Adam Shatz has a first-rate review essay—as one would expect from him—in the latest issue of the London Review of Books, on two books on Anders Behring Breivik: A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utøya, by Aage Borchgrevink—a well-known Norwegian writer and literary critic; his book was first published in Norwegian in 2012—, and Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia, by Oslo-based social anthropologist Sindre Bangstad.
Borchgrevink’s book, which Adam says is “superb,” recounts the troubled parcours of Anders Breivik and the massacre he committed on July 22, 2011 (which I had a post on at the time, ironically speculating on the possible Tea Party GOP reaction to the bloodbath). Breivik, as it happens, had friends in Oslo’s Muslim immigrant community—the largest component of which is Pakistani—as an adolescent but gradually developed a virulent hatred of them, which Borchgrevink examines in detail. Before his trial Breivik was described as a paranoid schizophrenic but he rejected the notion and psychiatric examinations found no sign of it. He did hail from a dysfunctional family, however, and steeped himself in, as Adam puts it, the “virtual netherworld of ‘Eurabia’ literature,” which, intellectually speaking, set him on his murderous path.
I’ve looked at the “Eurabia” literature, which posits that Muslims/Arabs are taking over Europe—demographically and as part of a plot hatched by France and the EU—and that Islam will, at some point in the course of this century, become the majority religion on the continent and impose “dhimmi” status on non-Muslims. It’s conspiratorial junk. Preposterous trash. Bon pour la poubelle. The author most associated with this wacky idea is the British/Egyptian Jew Gisèle Littman (better known by her nom de plume Bat Ye’or), to which one may add the nutters and cranks Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, right-wing Danish intellectual Lars Hedegaard, gay American Oslo denizen Bruce Bawer, and Canadian polemicist Mark Steyn, entre autres. None of these illuminés, it may be said, possess the credentials—scholarly or otherwise—to be writing articles and books on the subject. But write on it they do, and their screeds have an audience in Norway, as Sindre Bangstad details in his book on Breivik and Islamophobia. Now I happen not to like the “Islamophobia” neologism, which lacks a precise definition and tends to conflate criticism of Islam as a religion—which, in a liberal, secular democracy, is an entirely legitimate exercise of free speech—, denunciation of radical Islamism—also entirely legitimate (and which large numbers of Muslims engage in themselves)—, and the stigmatizing of Muslims as individuals, whether or not they practice the religion—which is bigotry pure and simple. But whatever label one wants to attach to it, fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims pervades a portion of the Norwegian public, as it does elsewhere in Europe and North America. So while Anders Breivik was an outlier in his act of terrorism, he was not one in his beliefs.
One is reminded in reading Adam’s essay that Breivik received the maximum sentence in Norway for his crime—of murdering 77 people—, which is 21 years imprisonment. Now this sentence can be extended indefinitely—and presumably it will be—but still, it’s crazy that in Norway cold-blooded murderers—not to mention mass murdering terrorists—can theoretically be released from prison while in the prime of their adult lives.