The aftermath of news like that from Oslo leaves only numbness. The injustice of it, the disbelief that this was even possible. Bombs at least kill in a single action. The deliberate persistence involved in attacks like Anders Breivik’s make them all the more distressing.
For a writer with comedic inclinations, the usual set of responses are neutered. Laughter falters, mouth half open. Even in our bleakest political situations, there are moments of light. Something like this is all darkness.
As reports began to come in, it was the last subject in the world you would have imagined being used for political point-scoring. But if ever someone was going to do just that, it was Andrew Bolt.
First thing last Saturday morning, with news still scant, he was on his blog suggesting that Muslim terrorists were behind the attack. Not an outrageous assumption, by any stretch, but ‘pretty sure’ shouldn’t be enough for such a prominent columnist to proceed without confirmation.
Contradictory news soon came in, and the page was hastily and almost comically corrected. “Already the unconfirmed reports suggest our immediate suspicions are correct (UPDATE: No, they aren’t)…”
“In fact: ‘Explosives were found on the island,’ deputy Oslo police chief Sveining Sponheim told reporters. He said a man detained by police was aged 32 and ‘ethnic Norwegian.’”
“Even so,” Bolt went on, “the history of Islamic violence in Scandinavia suggests Muslim immigration there has been a bad deal for the locals.”
Hold up a minute. “Even so”? At what point does that a misplaced assumption like that earn the right to an addendum?
In an action replay, it goes: “In latest news, here is some evidence that would definitely prove that I’m right. Oh, wait a minute, that evidence doesn’t exist. Even so, I am actually right, and let’s proceed with that assumption.”
And that was before we even got to the backup evidence. The “history of Islamic violence” that Bolt was able to provide for Norway consisted of three men being arrested (not yet charged or convicted) for possibly planning an attack on either a newspaper or an embassy, no-one is quite sure; and a charge against a man for threatening a politician.
So, two instances of alleged offences that haven’t even gone to court. Not the most weighty habeas corpus ever to land on a judge’s desk.
Not to mention that death threats are hardly germane to radical Islam. I got them from true blue Aussie battlers just last week for writing an article about carbon taxation. Perhaps Bolt can help me arrange to have the culprits deported to Riyadh.
Remarkably for Bolt, he eventually took the stunning evidence brief down, conceding that “leaving it up is being interpreted as my insisting on a gratuitous point instead.” Truer words…
But it didn’t signal any change in attitude. In the days since, Bolt has been milking Oslo for all it’s worth. One doubts he’d be so fixated if he weren’t trying to compensate for his early cock-up.
In the early hours of Tuesday, it was those damn Muslims hogging up all the limelight. Because the killer didn’t actively target Muslims to be shot, Bolt quoted that “Muslims are now the preferred victims even in a story in which they are entirely absent.”
Right. But Breivik’s stated aim was to encourage a popular uprising that would drive Muslims out of Europe, and to devastate the political party that he blamed for their presence in Norway. Not entirely unreasonable, then, to give them a passing mention?
Bolt also attacked an ABC journo for apparently not investigating the Breivik manifesto to Bolt’s satisfaction. “But who checks when it fits the preferred narrative?” asked Bolt with trademark outrage. If there was a Geiger counter for hypocrisy, we’d already be clocking Fukushima levels.
But his glow-in-the-dark moment came while getting stuck into the ABC for describing Breivik as right-wing and Christian. Apparently focusing on a terrorist’s faith as a factor in his atrocities was just not the kind of conduct befitting proper journalists.
“[R]elevance of his Christianity seems obscure,” wrote Bolt on Sunday, “given nothing in the New Testament and nothing said by any Christian leader possibly justifies his murder of so many young Norwegians.”
He returned to it yesterday, in a far less coherent post: “The Christian New Testament explicitly forbids violence, but jihadists quote Koranic verses they say justify murder, and worship a warrior Prophet who slaughtered a Jewish tribe.”
But Bolt’s attempt to position Christianity as cleanskin couldn’t be any more pat.
It completely omits the inconvenient Old Testament, a patently insane and brutal document characterised by a God so jealous and vengeful he might have been auditioning for Once Were Warriors. This is the God of both the Christians and the Muslims, I might point out, and He slaughtered cities, tribes, and at one point the entire world. He’s still the Church’s main squeeze.
