Tyler Gniewotta, in the Jakarta Post, 29 July 2011
During the hours immediately following the attacks in Norway last week, social media like Facebook and Twitter as well as most major news sources were rife with preliminary stories and opinions on what exactly it was that had just occurred. A common thread running through these initial reports was to investigate Norway’s foreign policy to see who could possibly be mad enough and hold enough grudge that they would actually carry out a terrorist attack on the peace-promoting country.Unfortunately, although not necessarily surprisingly, most of these reports looked at foreign Muslim terrorist organizations as the source of the attacks, and listed Norway’s recent involvement in Afghanistan as a possible motive.
In the early hours, even the BBC reported that “Norway has only recently increased its involvement in military missions in countries such as Afghanistan or Libya. Consequently, its foreign policy has not made the country many enemies…”
Many others jumped to conclusions by comparing the events to “Norway’s 9/11” insinuating that this game changing situation would lead to a tightening up of Norway’s previously lax security and open society, implying that now “no-one is safe” from al-Qaeda attacks.
Low and behold, the attack turned out to have very little to do with foreign policy and external threats based around al-Qaeda and much more to do with an internal conflict that appears to be building in Europe and other Western democracies surrounding immigration policy.
In those early hours, the words “terrorist attack” were in no shortage in all forms of online media. However, in recent days they are noticeably absent and have been substituted with “Christian fundamentalist”, “right-wing extremist”, or just plain and simply questioning his sanity and referring to him as “crazy”. What has changed from the early developments in this story, apart from the suspect’s race and religion?
The death toll has in fact risen, the events consisting of a bombing and a mass shooting remain unchanged and according to the suspects manifesto published shortly before the attacks, he had unquestionably political goals.
The UN describes terrorism as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them”.
The suspect, Anders Breivik, has admitted to carrying out the events, yet denies criminal responsibility. The attacks were unquestionably perpetrated to provoke and cause terror, they are committed by a person or group of persons and they are an unjustifiable means to attempt to produce political, ideological, racial and religious change.
So why, then, does the international media seem to have such difficulties relating to the suspect as a terrorist?
Not only did the media drop the ball by jumping to conclusions in the early reporting, but also we now appear to have decided that if the suspect is not of the Muslim faith, he is not a terrorist, regardless of his actions.
If Anders Breivik is correctly labeled for what he is, a terrorist, it potentially undermines the war on terror and means that Christian fundamentalists should also be targeted much in the same manner that their Muslim counterparts have been.
Admittedly, with this in mind, it seams unlikely that this will be the case, as it contradicts the constructed fears of the unknown that terrorism is something that occurs in the hills of Pakistan and Afghanistan, not in the churches of the United States and Europe.
Fear inducing words such as terrorist must be used correctly and unanimously, especially in the media, otherwise they will only cause more racial/religious fear in the world than already exists today.
Furthermore, if the true goals of the war on terror are to eliminate terrorism, it must be done so universally; regardless of what side of the debate the attacks of terrorism are taking place.
The writer, a student of International Relations at Malmö University in Sweden, has just finished an exchange semester at Gadjah Mada University, focusing on International Relations and Development Studies.