A vile logic to Anders Breivik's choice of target


Slavoj Zizek

Anders Behring Breivik killed more than 70 people in Norway. Photograph: Scanpix Sweden/Reuters.

In Anders Behring Breivik’s ideological self-justification as well as in reactions to his murderous act there are things that should make us think. The manifesto of this Christian “Marxist hunter” who killed more than 70 people in Norway is precisely not a case of a deranged man’s rambling; it is simply a consequent exposition of “Europe’s crisis” which serves as the (more or less) implicit foundation of the rising anti-immigrant populism – its very inconsistencies are symptomatic of the inner contradictions of this view.

The first thing that sticks out is how Breivik constructs his enemy: the combination of three elements (Marxism, multiculturalism and Islamism), each of which belongs to a different political space: the Marxist radical left, multiculturalist liberalism, Islamic religious fundamentalism. The old fascist habit of attributing to the enemy mutually exclusive features (“Bolshevik-plutocratic Jewish plot” – Bolshevik radical left, plutocratic capitalism, ethnic-religious identity) returns here in a new guise.

Even more indicative is the way Breivik’s self-designation shuffles the cards of radical rightist ideology. Breivik advocates Christianity, but remains a secular agnostic: Christianity is for him merely a cultural construct to oppose Islam. He is anti-feminist and thinks women should be discouraged from pursuing higher education; but he favours a “secular” society, supports abortion and declares himself pro-gay.

His predecessor in this respect was Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch rightist populist politician who was killed in early May 2002, two weeks before elections in which he was expected to gain one fifth of the votes. Fortuyn was a paradoxical figure: a rightist populist whose personal features and even opinions (most of them) were almost perfectly “politically correct”. He was gay, had good personal relations with many immigrants, displayed an innate sense of irony – in short, he was a good tolerant liberal with regard to everything except his basic stance towards Muslim immigrants.

What Fortuyn embodied was thus the intersection between rightist populism and liberal political correctness. Indeed, he was the living proof that the opposition between rightist populism and liberal tolerance is a false one, that we are dealing with two sides of the same coin: ie we can have a racism which rejects the other with the argument that it is racist.

Furthermore, Breivik combines Nazi features (also in details – for example, his sympathy for Saga, the Swedish pro-Nazi folk singer) with a hatred of Hitler: one of his heroes is Max Manus, the leader of the Norway anti-Nazi resistance. Breivik is not so much racist as anti-Muslim: all his hatred is focused on the Muslim threat.

And, last but not least, Breivik is antisemitic but pro-Israel, as the state of Israel is the first line of defence against the Muslim expansion – he even wants to see the Jerusalem temple rebuilt. His view is that Jews are OK as long as there aren’t too many of them – or, as he wrote in his manifesto: “There is no Jewish problem in western Europe (with the exception of the UK and France) as we only have 1 million in western Europe, whereas 800,000 out of these 1 million live in France and the UK. The US, on the other hand, with more than 6 million Jews (600% more than Europe) actually has a considerable Jewish problem.” He realises the ultimate paradox of a Zionist Nazi – how is this possible?

A key is provided by the reactions of the European right to Breivik’s attack: its mantra was that in condemning his murderous act, we should not forget that he addressed “legitimate concerns about genuine problems” – mainstream politics is failing to address the corrosion of Europe by Islamicisation and multiculturalism, or, to quote the Jerusalem Post, we should use the Oslo tragedy “as an opportunity to seriously re-evaluate policies for immigrant integration in Norway and elsewhere”. The newspaper has since apologised for this editorial. (Incidentally, we are yet to hear a similar interpretation of the Palestinian acts of terror, something like “these acts of terror should serve as an opportunity to re-evaluate Israeli politics”.)

A reference to Israel is, of course, implicit in this evaluation: a “multicultural” Israel has no chance to survive; apartheid is the only realistic option. The price for this properly perverse Zionist-rightist pact is that, in order to justify the claim to Palestine, one has to acknowledge retroactively the line of argumentation which was previously, in earlier European history, used against the Jews: the implicit deal is “we are ready to acknowledge your intolerance towards other cultures in your midst if you acknowledge our right not to tolerate Palestinians in our midst”.

