Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anders Breivik and the end of the world kaleidoscope

In an interesting op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens discusses the ideology and background to Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.  He throws in some weak arguments (there may be better ones) that he is neither a Christian nor a conservative based on his actions:  arguments equally made about the late Osama Bin Laden by Muslims.
In between his political pandering, he does bring in some interesting points.  He starts off by conceding that Anders Breivik is a right-wing nut job, and then continues.
Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, 26 July 2011.
The more telling side of Breivik's manifesto is his self-description as "Justiciar Knight Commander for the Knights Templar of Europe," a group he claims has some 80 members and held a secret meeting in London in 2002. The fetishistic medievalism—Breivik seems to have designed a military dress uniform, and wants to wear it to his trial—is significant: Like Osama bin Laden and his epigones, his worldview seems mainly defined by the politics of the 13th century. And that worldview is fundamentally geared toward hastening an apocalypse.
In a superb new book, "Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience," Boston University's Richard Landes notes just how pervasive this kind of impulse has been throughout history and across cultures, and how much its many strains—Christian, Marxist, Islamist, Nazi, environmentalist and so on—have in common. Breivik, Mr. Landes says, was of a piece: "Like many active cataclysmic apocalypticists, he believed that the socio-political world is in huge tension, like tectonic plates about to crack, and if he can set off a small explosion in the right place it will unleash far greater forces."
Similarly, the purpose of Breivik's massacre wasn't simply to kill off the Labor party's leadership, current and future. It was to create a spectacle, and in doing so energize a cause. It's no accident that he wants media present at his trial: He has now entered what he calls the propaganda phase of his campaign, in which he imagines he will be given "a stage to the world" through which he can win over "tens of millions of European sympathizers and tens of thousands of brothers and sisters who support us fully and are willing to fight beside us." This was precisely what al Qaeda hoped to achieve (and to an extent did achieve) with 9/11.
What it is is millennarian: the belief that all manner of redemptive possibilities lie on just the other side of a crucible of unspeakable chaos and suffering. At his arrest, Breivik called his acts "atrocious but necessary." Stalin and other Marxists so despised by Breivik might have said the same thing about party purges or the liquidation of the kulaks.
He cites  Richard Landes’ book, so we will first go to a recent co-author of Mr. Landis on other books and look at a summary from him that dates back to 1998.
Jeffry Kaplan, The Emergence of a Euro-American Radical Right, Rutgers University Press, 1998.
From Back cover
The United States and Western Europe are experiencing a new and important cultural and political development: the appearance of a right-wing extremist movement that crosses the Atlantic Ocean and transcends national boundaries with as much ease as do e-mail messages on the Internet. In this book, Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg [contributor] argue that there now exists a set of conditions common to the United States and Western Europe that draws right-wing radicals on both sides of the Atlantic closer together. These conditions, based on demographic pressures, social dislocation, economic changes, and technological advances, have set the stage for the formation of a new Euro-American radical right movement whose motives and characteristics differ from the right-wing groups of the early twentieth century.

That was almost 15 years ago, so the newness is a little thin at this point.  Note, that Mr. Kaplan is no doubt heavily influenced by the 1990s U.S. Militia Movement.  If you look at the source link, you will see that he weights the United States portion of this radical-right a little more heavily than might ordinarily be justified.  What you are actually seeing is the coalescence of an open source guerilla warfare.
An open source guerilla war uses the resources at hand, that a typical middle class person could buy, with an non-hierarchical leadership structure that radicalizes and (to the extent that it does) coordinates through e-mail, twitter, etc.   The overall approach is clandestine.  Mr. Breivik, no doubt, views himself as a sacrifice to the greater cause.
The recent Arabic rebellions would be open source mass movements.  Mr. Breivik, may be trying to ignite something along these lines, or he may be trying to expand the recruitment-action base of his cause:  a martyr to the cause if you will.
So where does all this lead?  We will go to an interview with Richard Landes.  He is asked what are the two dominant apocalyptic scenarios today.  He answers with
·         Climate change
·         Global Jihad
Poor Mr. Breivik’s cultural collapse scenario does not make the list.
He goes on to note that the secular apocalyptic folks are more pessimistic.  They do not necessarily view that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.  He also notes that the Jihadists (and you might put Mr. Breivik as an honored guest in this category) because, while Global Warming may take a while (LOL), the Jihadists can bring cause today.
Daniel Kalder, Big Journalism, 24 January 2010.
DK:  It’s interesting that those who favor one apocalyptic scenario tend to deny or downplay the other. The ‘left’ usually believes fervently in Global Warming while attempting to dismiss Islamist terrorism, while the ‘right’ tends to argue in the opposite direction.
RL:  Yes, and yet the two complement each other. In fact they go hand in hand. It’s our consumption of fossil fuels that feeds money to global jihad.
DK:  If I can stay on Global Warming for a minute- it’s a common belief that apocalyptic ideas appeal mainly to the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed. But Global Warming seems to appeal mainly to the elite- while the so-called ‘masses’ are frequently hostile or indifferent towards it. Is this unusual?
RL:  That’s true, but in the past many leaders of apocalyptic sects were members of the elite, especially intellectuals who felt that they hadn’t found their place in society. For example Thomas M√ľntzer, who was a theologian and leader in the Peasant’s War in Germany in the 1520s, was a well educated man. Hong Xiuqan in China was also incredibly intelligent, a child prodigy, but he failed the civil service exams, which had something like a 98% failure rate, and after this rejection he embraced apocalyptic belief.
The leaders of Global Jihad are also well educated men from wealthy families. And make no mistake: Global Jihad is an absolutely apocalyptic movement- it was launched in 1979, the year 1400 in the Muslim world. There was revolution in Iran, and an uprising in Mecca led by a man who declared himself the Mahdi, the Islamic savior. And in Nigeria there was an uprising that killed 10000 people.
They’re not apocalyptic in the sense that they talk about the end of time. But they are unquestionably millennial. In the 1990s Al Qaeda decided that it was possible to take over world, like a mirror of western globalisation. They dream of establishing Sharia everywhere, and are actively apocalyptic in how they go about it- they want to establish paradise on earth by first destroying the old world. This is a pre- modern movement with access to hyper modern technology. As I said, even if a tiny group gets its hands on nukes that could cause a catastrophe.
Islamic apocalyptic millennialism is what I call ‘active cataclysmic’- i.e. we are God’s tool/weapon for bringing about the devastation necessary for the millennial kingdom to be realized on earth. This is by far the most dangerous belief in the history of mankind. People need to understand the degree to which our unwillingness to talk about it actually encourages it.
DK:  How long do you think the jihad movement will last? Other millennial-apocalyptic groups such as the Nazis had a relatively short lifespan. The Bolsheviks in the USSR were only truly bloodthirsty and millennial for about 30 years. Right now the regime in Iran appears to be in serious trouble. Won’t it also die out?
RL: Well perhaps, but there’s a big difference between our world today and the situation in the past. Thanks to the Internet the jihadis can draw upon a much bigger pool of potential recruits. There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Thus Global Jihad has the potential to be infinitely self-regenerating.
So what you have is a variety of causes that use various social media for recruitment, and at least some very loose organizing.  The pool in which any cause can gather is so large, that it is highly unlikely that these groups will run out of people.  For varying reasons they all want to bring about, or hasten, the End-of-the-World-as-We-Know-it (EOTWAWKI).   Modern commerce and technology allow a very small group to create disproportionate damage, and advances in miniaturization, and technology are likely to make this even truer in the future.
I suppose how happy you are about this would depend on how much you wanted life to change, and presumably if you thought your goals would not be preempted by other conspiratorial groups.

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