network - he was simply a 'madman'.

Where few had paused to question the pernicious, organised frenzy supposedly driving any Islamist assailant to acts of slaughter, these crimes were clearly the product of a deranged mind, acting alone and, by that logic, had absolutely nothing to do with the rise of far-Right extremism.

Calling someone 'mad' has always been a way of 'othering' them; of separating them from the rest of society.

Up to a quarter of the adult population has some experience of mental health difficulty, according to research, and most of them do not make a habit of mass-murder. Some other explanation is required.

I am not especially interested in the intimate psychology of Anders Breivik. It goes without saying that there is something horrifyingly wrong with anyone who thinks that butchering teenagers is an appropriate response to political expediency.

Breivik's precise mental robustness is of importance to nobody but his defence lawyers. What matters more is the speed with which so many have rushed to claim, and loudly, that he must be mad.

Significant parts of the political establishment seem frantic to believe that Norway was about madness, not politics; few have been prepared to examine the far more frightening possibility that the killer may simply have taken to a violent, bloody extreme ideas that, while hateful, are entirely current in mainstream political debate.

To claim that the massacre was nothing to do with politics is offensive as well as illogical.

Not only is there online evidence of an ideology - and a terrifyingly familiar one - behind these attacks, the claim insults the memory of the 68 young activists from the Norwegian Labour Party who lost their lives because of their political beliefs, because a Right-wing terrorist had decided they deserved to die.

Writing off Anders Breivik as a 'lone nutter' allows us to decry his actions without dismissing his ideas.

This is precisely what Stephen Lennon, the leader of the far-Right English Defence League, attempted to do in an interview on Newsnight, when it was put to him that Breivik listed several hundred EDL members as online contacts and had posted a message of support to the group shortly before disappearing to carry out his attacks.

After expressing his sympathy with the people of Norway, Lennon told Jeremy Paxman that he shared Breivik's belief that Islam was "a threat", and that millions of people across Europe felt the same.

"You can't just brush off millions of people who have concerns against Islam as lunatics," he said. "You need to listen to us, because god forbid this ever happens on English soil . . . that's not a threat, it's a wake-up call."

The real lunacy is that there are many in the political mainstream who would agree with him. As governments across Europe have failed to offer any coherent response to the disenfranchisement of the working class, it has become routine to pander instead to the ugliest prejudices of those whose jobs and livelihoods are at risk from the stagnation of wages and the collapse of housing and employment.

With the far-Right gathering in strength and confidence, we can no longer afford to indulge the ideology of hate that led to the Norwegian massacres.

That way true madness lies.

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