How Many Trees Does It Take To See A Forest

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

–Martin Niemöller

The murderous rampage of Anders Behring Breivik was anything but a lunatic act of a deranged madman. As days pass and more details emerge, it is becoming more and more clear that this was a premeditated crime with political and ideological background. To call his crime an ‘unpredictable act of a single lunatic’ is – whether you like it or not – turning a blind eye to a worrying trend which has all but became the norm in Europe: making politics of extreme right ever more mainstream. Just as all over Europe, the reaction in Slovenia that something like that can happen (and in Norway, of all places!) was one of shock, at least of disbelief, especially after the initial media-induced preconception that the attack was committed by some Muslim extremists was shattered by the image of a tall, blonde blue-eyed, well, Aryan.


However, as disbelief gave way to analysis, something intriguing was beginning to happen. As if on cue, the voices and opinions that could be loosely classified as right-wing or conservative started that this tragedy should not be (ab)used and politicised. That fearmongering, figthing the existing (political) enemies within and creating new ones are “nothing but post-9/11-like anti-freedom hikes only that this time they are being executed by the over-pious political left” ( Instead, goes the argument, “this was an act of a right-wing nutjob” (WSJ) who claimed to be a Christian and a Conservative but was in fact anything but. That equalling Breivik’s actions to particular political positions is in fact “an attack on the freedom of speech because there’s a huge difference between words and shooting” (Žiga Turk, Slovene only. EDIT: In the comments Mr. Turk provided what he believes to be a more accurate translation)

Pengovsky believes these sentiments are genuine. They are also a symptom of collective denial. What we are seeing in Europe for some yeas now is the moderate (call them European) right wing parties actively courting hard-line voters, those whom they wouldn’t touch twenty years ago. As the general disillusionment with politics, politicians and their abilities to provide any sort of meaningful solution to socio-economic clustefuck of today grows, so grow the tendencies of right wing politicos to flirt with xenophobia, nationalism, anti-communism and other ghosts of European past. On that same note, let it be said, that at the same time the moderate left is increasingly moving to the centre, creating potentially just as dangerous vacuum on that side of the political spectrum. It’s just that no-one really courts the radical left. Mostly because they’re at each other’s throats most of the time.

At any rate, the move has been a short-term success for right wing parties virtually all across Europe. Belgium, France, Italy, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and Germany (to name but a few) all of these countries have to varying degrees seen the rise of nationalism and its becoming more and more mainstream on the right side of the political spectrum. Take Germany, for example. Last year pengovsky showed how Angie Merkel, who together with Monsieur Sarkozy is bankrolling the Greek Debt Tragedy, took a swipe at Germany’s very own multi-kulti without as much as batting an eyelash. Anders Behring Breivik on the other hand got a hard-on every time he was thinking of ways to destroy the concept. And he decided the best way to do it was to kill those who believed that multi-cultural society is essentially a good thing

The gunman had said his operation was not aimed at killing as many people as possible but that he wanted to create the greatest loss possible to Norway’s governing Labour Party, which he accused of failing the country on immigration. (BBC

Still think it wasn’t political?

Whether or not the killer is insane is of secondary importance. He did what others were preaching to him and others like him. Islam is a religion like any other, it has its good sides and bad sides, but we are being preconditioned into believing that anyone with a thick beard and darker skin is a potential suicide bomber and that every explosion out there is the work of al-Quaeda, although Osama bin Laden is slepping with the fishes for some time now. Multiculturalism and tolerance are easy targets for the pious, the moralistic and the greedy alike, because either “they don’t belong here”, “they don’t share our values and will destroy our way of life” or “they will take our jobs”. Marxism (or Communism, to be more precise) is no longer a threat to Europe or anyone else for that matter. Yet it is still constantly being used as the political Bogey-man, as if Soviet tanks were just behind the borders, waiting with their engines on. As a result, anything that remotely looks like socialism is attacked viciously. Like healthcare. Or the Norwegian Labour party summer camp. Words, therefore, are not something innocent, but can have brutal effect when used carelessly. And this is what the political right is doing all over Europe (and elsewhere) for the past decade or so. Radicalising its rhetoric and creating the air of emergency situation and even panic. This is nothing less than creating a state of fear. And then someone snaps.

