Norway – jumping to conclusions

Labour MP Tom Harris shook up the sensitive elements of Twitter with his reaction to Norway’s bombing and shooting tragedy. His two tweets in question, which kickstarted the keyboard warrioring across Left and Right were:

“Even after Oslo, we’ll still have the apologists for terrorism saying it was caused by “foreign policy” or by “disrespect to the Prophet”.

“If I have unfairly accused militant Islamists for Oslo attacks I apologise and hope it does not interfere with their ongoing charity work.”

It doesn’t take too many Google searches to find blogs where conclusions (and prejudices) are well and truly exposed:

“The Norwegian people need to get rid of their Leftist treasonous government and display some of that old viking blood. Appeasing Islamic aggression hasn’t work. It’s time for Norway to stand against Islamic Imperialism!”

It is easy to wander around messageboards, forums, chatrooms, to see the thought processes which initially linked the attacks to Islamist terrorists, or linked somehow to al Qaeda. It tapped into assumptions and prejudices many of us shared. When I read the details of the news, I couldn’t help but groan. To a Facebook status implying it was Islamic terrorists, I leapt into automatic world-view keyboard warrior. “It was carried out by someone pissed off at the West invading their country,” I posted, fresh with the anti-Libya rage I have held since the start of that particular adventure. On a politics forum I visit, the implied assumption of an Islmaic attack hung around every post.

The man accused of carrying out both attacks. Anders Behring Breivik, does not have the appearance of a radicalised convert. It could be, as more details are known, that he is a crazed, lone individual whose actions come from deep seated concerns of his own. Nationalism, perhaps, such as it might exist in Norway. Despite the assumption jumping, it does not hold too many hallmarks of what would be called a ‘typical’ attack in the Madrid or Bali or London models.

Have we been conditioned, since 9 September 2011, into this automatic unease, this discreet prejudice? Tom Harris, of course, was flamed by the usual suspects who read what they wanted to read; he did not blame “Muslims”, if he actually blamed anyone at all. That does not absolve us of every accusation. The easy and convenient labelling comes from years of conditioning by the media, from whom ‘divide and rule’ retains its news gathering charm.

The existing threat from extremists on all sides keeps us vigil, aware, and ultimately frames how our Governments decide the levels of civil rights and freedoms we can enjoy. We have this situation completely wrong. If Breivik turns out to have no connections to Islamist terrorism, how we reconcile our own beliefs is one thing; how our Governments conclude reconsiderations of civil liberty legislation will be quite another.