A Norwegian View on the 'Mutation of Jihad'

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A Norwegian friend whom my wife and I have known since he came to the U.S. for graduate school in the 1970s writes about the events in his homeland. Note the difference between his concern about and interpretation of the spread of the "jihad" mentality to anti-immigrant and racist groups, in contrast to some of the kneejerk attributions of blame immediately after the attack (as Steve Clemons has discussed just now):

>>I've been following the Norwegian coverage of the bombings and shootings over the past 12 hours with special interest, not just because I am Norwegian, but I have many friends and colleagues working in the media group whose offices are adjacent to the government buildings that were demolished....

I think what we are seeing is a mutation of Al Quaeda / Jihadist tactics, to domestic political action, and the surprise is that it happened in peaceful Norway. (Yes, there was McVeigh and Oklahoma city, but it feels different, and maybe it is different just because it happened before 9/11).  The international press reporting on this is still confused, and I think the Norwegian press is hesitant to express what may be obvious to them --- maybe out of a feeling of shame.  

Here's my read on the story: Anders Behring Breivik looks like (and has the profile of) the prototypical "west end" Oslo'er.  Like (too) many of the inhabitants of the Norwegian capital, where more than 25% of the inhabitants are immigrants, he turns into a racist. For most, racism is a mental state, but not for him. And. in the absence of a party like the Front National in France, where the need for votes imposes restraints on extremism, he becomes an individual host for the Al Qaeda gene [attracted simply by it's ability to project the voice of a minority, cf. his John Stuart Mills tweet], and in a completely open society he is free to develop and execute his plans at leisure (the only hitch being that the Labour Party youth summer camp coincides with the July "national" vacation month so you can't get maximum impact in both venues).

I hope that in Norway, the effect of yesterday, will be that any kind of racist tendency will be abhorred even by those who dreamed of a less diverse, and thus less complicated, society. They may have lived with this dream were it not for the ugliness of yesterday's crimes.  

But I fear that the virus of "jihadism" may spread to extremist national politics in other countries.  Let's hope not.<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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