When Breivik’s 1500-page manifesto was released, Slovene columnist Marko Crnković tweeted that having browsed through it he found nothing that he couldn’t see on any number of Slovene forums and news-website comments on an average day. Which is true. Jure Mesarič of blog Drugi Dom collected a handful of comments which went along the lines of “extreme liberalism with its ‘human rights’ is also to blame”. But perhaps the most telling example is a comment on a yesterday’s mighty fine post by drfilomena. Someone left a hefty comment accusing the good doctor of being everything from a communist onwards, putting together the rhetoric of Slovene right-wing parties and enriching with some extra-wonderful slurs of his own (I really couldn’t be troubled to translate). God forbid this person owns gun.

Given the above it is of course no wonder that the political right all over Europe is bending over backwards to put as much daylight as possible between itself and Anders Behring Breivik. Creating much fuss about every other aspect of the tragedy, they refuse to even touch the question of why and how the he got his ideas. True, Breivik is neither a true Christian not a proper Conservative. But the European (and, by extension, Slovenian) political right should ask itself whether it is still Christian and conservative and what it will do about the hate-speech, ever more prevailing in its rhetoric. Instead they paint this tragedy as an unfortunate one-off case.

Question is, how many trees does one need to see a forest. Or do we have to wait until they come for someone else?

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

18 thoughts on “How Many Trees Does It Take To See A Forest”

  1. Makes me wonder how many people, who do not consider themselves right-wing radicals, were just a little bit proud when Brevik praised Slovenia as an exemplary country…

  2. We’ve seen this before. What you’re describing is not so very different from the Tea party/Sarah Palin reaction to the shoot-out aimed at Gabrielle Giffords.

  3. Indeed have we seen this before; the ugly deed as well as the political denunciation of it.

    Besides Cornelius’s apt referral to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, I have an example closer to home.

    A few years ago an 18 year old Flemish kid, Hans Van Themsche, went on a rampage through the city of Antwerpen, where he shot and killed a Malines pregnant au pair and the – Flemish – child she was caring for, as well as severely wounding a Turkish woman.

    This happened after he was expelled from the private school he was attending for smoking and drinking and his motives were extreme right, given the fact that this kind of propaganda literature was found in his dorm room. Not only that, his family consists of extreme right conservatives, and his aunt was an MP for extreme right wing party Vlaams Belang.

    Needless to say, the VB denounced Van Themsche’s actions as those of a lunatic and a madman and of course he had nothing to do with the VB.

    Las Friday, mere hours before the Norwegian tragedy, VB MP Tanguy Veys was one of the 5700 people who directly received Breivik’s manifesto (or ‘compendium’, as he calls it; I call it a boring read of the same old extreme right diatribe). He was quick to denounce Breivik as a lunatic and a madman and denied knowing him or anyone on the mailing list.

    The VB itself today called Breivik ‘not a likeminded individual, but an insane one’. As did the PVV’s Geert Wilders in Holland (if you don’t know Geert Wilders : he’s the guy with the bad trip inducing blonde hairdo that routinely attacks islam and goes out of his way to provoke muslims and whose party now is – a minor – partner in the conservative majority ruling the Netherlands, but a partner nonetheless).

    Can you see a pattern forming? I certainly can.

  4. Not the first time, Pengowsky is manufacturing truth to make for an easier argument. He claims this is a quote from my blog “Pot v Oslo”: “an attack on the freedom of speech because there’s a huge difference between words and shooting”.

    This is not a quote from my blog. He should not argue with writing he does not understand and he should not be manufacturing quotes he feels confortable refuting.

