In the Norwegian massacres we saw the latest salvo in the clash of civilizations– not between a “Judaeo-Christian” West, and an Islamism bent on taking over the world, but between a totalitarian vision built on fear of the other and feelings of religio/ethnic/cultural superiority, and a liberal vision based on the value of diversity and the necessity to bridge religio/ethnic/cultural divides. This clash of civilizations has been with us for some time: in the twentieth century it reared its ugliest head in the temporary triumphs of Nazism and Stalinism. But it is much older than that; it is found anywhere where a totalitarian worldview is merged with racial, religious, and ethnic prejudice. Tertullian once asked, “What do Athens and Jerusalem have in common?” Well, one thing is tribalism, with its concomitant xenophobia and intolerance of the other.
The reactions on the right to the Norwegian massacre have ranged from the sanctimonious to the nauseating. First there was the assumption that al-Qaeda was involved, since, heck, it’s always the Muslims who poison the wells in their headlong rush towards Armageddon, oops, I mean the messianic world order, oops, I mean the Rapture, oops, I mean the World Khalifate. If you don’t believe me, you don’t know Hebrew/Arabic/Latin, because what they say in their texts and in their cabals is very revealing – I can produce for you any number of ex-Muslims/Jews/PLO-terrorists/Mormons – who will reveal to you the secrets of the order. And frankly, friend, you are in denial – you simply don’t want to know how those Jews/Islamists/Christians are making for world domination.
When the perpetrator turned out to be a rightwing Norwegian and not an Islamist, there was the rush in the rightwing blogosphere to do damage control, because, God forbid, this unfortunate incident could turn out to be a setback for the forces of Good (e.g., Jews, Christians, Old Europe, Zionists, Israelis -- I actually saw that line of thinking in the talk-backs .) So the tactics are to condemn the violence (as perfunctorily and as non-comittally as possible, e.g., talk about “undiluted evil”), to mitigate the act (“lone wolf,” “violent Christian fundamentalist,” “psycho”); not even to mention the ideological motivation; and – equally as important – to move on and not to come back to the story, even though it is one of the lead stories of the week.
For a shining example of a MSM blogger who employs these aforementioned tactics, see the two posts here and here of Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who now has won my prize for the Dumbest Conservative Blogger of the Year, and, friends, that competition is no cakewalk.
Some social scientists like to distinguish between circles of support for ideologically-motivated violent crimes. At the center of the circle are the perpetrators, the so-called “lone wolves.” In the circle around them are the ideologues who preach violence, and those who do everything but preach violence. In the next circle are the ideologues who condemn the perpetrators in varying degrees, but who nonetheless support their ideological motives, and somehow mitigate the crime (strategies include appeals to “context,” distinctions between just and unjust grievances, injecting distractions such as, “Yeah, but what about suicide bombing?”)
There is usually no good reason to assign responsibility for an attack on innocents to the ideologues in the outer circle. There are many people who share the perpetrator’s ideology who do not condone the act, much less contemplate doing it themselves. I know rightwing ideologues who were initially shocked and dismayed at Yigal Amir and Barukh Goldstein’s actions; some even remained shocked. All people live with contradictory beliefs and self-delusions. Some of them can say that X deserves death and not mean that literally.
But although those who occupy the outside circle – let’s call them the Ideological tribalists – shouldn’t take the rap for the perpetrators, they are certainly responsible for their own bigotry, which itself is a moral wrong, whatever the consequences. Pamela Geller is not responsible for the Norwegian massacres, but she is responsible for the anti-Islamic hate she spews forth – hate that is a carbon copy of the anti-Semitic diatribes of Father Coughlin in the 1930s.
Europe faces serious questions, and different solutions have and will be tried. There are trade-offs in the amount of diversity a society can allow itself to have, and there are many degrees in the middle between enforced assimilation on the one hand and balkanization on the other. The Jerusalem Post editorial that declared that multi-culturalism in Europe has failed should remember how many Jews left Judaism in Europe because of the pressure to assimilate – and how toleration of diversity has allowed varieties of Judaism to flourish in many places. Sure, there has to be some balance – but to err in the direction of diversity befits the liberal society. What cannot be tolerated is hate-filled bigotry, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or None of the Above.
There always are barbarians at the gates. In every generation they rise up to destroy us. The question is how do we fight against them? And even more pressing, how do we recognize them?
Religious/nationalist/ethnic fundamentalism of all kind, coupled with power, not to mention weapons, has been shown time and again to be deadly. Their adherents are the barbarian at the gates; and fighting them is the clash of civilizations. And liberal and conservative moderates of all stripes should ally to fight those barbarians.
I write this not just as a liberal but as an orthodox Jew. Nobody suffers more from religious fundamentalism than religious moderates.