Yes, I’ve read the Old Testament – it’s great literature. I’d love to know if Bolt has read a proper translation of the Koran.
And while the New Testament indeed forbids violence, it is the far less relevant half of the Bible in Christian politics. Avowed and public Christians have been involved in war and violence since the Church was founded, and see no contradiction. These leaders have quoted Biblical verses they say justify murder for centuries, and continue today. The deeply religious rhetoric of the United States routinely favours the Old Testament eye for an eye over Christ’s call to turn the other cheek. Just look at George Bush’s reaction to 9/11 against Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg’s reaction to Breivik’s outrage.
Let’s imagine masked men attacking homes in the night, killing and raping those who live there, burning down churches and houses and schools to destroy a society and culture they loathe. Sound like something from Bolt? Yes, because the Ku Klux Klan are perhaps the earliest practitioners of classic terrorism in the modern age. The aforementioned tactics were employed for decades, along with their bombing of Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.
The Klan are also an overtly Christian organisation, at least in their own estimation. The burning cross did not become one of the most hated symbols in the world due to a Klansman fondness for tic-tac-toe.
Does “nothing said by any Christian leader” mean Klansmen committed their crimes on pure Boy Scout initiative? Does it apply to those who organise the murder and intimidation of abortion doctors and nurses, or the bombing of clinics?
Does it apply to the leaders of Westboro Baptist Church, they who picket funerals, shouting foul slogans at grieving relatives? Westboro is one of the ugliest religious groups in the world. Pure hate is preached in Christ’s name every day.
As for Breivik’s stated religion not being relevant to his actions, look to his YouTube clip. “Celebrate us, the martyrs of the conservative revolution, for we will soon dine in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Add in a few dozen virgins, and it starts to sound awfully familiar.
Other Christians would of course distance themselves from this hateful perversion of religious tenets. So they should. It bears no relation to a compassionate and true interpretation of Christianity. It is something twisted by the unhinged.
So the affront with which Bolt’s commenters receive talk of Christian violence should give them an indicator of how Muslims feel being associated with extremists. Stating that the Ku Klux Klan claim to be Christian should not suggest that they represent Christianity. In saying that the 9/11 pilots called themselves Muslim, the same detachment should be applied.
Citing Christian violence is not about a tit-for-tat, trying to come up with a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ side. The point is that neither such thing exists. There’s no crisper summation than that of comedian Doug Stanhope: “There are only two countries in the world: dick, and not a dick. The border goes right the way around.”
Bolt, no doubt, would just repeat his self-congratulatory lines about speaking the hard truth that soft-touch liberals don’t want to hear. This would have much more weight if he told the truth in a positive manner as well. Selective reporting of truth is just as deceptive as outright lies.
He doesn’t like to mention the strengths that migrants bring to our country, or how crucial they’ve been to our development. And not just white European migrants like Bolt’s parents, who arrived here after World War II. “But who checks when it fits the preferred narrative?”, a wise man asked. Empathy, apparently, fails to cross the generational divide.
I’d love to see Bolt do a profile on Melbourne’s Alia Gabrez, who aside from being a remarkable writer, helped create and run a volunteer program offering workshops and mentoring to disadvantaged youth of all backgrounds.
Or how about Omar bin Musa, the erudite Australian national poetry champion who has represented us at literary events around the world? Deeply proud of his Australian and Muslim heritage, Musa is a man of wisdom and statesmanlike humility. Spending some time with him might well do Bolt some good.
In Bolt’s post on Monday, he claimed that extremism of any political character was essentially the same, being “anything that diminishes the value of the individual”.
Diminishing their value is exactly what Bolt does every time he subsumes millions of individuals into the image of ‘Muslims’ doing or thinking a certain way. Bolt and I are both Australians; just a thousand words has shown the gulf between our world views.
But it’s precisely this ambiguity that rhetoricians like Bolt so wilfully ignore. His world is simple: make it about us and them, make people angry and afraid, and watch your page views tick over.
It’s a poisonous position, and one that involves taking advantage of everyone involved: the people denigrated, the ones whipped up into outrage, and the ones whose stories are hijacked to provide one more day’s grist.
Over in Norway, the survivors, the family and friends of the dead, and the nation as a whole, have just begun to endure a nightmare that will last for many years.
Here, in our country, Andrew Bolt no doubt sleeps as soundly as ever.