  5. @Jacob: I don’t think anyone considers him/herself a right-wing radical 🙂 But, yes. One does wonder…

    @Cornelius: Good call about Giffords, I forgot about that. Same MO, I agree

    @dr. Arf: Why of course he was a madman and a lone wolf. How could anyone possibly say otherwise 🙁

    @Žiga Turk: For all intents and purposes the quote is perfectly accurate. If, however, you feel you’ve been misquoted, you’re welcome to provide a more accurate translation. As for me manufacturing the truth (and not for the first time, at that) you’d do well to provide an example. Otherwise I’d kindly ask you to retract the statement.

  6. @pengovsky, please kindly provide the original Slovenian quote from my blog that you think you were translating. Just Copy and Paste. I cant find that must be related to your “intents and purposes”. Then I will translate it for you.

  7. The relevant section of your blog reads:

    Grozljivo je, da se dogodek zdaj poskuša izrabljati za demoniziranje določenih političnih stališč, za problematiziranje svobode govora, za diskreditacijo določenih ljudi češ, da so imeli enaka stališča kot Breivik. Med stališči in streljanjem so svetlobna leta!

    This was partly summarised and partly quoted on this blog as

    That equalling Breivik’s actions to particular political positions is in fact “an attack on the freedom of speech because there’s a huge difference between words and shooting”

    Your turn, I guess?

  8. @P : Yes, indeed. Plausible deniability doing the rounds in all extreme right political parties. Hate mongering didn’t do anything to cause this, as with the Gabrielle Giffords shooting Cornelius referred to. Sarah Palin posting pictures of political opponents with crosshairs on their faces? Of course that has nothing to do with a trigger happy lone wolf idiot… Right.

    Extreme right and conservative parties alike are quick to judge those not falling in line and more often than not accusing them baselessly of not assuming whichever responsibility they feel isn’t assumed. When it comes to seeing the sizable two by four in their own eye, all of a sudden they shirk theirs. Another pattern I’ve seen over the years. Holier than thou, indeed… 🙁

    In that light, I can only applaud Norway’s PM, who said that the only way to combat Breivik’s line of thinking is more democracy and social openness. Where other people/countries would be quick to enforce stricter rules to the point where living in a police state is seen as the only viable alternative (I don’t think I need to give examples by way of being too obvious), this is a country refusing to go back on their values. Politicians will stay politicians, but at this time, no politician in Norway – and by extension anywhere else – can afford being cynical instead of sincere.

  9. Must be a nice feeling to be able to diagnose consequences of a social evil (right-wing hate speech) so neatly … Been trying to figure things out on my own and I can’t see any clear divides.

    Like … there actually exists a (verbally and otherwise) militant left-wing group or five in Germany and our Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) has claimed a few times they can be as dangerous as their right-wing part. And this is the “after-RAF-era”.

    And then … Some of the views ABB expresses on women remind me of those Hatun Sürücü’s brother held before killing her for being too liberal and too German … You know, one of the guys Angie has attacked in her hatred against multikulti. BTW: ABB claims to hate Angie for the liberalism of her ways – I guess he would have shot her, too.

    And and and … Like the fact I may never be able to think anti-multikulti blunders (I don’t mean hate speech here) are nothing in comparison to psycho-terror experienced at the hand of “your own people” who simply don’t have the nerve to deal with anyone even slightly different … Nothing in comparison to being shot by your fellow countryman for being different (ABB does quote many “flaws” the modern European societies have, one of them being liberal women/feminists) … I really think such hatred goes much deeper than just “being exposed to right-wing propaganda”. I am sure it is a serious psychical problem that appears regardless of politics.

    It seems I will remain confused on this one 🙂
    (apart from the fact that every society will also contain a mass murderer or two)

  10. I’m not saying that on the whole there are only right wing extremists. Indeed I wrote that I see a just-as-dangerous vacuum being formed on the left.

