Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Threat of People Who Aren't Just Like Us?

Folks in Norway are still looking for bodies: but the death toll may be only 90 to a hundred. Even so: The explosion in Oslo, and shootings at a youth camp on a Norwegian island, are a terrible loss of life.

I've written about the Norwegian terror attack before. Again, this is just a suggestion: but prayer couldn't hurt. For the victims, their families, and friends. And for the killer.
This time, I'm talking about living with differences.

Also, how news media is treating the "Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections" and chief suspect.

From one point of view, news media in Europe and America is "airbrushing" the right-wing extremist and fundamentalist Christian with anti-Muslim views - to make those Christians and "the West" look innocent.

I'm not making this up.

"The Threat of the West"

I suppose folks like the "Red, White, and Blue Patriot" who referred to folks from the Middle East as "towelheads," and the ex-co-chairman who said "they're all Muslims," get more attention, internationally, than most Americans.

Then there are the - colorful - folks who say they're Christians. And act like this:

(Reuters photo, via, used w/o permission)

It's easy, I think, to make inaccurate assumptions about "the West" and Christianity.

Here's what someone east of the Atlantic assumes that "the West" will do about that Norwegian "Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections" beliefs and probable motives:
"Norway, Islam and the threat of the West"
Ibrahim Hewitt, Al Jazeera English (July 23, 2011)

"Dismissing this murderous act as the work of 'a lone madman' ignores a more detailed study of the killer's motivation....

"A few years ago, the respected Cambridge scholar T J Winter, also known by his Muslim name of Abdal Hakim Murad, gave a fascinating lecture to Humanities staff and students at the University of Leicester. The title was 'Islam and the threat of the West', turning on its head the more usual - then and now - 'Islam and the threat to the West'.

"It was a novel approach which, in a nutshell, illustrated that, historically, aggression has been directed more from Europe to the Muslim world than the other way round. His evidence for such a view was impeccably sourced.

"I thought about Abdal Hakim's talk this morning as I read the reports coming in of the dreadful bombing and shooting in Norway wherein, of course, there was speculation that these two events were 'Islamic-terror related'. No doubt we will learn more over the coming days, but the early signs are, in fact, that the perpetrator was a 'blond, blue-eyed Norwegian' with 'political traits towards the right, and anti-Muslim views'. Not surprisingly, the man's intentions were neither linked to these 'traits', nor to his postings on 'websites with Christian fundamentalist tendencies'. Any influence 'remains to be seen'; echoes of Oklahoma 1995.

"Interestingly, this criminal is described by one unnamed Norwegian official as a 'madman'. He may well be, but this is one way that the motivations for heinous crimes can be airbrushed out of the story before they have the chance to take hold in the popular imagination...."
[emphasis mine]

Chauvinism: It's Not Just For Male Pigs

I think I know why Ibrahim Hewitt assumes that the "madman" and his right-wing/Christian fundamentalist beliefs will be given a clean bill of health by the West.

I've done time in American academia, and am familiar with the notion that the world is divided into the authoritarian, hierarchical, male-dominated, oppressive West - and the West's victims. I'm oversimplifying - but not by all that much, in some cases.

Nobody seems to have a monopoly chauvinism, an "extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of any group to which one belongs." (July 23, 2011)

Living With (real) Diversity

Quite a few folks in America's 'better' circles seem to assume that the Ku Klux Klan and that "God Hates You" church are typical Christians. That's not true, but as I've said before: I don't expect to change the mind of a zealot.

What Mr. Hewitt may not realize is that the folks who killed thousands of people in New York City's World Trade Center were also called "madmen" by quite a few folks on this side of the Atlantic. Which was, in a way, as serious an insult as that "towelhead" crack.

I think quite a few folks in "the West" haven't quite come to grips with accepting:
  • That a person can deliberately chose to do something that's wrong. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 407)
  • The idea that someone can disagree without being
    • The enemy
    • Satanic
    • Racist
    • A commie
    • Whatever
I'm also quite sure that folks who aren't at all comfortable living in a world that's full of 'foreigners.'

"Airbrushing," Due Process, and Assumptions

It sometimes seems as if 'everybody knows' - in some circles - what 'those Christians' are like.

Or 'those Muslims.'

Or anybody who's not part of the little circle of like-minded folks.

I think quite a lot Euro-American history since at least the 18th century can be seen as learning how to deal with folks who don't agree with the king - or president - without killing them. Or making them hated pariahs.

That process has made quite a difference in how news is handled in Western countries. I think the results can be shocking to someone who'd accustomed to more orderly, controlled, societies.

