The liberal mind fits the postmodern world perfectly, or rather, how we came to interpret liberalism: tolerant, overbearing, forgetting that there is another type of liberalism, which is steely and resilient.
Europe typifies the first, the US encompasses both, and the resilient one is strong enough to have dictated America’s answer to 9/11.
This means that the Old and New World do not understand each other on the most fundamental question; the use of violence.
Answering extreme violence and cruelty with force was not the right answer, is the perception that has matured over the years. Now it stands forth as some sort of hindsight-wisdom. Former counterterrorism adviser to George W. Bush, Richard A. Clarke, says: – We played into al Qaeda’s hands.
According to this view, Bush II took the bait.
Afghanistan was understandable, but has proven dismally difficult or maybe a failure. Iraq was definitely wrong, and probably criminally so, according to some.
This is a revisionist view of the past decade. A need to realign history to fit the prevailing mood: the Western response was overblown, now we know better.
What has justified this new approach is of course The Arab Spring, or the Arab revolution, which proved that Arabs prefer democracy, or at least more self-government, to totalitarian theocracy.
It is possible to hold such a view, forgetting Bush’s Freedom Agenda and that US interference in the Greater Middle East may well have contributed to the toppling of the autocrats.
Thomas L. Friedman sometimes writes things he prefers to forget. In the aftermath of 9/11 and run-up to Iraq he wrote that the Arabs should realize America would never tolerate an attack of such proportions on its own soil — that the response would be American shoulders marching through an Arab capital.
Both Afghanistan and Iraq sent a very strong message. The autocrats were not untouchable. The people may have resented the intrusion, but it left an impression: nothing is forever. Not even a dictator like Saddam Hussein. And now his ideological brother Bashar al-Assad is falling too.
Iraq elicited the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, which later was crushed by Syria, and the world stood by. Now the Syrians themselves are crushing the Assad regime.
There is a causal chain going from the toppling of Saddam to the toppling to come of Assad, and it was started by Bush I and finished by Bush II.
History will conclude that the elder Bush started something when he refused to accept the invasion of Kuwait and drove Saddam’s army out. His son got the impetus to finish the job through 9/11.
History does not concern itself with moralism in the sense that Western liberals introspect themselves. Politicians act on a greater stage and must take risks that only posterity can judge.
The Arab Spring is coming so close upon American intervention that it is hard not to see it as a direct influence. The US broke a vicious circle, and only force could do that.
It was Condoleezza Rice who warned the Arab state leaders in her speech in Cairo that the US would no longer prop them up at the cost of democratic freedoms. The stability the US had cherished was already shattered. It lay in the ruins of the Two Towers.
But rather than celebrating the West’s victories, the Western elite seems busy denigrating the war on terror and Western intrusion. There is now a sense of pullback and leaving the Arab world to itself. There is only so much the Western world could do.
The Arabs have proven that they are more like us than al Qaida. Maybe the use of force was wrong, and that «our» wars have been counterproductive?
Moralism has come to supplant politics. And revisionism gives it an overarching interpretation that is self-serving and self-evident: the Arab Spring proves that Bush’s America was wrong. The Arabs are good at heart, and not the terrorist-scheming, corrupt fanatics we liked to imagine.
This opening up has great bearing upon Europe, which now resets its relationship with its own Muslims.
No country exemplifies this reset more than Norway. The mass murder of 22/7 was directed at the youth movement of the ruling Labour party, but has come to be interpreted as an indirect attack on the country’s Muslims.
Since the perpetrator was homegrown, the onus this time has fallen on critics of the multicultural society. Since the terrorist published his manifest, it was easy to draw a direct line between the authors he cites and his actions. They were political adversaries to begin with. After the fact, the temptation to put the blame on them proved irresistible.
It is the media who have been in the forefront of this campaign to push everybody that one could associate with Anders Behring Breivik over the edge. Breivik was a member of the Progress Party’s youth wing, one could compromise the party by this very fact alone, not to mention the ideological affiliation.
The Progress Party have thus been put in the dock. 22/7 has turned into a loaded gun that is pointed at party leader Siv Jensen, and she can anytime be called to account for what she and others have said pre-22/7, in the light of post 22/7: Does she stand by those words or does she regret? How deeply will she regret? The journalists have taken it upon themselves to correct the «right-wingers» in Norway. The media can any given day be turned into a courtroom with the culprits in the dock. There is an unlimited supply, not only politicians and bloggers, but also the police failed on 22/7. The media have given themselves the moral right to question their behaviour, and the liberal left, the moderate left and the loony left are playing along.