The tragic irony of this implicit deal is that, in the European history of last centuries, Jews themselves were the first “multiculturalists”: their problem was how to survive with their culture intact in places where another culture was predominant.

But what if we are entering an era where this new reasoning will impose itself? What if Europe should accept the paradox that its democratic openness is based on exclusion – that there is “no freedom for the enemies of freedom”, as Robespierre put it long ago? In principle, this is, of course, true, but it is here that one has to be very specific. In a way, there was a vile logic to Breivik’s choice of target: he didn’t attack foreigners but those within his own community who were too tolerant towards intruding foreigners. The problem is not foreigners, it is our own (European) identity.

Although the ongoing crisis of the European Union appears as a crisis of economy and finances, it is in its fundamental dimension an ideologico-political crisis: the failure of referendums about the EU constitution a couple of years ago gave a clear signal that voters perceived the EU as a “technocratic” economic union, lacking any vision which could mobilise people – until the recent protests, the only ideology able to mobilise people was the  anti-immigrant defence of Europe.

Recent outbursts of homophobia in eastern European post-communist states should also give us pause for thought. In early 2011, there was a gay parade in Istanbul where thousands walked in peace, with no violence or other disturbances; in gay parades which took place at the same time in Serbia and Croatia (Belgrade, Split), police were not able to protect participants who were ferociously attacked by thousands of violent Christian fundamentalists. These fundamentalists, not Turkey’s, are the true threat to the European legacy, so when the EU basically blocked Turkey’s entry, we should ask the obvious question: what about applying the same rules to eastern Europe?

Antisemitism belongs to this series, alongside other forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. The state of Israel is here making a catastrophic mistake: it decided to downplay, if not completely ignore, the “old” (traditional European) antisemitism, focusing instead on the “new” and allegedly “progressive” antisemitism masked as the critique of the Zionist politics of the state of Israel. Along these lines, Bernard Henri-Lévy (in his Left in Dark Times) recently claimed that the antisemitism of the 21st century would be “progressive” or not exist at all. This thesis compels us to turn around the old Marxist interpretation of antisemitism as a mystified anti-capitalism (instead of blaming the capitalist system, the rage is focused on a specific ethnic group accused of corrupting the system): for Henri-Lévy and his partisans, today’s anti-capitalism is a disguised form of antisemitism.

This unspoken but no less efficient dismissal of those who would attack the “old” antisemitism is taking place at the very moment when the “old” antisemitism is returning all around Europe, especially in post-communist eastern European countries, from Hungary to Latvia. Something that should worry us even more is the rise of a weird accommodation between Christian fundamentalists and Zionists in the US.

There is only one solution to this enigma: it is not that the US fundamentalists have changed, it is that Zionism itself has paradoxically come to adopt some antisemitic logic in its hatred of Jews who do not fully identify with the politics of the state of Israel. Their target, the figure of the Jew who doubts the Zionist project, is constructed in the same way as the European antisemites constructed the figures of the Jew – he is dangerous because he lives among us, but is not really one of us. Israel is playing a dangerous game here: Fox News, the main US voice of the radical right and a staunch supporter of Israeli expansionism, recently had to demote Glenn Beck, its most popular host, whose comments were getting openly antisemitic.

The standard Zionist argument against the critics of the policies of the state of Israel is that, of course, like every other state, Israel can and should be judged and eventually criticised, but that the critics of Israel misuse the justified critique of Israeli policy for antisemitic purposes. When the Christian fundamentalist supporters of the Israeli politics reject leftist critiques of Israeli policies, their implicit line of argument is illustrated by a wonderful cartoon published in July 2008 in the Viennese daily Die Presse: it shows two stocky, Nazi-looking Austrians, one of them holding in his hands a newspaper and commenting to his friend: “Here you can see again how a totally justified antisemitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!” These are today’s allies of the state of Israel.

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