Should the intolerant be tolerated? That is the question that plagues every free society. Those who suggest intolerant opinions may insist that their voices be heard and it is true all must defend this right. What cannot be tolerated is their deliberate if sometimes subtle and deceitful goading to public hatred and violence against those they are ignorant of, fear, dislike, or are jealous of. There is no greater example of this than the wave of chauvinistic conservatism that has recently swept across Europe, not necessarily in the form of David Cameron’s criticism of multiculturalism under the most recent Labour administration, or Nicholas Sarkozy’s ban on the Muslim burqa, or Angela Merkel’s concession that multiculturalism has failed. Rather, this chauvinistic conservatism is the kind that thrives on fear and economic anxiety. It is the kind that constructs an anachronistic, simplified-for-the-masses picture of Europe’s white Christian tradition and washes its hands of the murderous actions of Anders Behring Breivik, whose bombing and shooting in Oslo and a Labour youth camp killed at least 93 people on July the 22nd.
No one is disputing that there needs to be honest and open debate about extremism (including Islamist extremism) and immigration policy in Europe. There are legitimate concerns in this sphere of discussion. But the current media coverage of the Norwegian tragedies has been mediocre at best and ridiculous at worst. A British newspaper, The Sun, which put out the headlines of “Al-Qaeda Massacre: Norway’s 9/11” even as the following day, a native Norwegian acting alone but with ties to right-wing online forums and a “Knights Templar” crusader group confessed to having committed the crimes. We must note that Breivik was a native Norwegian and not some foreign Muslim who we can (as companies like The Sun like to do) demonize and project outwards onto an external enemy. He was an intolerant European who killed fellow Europeans he saw as unacceptably tolerant. He was also not mentally ill or insane. As his lawyer said: “He thought it was gruesome having to commit these acts, but in his head they were necessary. He wished to attack society and the structure of society.” As a consequence, there is no excuse to construe this attack as some legitimate validation of the far right’s concerns: if anything, it has vindicated their opponents, and more importantly the warnings against supporting or egging on those who want the deaths of others to solve the problems they perceive in their own lives.
Most disturbing were the people that indirectly condoned Breivik’s crimes by claiming Norway’s liberal and open government allowed the conditions for him to commit the atrocities, by not taking people of his stripe seriously or listening to him closer. This is a classic example of demanding the tolerant to tolerate the intolerant. It also shifts the blame and avoids moral responsibility through a complete reversal of the Buddhist formula of culpability: in the Buddhist vision the moral agent is responsible for anything and everything one does in body, speech and mind. Therefore, a killer is morally responsible because he killed. In the bigot’s mind, the killer deserves to be absolved of some responsibility because society ‘forced’ him to be that way, or that he had no other ‘outlet’ to express his grievances. This is absurd. He alone is responsible for killing others by virtue of the fact that he did the killing. Regardless of the external circumstances, it is he alone who carries the moral and karmic burden of his crimes and deluded thoughts.
The true war is the grapple against ideas or concepts in the head: ideas of hatred, ignorance, bigotry and fearmongering. We must show them the contradictions and irony latent in their bigotry by presenting to them this Nordic man who massacres his own people in order to ‘defend’ them against Muslims. It was not an Arab or foreign immigrant who riddled the bodies of Norwegian youth with bullets that day, but their own countryman, who being the coward that he is disguised himself as a policeman to earn trust while insulting a uniform of public service. The illogical and irrational nature of such hate must not only be exposed. Yet reason alone will not persuade those who have already made up their minds, and that is why the public forum needs to be courageous, outspoken, and open-armed in its tolerance, which is an act of trust in itself.
The bravery of the tolerant needs to match the aggression and hysterical energy of the intolerant, which is why the Norwegian Prime Minister’s brave response to the shooting and bombing deserves applause:
“No one will bomb us to silence. No one will shoot us to silence. No one will ever scare us away from being Norway. You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy or our ideals for a better world.”