    That Breivik hated Angela Merkel is, however, no surprise. The whole point I’m trying to make is that moderate right wing parties are courting extremists to get the votes. But when they (thankfully) don’t follow up their words with actions, the initial exuberance turns into dismay and anger.

    To take an example completely at random: the Ambrus crisis in Slovenia in 2006. Two years earlies the leader of SDS actively supported the anti-Roma protesters when they staged a protest just before the elections which Janša ultimately won.

    Those same people then saw it fit to run a particular Roma family from their municipality on the grounds of their ethnicity, lighting bonfires, waving pitchforks, the works. Surely you remember.

    When the illustrious PM finally came to sort things out (after a police intervention, mind you) those same people he courted and patted on their backs, saying it’s high time someone listened to them, booed him and effectively said he betrayed them (“this was not what we fought for in 1988!”)

    In short, they issued an invoice for their support. That no-one was killed by that lynch mob was pure luck and the result of some straight thinking by the police. Ultimately, however, the family *was* relocated and the protesters got what they wanted.

    This is the mechanism which the political right wing across Europe is actively employing for the past 10-15 years. Extremists and fundamentalists are bad news no matter how you look at it. But if you flirt with them, sooner or later you’ll have to pay your dues. It’s just that usually innocent people get hurt in the process.

  11. OK, yes, Ambrus is a “good” example of a Slovenian political phenomenon … But I do not see how it applies to the rest of Europe (“do not see” meaning “can’t figure out” and not “you must be wrong”).

    I live in a country where the extreme right-wind has been “polishing things up” on the outside (!) – you know, change of clothes, avoidance of connections to bad guys etc. In the East, their most important mechanism for getting the votes (and staying in parliaments) is helping their own people (the poor, the unemployed, the young …) and of course telling them Ausländers are bad for their health.

    Which is why they may not want to be connected with ABB and the like. He’s bad for their image.

    My guess is: if your country is rich enough (and many in Europe are), you are not going to get enough sympathy by being too extreme in your words and deeds. You will be believed in parts where people have little experience with Ausländers and where they feel they have been neglected but otherwise you will need different, mellowed down techniques … So I guess some of the right-wing parties may not want to have extremists connected to them. ABB is in fact a man with extreme views who thought the right-wing Norvegian party he was a member of wasn’t good enough for him.
    My guess is: the standard right-wing propaganda didn’t really affect him. He must have a big personal problem (like a kaputt brain chemistry) which is causing mental short-cuts of the radical kind.

    As a fundamentalist with an insane logic (same problem as in GG shooting, I bet), he simply sought out a corresponding group of insane fundamentalists he could hate. And then went and killed his own countrymen 🙁 …

    What I mean is: hatred and killing go deeper than political spectres.

  12. What you summarized (including quote) as:

    That equaling Breivik’s actions to particular political positions is in fact “an attack on the freedom of speech because there’s a huge difference between words and shooting”

    was in fact this:

    »It is frightening that the event is now exploited to demonize certain political views, to question the freedom of speech, to discredit certain people saying that they had the same views as Breivik. There are light years between opinions and shooting«.

    So much for accuracy of quotations.

    But since I am sure you want to have an argument on my position, let me translate the rest of the paragraph because it illustrates what I meant:

    »It is frightening that the event is now exploited to demonize certain political views, to question the freedom of speech, to discredit certain people by saying that they had the same views as Breivik. There are light years between opinions and shooting. 60% of the Norwegians had a negative attitude towards the Norwegian Labor Party, like Breivik. But there is nothing to be ashamed about this. They did not shoot, but cast the ballot. There is nothing wrong if you are against the Norwegian Labour party. Nothing at all. Or against another. Party or agenda.”

    To what you will reply, “ah, but I do not have a problem with the attitudes towards the Norvegian Labour Party, or the globalists or the anti-gays. The problem is Brevik’s intolerance to foreigners and muslims. The problem is the intolerance to foreigners in a society.”