Here's a sample of how "the motivations for heinous crimes" are being "airbrushed out of the story" here in the West:
"Norway suspect 'fundamentalist Christian' "
Pierre-Henry Deshayes, The Sydney Morning Herald (July 24, 2011) (it's 'tomorrow' there already)

"Police say the Norwegian suspect in the two attacks that left at least 92 dead described himself as a fundamentalist Christian, as evidence emerged that he had flirted with the political far-right.

"The 32-year-old, previously unknown to police, was arrested on Friday after a bomb blast in central Oslo killed seven people and a shooting rampage at a youth camp near the capital left at least 85 dead and scores wounded.

"Local media have identified him as Anders Behring Breivik, whose picture on his Facebook page shows a man with longish blonde hair and piercing eyes.

"The posting lists his religion as 'fundamentalist Christian' and his political opinions lean "to the right", police said.

" 'He has certain political traits that lean to the right and are anti-Muslim but it is too early to say if that was the motive for his actions,' police commissioner Sevinung Sponheim told public television NRK on Saturday...."

"Norway terror suspect believed to be Christian fundamentalist"
Author Gabriel Borrud, Editor Andreas Illmerc, Deutchse Welle (July 23, 2011)

"With the motive still unknown, Norway police have described the suspect in Friday's deadly attacks in Oslo as an 'ethnic Norwegian' and 'Christian fundamentalist,' dismissing reports of links to rightwing extremists.

"The 32-year-old man charged with the deadly Oslo twin bomb and shooting attacks is a blonde-haired and blue-eyed 'ethnic Norwegian' with no apparent links to rightwing extremists or terrorist groups, police said Saturday in the wake of the country's worst tragedy since World War II.

" 'Anders Behring Breivik came from nowhere,' police spokesman Roger Andersen said, dismissing claims that the man belonged to any of the known rightwing organizations in Norway.

" 'We would have otherwise had him on our radar if he had been active in any neo-Nazi group,' adding, however, that it was possible that the man was influenced by extremist ideology.

"From information gleaned from social networking sites, Breivik appears to be a conservative Christian nationalist. Before his Facebook profile was deactivated late on Friday, it featured a picture of a man with wavy blonde hair looking away from the camera. He was listed as 'conservative, Christian, and single,' but no warnings of any coming attacks could be found...."

"Profile: The Christian Extremist Suspect in Norway's Massacre"
Ujala Sehgal, The Atlantic Wire (July 23, 2011)

"The death toll in Norway rose to at least 91 in Norway, the New York Times reports, following the bombing of a government center in Oslo on Friday and a shooting attack on a nearby youth camp island. The reports so far have been horrifying. According to The Guardian, a 15-year-old camper gave her account of hiding behind the same rock that the killer was standing on, dressed in a police uniform, as he shot at people. Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said he knew many of the victims of the shooting on Utøya personally.

"The Norwegian police charged a 32-year-old man on Saturday, who was identified by the Norwegian media as Anders Behring Breivik. The photo above is a screen grab from his Facebook page, which has since been blocked. Breivik has been identified as a 'Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections,' according to the Times, as well as with anti-Muslim views, according to multiple sources...."

My guess is that nobody's going to be entirely happy with any of those selections - certainly not 'fundamentalist Christians,' or folks with 'far-right' political views. Who aren't necessarily the same people.

What the Western press is doing probably won't please folks like the fellow who wrote that "Norway, Islam and the threat of the West" op-ed, either. I'm pretty sure that it would be more satisfying for many, if the the 32-year-old man was vilified as a Christian warmonger oppressor. Or whatever the stock phrase for 'enemy of the people' is these days.

Another set of folks would probably rather see the suspect hailed as a patriot.

Me? I think killing those folks was a bad thing to do.

I'm not entirely happy with the way the news is being handled. Not because I approve of mass murder: it's "madman" angle. And that's almost another topic.

On the other hand, I think the reporters and editors are trying to describe someone whose views are very foreign to their own. And do so without violating the rules and customs of accuracy that we've been developing over the last few centuries.

I'm also not at all surprised that the lack of 'holy zeal' in vilifying the Christian 'monster' upsets folks who are used to a somewhat different set of rules.

The Greatest Commandment, and Living in a Big World

I mentioned the "greatest commandment" earlier today. It's 'love God, love your neighbor.' (Matthew 22:36-40) Which I think is fairly easy to remember: but very hard to do, sometimes.

I've posted about neighbors, practical love, and living in a world with hundreds of nations, before:Then there's the matter of freedom - which doesn't mean "freedom to agree with me, or perish."

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.