Yesterday I appeared as a guest on the BBC World Service programme World Have Your Say to debate the Breivik trial, which is still available here. The programme was an interesting format; it’s basically an open discussion with only light chairing from the presenter, involving participants from various countries who speak to each other as though they were in the same studio.
It was also an hour long – a long time for the radio – so that the discussion covered a lot of ground. Participants included a Norwegian journalist; a young student who lost a friend at Utoeya island; a criminologist from Manchester University; a student from Tunisia; a Swedish journalist and expert on the European far-right; Park Dietz, the forensic pathologist who worked on the Unabomber case, and – somewhat unexpectedly – the EDL leader ‘Tommy Robinson’, standing out like a tarantula on a wedding cake.
Robinson came across as a total bigot (surprise, surprise) and it was actually quite sickening to hear his condemnation of Breivik as a ‘monster’, given the connections that Breivik had with the EDL and his open admiration for its activities. Not to mention the overlap in ideas.
Hardly had Robinson finished his perfunctory condemnation of the Norway murders, than he launched into a diatribe about Islam, which drew on virtually every cliché from the counterjihad textbook: Islam is not a religion of peace, no Muslim country has ever been at peace, Muslims have killed 70 million people, Mohammed was a paedophile etc, etc
It was pure hatespeak, despite Robinson’s insistence that he was against Islam, not Muslims. There was not a word in what he said that Breivik could have disagreed with, whether it was his characterization of Islam or his bitter invectives against ‘multicultural lovenests.’
Robinson is cunning though, insisting that his organization was not far right and presenting himself as a humble man of the people, speaking truths that are denied by the politically correct elite.
Apart from his dismal contributions, which were thankfully brief, the discussion covered a lot of ground. The decision of the Norwegian authorities to televise the trial was a recurring theme, as participants considered whether such publicity would give Breivik a platform or whether television would allow the Norwegian public and the world in general to gain a better understanding of his crimes.
Breivik clearly longed for the opportunity to propagandize about his ’cause’ and perhaps to become a celebrity in the process, and he relished his day in court yesterday. Some participants argued that he should not be given the chance to express his views, given the risk that others may be ‘inspired’ by them.
I’m not convinced by this argument. In my view, it is essential to look at the wider background behind the events of last July, and the trial provides an opportunity to do this. Breivik may have acted alone, but his views about multiculturalism and Islam reflect a wide consensus that spans the political mainstream to the far-right fringes- and his belief in an impending European ‘civil war’ is not unique to him.
The scale and barbarism of his crimes makes it difficult to find any form of commensurate justice from the point of view of his victims, whose relatives and friends will be forced to witness the hollow posturings and self-glorification of this pathetic narcissist day after day.
But his crimes were nevertheless political crimes, and it’s important to see them as such, and to give them a public airing. The prosecution is seeking to prove that Breivik was insane, and I wrote a piece for Ceasefire magazine yesterday on why I hope that does not happen, which you can find here.
In this dangerous period, when the established far-right and counterjihadists are gaining ground across the continent, when the conspiracy theory/Islamophobic fantasy of a plot to transform Europe into ‘Eurabia’ enjoys widespread credibility, and even mainstream politicians deliver coded condemnations of ‘multiculturalism’ as alien and un-European, the Breivik trial provides an opportunity to consider where such tendencies can lead.
I’m not sure that a televised trial was necessary to bring about this outcome however, because television has a special ability to convert almost anything into a voyeuristic spectacle, and there is a danger that wall-to-wall coverage of the trial might lead to a Stockholm syndrome relationship between viewers and Breivik.
But I hope that the next ten weeks will galvanize men and women of goodwill to come together and reject not just Breivik, but the politics that produced him, and work to build a Europe in which the twisted hatred that he expressed so horrifically last summer will become nothing but a freakish aberration.