Let us seek out, identify, charge, denounce and try the guilty, whether it be by commission or omission. The regular police certainly are in the latter category. They will be given grace. But for the ideological companions of Anders Behring Breivik there is no compunction, other than total surrender and contrition. That would in the case of the Progress Party be an emasculated version that would make it a subjugate under the conservative party.
The other parties have largely refrained from commenting on this trial of the rightwing by the media. A very few politicians from the conservative party have warned of a witch-hunt, but there has been no overall analysis: parallel to the media a chorus of academics and writers are calling for a showdown with the right-wingers, meaning some way of curtailing their freedom of speech.
One speaks of a new kind of racism that addresses culture. Criticism of Muslims then can be interpreted as racism. But who is to decide which is which?
Words like «hate speech» are used freely, but rarely exemplified.
Criticism should be specific, directed at specific phenomena and concrete persons. Criticizing «Muslims» in general is frowned upon or downright taboo.
At the same time the very same people are talking in general terms about a right wing that is creating an unhealthy hateful atmosphere that is poisoning the multicultural society.
22/7 has thus been turned into a loaded gun that can be used against political adversaries.
The event was real. Noone can dispute that. Who will risk being associated with the killer and his thoughts, or possibly new similar attacks.
By accepting this facile connection between words and deeds the democratic process has been suspended, because the possibility of being compromised is hanging over the debate as a Damocles’ sword.
Whilst 9/11 made Muslims suspects, 22/7 has made Norwegians into suspects and exonerated the Muslims. That is a huge difference, especially because there are very few if any who are openly analyzing this fact and its consequences. Even this obvious fact is politically too sensitive to mention.
What is outwardly a huge boost for multiculturalism and tolerance, may be undermined from within.
The Progress Party in itself represents some 20 % of the electorate. How will these voters react to the defamation of one of the key components of the party’s policy, its criticism of the mass immigration from non-European countries, and the rapid changing of the country’s demography and culture?
It is hard not to conclude that this could result in an alienation that would not contribute to social and political cohesion. Thus cohesion at one level, called integration of Muslims, comes at the expense of cohesion at the level where it counts the most: the cohesion among native Norwegians.
It is still early days, but if the present trend continues, it could very well be the result.
Thus America was attacked from the outside, Norway from the inside.
This exacerbates some of Europe’s problems and liabilities. It strengthens what is called political correctness — the flight into a political fantasy.
America had the sureness of being attacked from the outside, both ideologically and physically. Europe is being attacked from both sides, but has problems grappling with its complex reality. It prefers not to dwell on the challenges to its social and political structures from without, but can concentrate on the new homegrown threat, which it recognizes as the radical or extreme right.
This happens to be the convenient truth and received opinion on the left: the enemy always comes from the right. Foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre said as much right after 22/7: political violence has always come from the right side.
But this could very easily be the excuse for not delving into the social reality behind the attack.
America was attacked from outside, Europe from inside, and there is a huge symbolism in this fact.
Whilst America reacted with vehemence, and went overseas to deal with the culprits, Europe has a different mental makeup. Official Norway was relieved that the terrorist was a native son, and not a Muslim. It made the job so much easier: to punish oneself, rather than the Other. How one could ignore that this means introducing a conflict of values that has hitherto been reserved for the tension between Islam and the West, into the national political system, is hard to fathom.
At bottom is violence, legitimate and illegitimate violence. The extreme violence of terrorism is a direct attack on the political process.
The political right is much weaker in Europe than in the US. In countries like Norway and Sweden they have trouble defending themselves. For one thing they have few resources, but more importantly, a doubt has been raised about the legitimacy of their opinion. The result is silence, at a precarious time. In Norway grief and shock still dominate and tend to blur this fact.
The right answer to Anders Behring Breivik’s monstrous deeds would have been greater awareness about the social realities of today’s Europe, and how one deals with them, including how the political right describes them. Ostracism is not going to solve the problems.
9/11 stands at the beginning of the decade, 22/7 at the end. They both symbolize terror, a radical evil of unimaginable kind.
9/11 was a group endeavour, 22/7 was a single person, it seems.
They both indicate forces in our midst that are reminding of the Riders of the Apocalypse.
They are not to be treated lightly.
The new revisionism that seems to deplore the mistakes the West has made, and now focus on the new threat from the Right, could play right into a situation where there are severe political conflicts on both sides of the Atlantic, and instead of alleviating, exacerbate them.
There is no time for complacency. Especially not for Europe.