    I agree. It is a problem. But it exists independently of Brevik.

    My point was elsewhere. By singling out an issue and using Brevik as an argument that that issue is bad you are exploiting the dead children to push your own agenda on that issue. Your agenda because it was you who choose to cherry pick the Brevik’s agenda.

    Actually, one can exploit Brevik’s victims for his own agenda in two ways: (1) by saying that “those concerned about immigration are co-responsible for Brevik’s actions”. (2) by saying that “those who are were dismissing the debate on immigration as intolerant caused that words were replaced by shots”. Let me be absolutely clear: I am saying neither. You are saying (1). Others are saying (2). You are shocked at each other’s beliefs and would not talk to each other. Clearly. Because the stakes are so high. Both of you placed 70+ dead kids on the discussion table. This does not help.

  13. @Žiga Turk: For the record, I edited that section in the blog to include a link to your translation. I really wouldn’t want you to feel misquoted.

    As for the rest of your comment, let me say this:

    I do have a problem with anti-gay politics. These are not the same as anti-Labour or globalist or whathaveyou. I have a problem with politics that will use human rights as a bargaining tool to woo the extremist vote (on that same note, I have a problem with any and all politics that will do the same on the other side of the political spectrum).

    I understand your point. And – in my view – you implicitly confirmed mine. Saying that the mainstream right wing is “concerned about immigration” is an understatement to say the least. We’re way past that point and are ever closer to the “Ausländer raus!” mentality.

    What I’m saying and what you actively refuse to see is that in order to gain power (a legitimate goal by itself) the right wing chose to tap into the xenophobic, hateful and extremist elements of the society (soceties) and that actions including (but not limited to) Breivik’s are the sad but necessary result of such irresponsible politicking.

    I’m sure no one wanted this to happen. Yet it did happen. Radical rhetoric will inevitably bring about radical actions.

    This is where you are dead wrong. There is not a huge (light-years’ worth) of difference between words and actions. Think Gabrielle Giffords. Think Ambrus. It all started with harsh words about “you being better than them” and about “majority being oppressed by the minority” and all that.

    Words can be just as deadly. By turning the collective blind eye to that it is you (plural) who are using this tragedy to political ends since flirting with hard-liners will most likely continue. As I said: how many trees do you need to see a forest?

  14. Brevik was pro-gay. How would you feel if anti-gay activists would use Brevik to push their ideas. Brevik was anti-globalization. How would you feel globalists would use Brevik to push their ideas. Brevik was freemason. How would you feel all freemasons take the blame for what he did?

    Yes, politics tries to play on emotions. Whoever is using Brevik as an argument is doing so. Whoever is using 9/11 is doing so. I was doing neither.

    I don’t feel addressed in the “flirting with hardliners” paragraph and am ignoring it.

  15. You got it the wrong way around: Nobody is using Breivik to push their ideas (give or take the odd MEP). It was Breivik who took the ideas of others (notably, moderate right wing, flirting with hardliners) and put them into practice.

    As for whose agenda he was following:

    The gunman had said his operation was not aimed at killing as many people as possible but that he wanted to create the greatest loss possible to Norway’s governing Labour Party, which he accused of failing the country on immigration

    You accuse those who connect Breivik and right wing politics of playing on people’s emotions. Yet you readily ignore the fact that it was in fact the emotions of right wing hardliners which are being addressed systematically all over Europe for years on end. Breivik is not the start of all things wrong, but only one of the predictably sad results. And those whom you accuse of using this tragedy for political ends are only connecting the dots.

    As for ignoring the “flirting with hardliners” paragraph: It not addressed to you directly, but you still proved my whole point. The political right is ignoring what is plainly obvious. Therein lies the gist of the problem. And it won’t go away just by pretending it doesn’t exist.

  16. Well, the dots are there, I’m afraid. Have been for some time. Whether or not they are connected is a matter of one’s perception of the world around us.

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