Thursday, July 28, 2011

Crazy Is, Crazy Does

Michelle Goldberg and Michael Dougherty did a dialogue on Bloggingheads recently in which they discussed the events in Norway.  Their analysis was a bit weak, likely due to Goldberg not wanting to come across as trying to score political points by associating too closely Dougherty and his fellow right-wingers with Andrew Breivik.  Of course, Breivik had associated himself with them quite explicitly.

I felt like Goldberg and Dougherty were dancing around this issue, which I wanted to speak to. That is, that while Breivik's actions were crazy, they were more logical the more seriously you take take the propositions underlying much of right-wing nationalist rhetoric regarding Islam.

Dougherty said at one point that he might have agreed with some of what Breivik was saying - or at least that his fellow conservatives did (it is clear that Breivik's thinking was based on assumptions that paralleled that of the the nationalist right). But Dougherty wanted change to come democratically, by working within the system.

So, the take-away for him was that he now understood how wrong it was for those on the right to unfairly tarnish all Muslims with the deeds of the crazy few. That's a fair point, to a degree.

But here's my problem with that. Muslims are certainly more diverse in opinion than the nationalist right. This is true to the extent that the vast majority of them share almost zero assumptions in parallel with what is driving Islamist jihad. They don't see America as an evil. They don't want to overthrow it. They don't want to establish "sharia" law. They believe in democracy and pluralism. The only grievances they share are likely due to the fact that a portion of Muslims are going to be right wing nationalists!

Yet a great deal of the grievances right wing nationalists have are shared by Breivik. Furthermore, many of these grievances, appearing in a variety of forms, from a variety of right-wing thinkers, were expressed in vivid evocation of Islam as an existential threat. To many, the result was always going to be violence. After 9/11, otherwise reasonable people regularly spoke of "glassing" the middle east. I shouldn't have to compile a list of the angry, hateful rhetoric, only to illustrate that it was clearly rooted in an idea that an existential threat was coming.

So, political talk gets heated. People say things they don't really mean. But after a while, you get the feeling that, no, they actually do mean them. Many wanted to ban sharia law, and Mosques for crying out loud.  (This Thom Hartmann video describes the level of Islamophobic rhetoric pretty well.)  I am pretty sure that, like Dougherty, most on the right wanted to work within the system.

But who knows how many did not? This graph shows pretty clearly that something has been brewing.

I don't think I'm being paranoid. Timothy McVeigh was part of something not entirely different. Again, the rhetoric was of an existential threat. The government had been taken over, and it was up to us to take the law into our own hands. There was a pretty straightforward logic to his actions.

I mean, of course he was crazy, right? Who would do such a thing? Well, someone who actually believed the rhetoric, who took it seriously. Why wouldn't he then take the implications seriously?

Breivik believed that a great Islamic horde was going to take over Europe, and his country. I can only imagine that if Hispanic immigrants in America were Muslim, right wing nationalism would be that much more vitriolic and paranoid. And the consequences would be just as inevitable.

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