A Lesson Going Unlearned

by Brendan Hoyt

The recent terrorist attacks in Norway are a blazing reminder of how we should not jump to conclusions. Many media outlets were quick to call the events an act of Muslim extremism, but were then reticent about the religious or ideological motivations of Anders Behring Breivik once it became clear that he did not fit the all-too-familiar Middle-Eastern terrorist mold. However, there is a more important lesson than that: If we were supposed to have “defeated” these types of extremists in World War II, what does their continued existence say about our current struggle against radical Islam?

Breivik’s ideology bears more than a passing resemblance to the fascist uprisings that led to WWII. Extreme nationalism, xenophobia, and a hatred of multiculturalism are all common denominators. Of course, there are differences, such as Breivek’s far-right Zionism as compared to Nazi antisemitism. However, the similarities in overall worldview, especially a baseline “us vs them” mentality centered on a European battleground where foreign intruders are responsible for all problems, are significantly stronger.

It’s easy to write these similarities off on the basis that Breivik is a “lone wolf” and that this incident is just a terrible fluke. After all, Breivik’s claims that he is a part of a vast network of similar-minded extremists seem, at least so far, to be completely bogus. Regardless, even if we ignore that every bit of evidence shows that right-wing extremism is on the rise, not on the decline, this rationalization misses the point: Ideas cannot be killed.

The attitude in the United States is that as long as there is any threat whatsoever from a Muslim extremist, it is necessary for us to remain in a constant war state, with our civil liberties remanded as long as they get in the way of our feeling of security. Even putting aside the debate over the effectiveness of these policies, they are nonsensical when we put them in the greater historical context. If we took this attitude towards the ideologies we defeated in WWII, we would have been in a police state for the last sixty-five years, because at no point did every fascist go away.

When we look at Breivik, we should see the sad, pathetic, dying gasps of a dead ideology. If we see more than that, we empower that ideology. We should allow his actions to discredit themselves based on their sheer horror. This is the lesson that nobody seems to be picking up on. There are still fascists. There are still Nazis. There are still adherents of virtually every horrendous, murderous ideology that has ever existed, and every once in awhile they kill people, sometimes in large numbers. We should not be treating Islamic extremism any differently.

*Thanks to my girlfriend for giving me the idea for this post.