There are no lessons to learn from Mr Breivik
I venture to disagree with the view expressed on LabourList by Claude Moraes MEP that there are significant lessons to be learned from the horrific mass murders committed, by his own admission, by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. I see no useful or practical lessons whatever to be learned from these events. They tell us absolutely nothing that we didn’t already know.
Mr Moraes argues that
… far-right violence is more commonplace in the form of racist attacks and intimidation than is reported, and it is … on the increase… such violence is seen as unpalatable but often carried out by thugs and loners, and is too often subtly excused ‘as a cry for help’… far-right extremism is so accepted in some European countries, that the extremes incited by elected politicians no longer attract surprise or condemnation… governments, police and intelligence services must also take far-right hate sites much more seriously… we should be aware that in the past two years there have been compelling international intelligence warnings of potential far-right atrocities…
It is essential that Europe learns lessons as a result of this tragedy. It will be a mistake simply to see this as the act of an ‘insane fundamentalist loner’. Instead, far-right extremism, including the growth of violent organisations like the EDL here in the UK, has a disproportionate effect on many European societies, in Scandinavia, Western, Central and Eastern Europe alike. And it is likely the assorted groups on the extreme right in Europe will condemn this atrocity. It is up to us to understand how violence, on whatever scale, is at the heart of these far-right groups.
I have offered the following comment in reply:
I’m afraid that I don’t agree. I don’t believe that there are any useful or practical lessons to be learned from the Norwegian tragedy. The murderer is pretty clearly unhinged and out of touch with reality. It’s really nothing to do with his right-wing political views, whatever he might say to the contrary. He might just as well have excused his violent behaviour by reference to his membership of some left-wing Maoist revolutionary group. If the murders had turned out to be the work of a crazed Muslim fundamentalist from Bangladesh, would Claude Moraes now be writing that we should treat the episode as a wake-up call and a warning to take the threat of violence by Muslims far more seriously? I take leave to doubt it.
In any case, what precisely is the lesson that Mr Moraes thinks we should learn from the actions of Anders Behring Breivik? We already know about the violent proclivities of far right groups, without the need for Mr Breivik to tell us about them. Our security services already monitor them, to the extent that resources allow, for signs of criminal behaviour. Are we to ban these groups, or criminalise the expression of unpalatable political opinions? Advocating or practising violence is already a crime. The legacy of New Labour’s record on anti-terrorism legislation is already a threat to our civil liberties, urgently in need of radical revision and reduction. We should not be stampeded by the actions of a lone madman in Norway into making yet more inroads into our freedoms of expression and association.
In the end there’s no way to provide 100% protection against the risk of a deranged individual running amok with a gun or a bomb. The Norwegians may decide to tighten up their gun control laws, but ours are already pretty tight. The security services can’t keep a 24-hour watch on every eccentric or weirdo with barmy political views who might quite possibly snap one day and go out and murder a few dozen school-children. It’s just one of numerous risks we simply have to live with.