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Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011: Crazy Talk

Acts of terrorism are, by their very nature, committed by crazy people. That’s not to say that the terrorists can’t or don’t have very elaborate and detailed and well-developed rationales for their actions, nor that they can’t belong to communal organizations that have (often) helped them develop those rationales and commit their acts of destruction and murder. Nor is to say that we can’t analyze their actions and draw broader conclusions about society and its various issues and problems as a result. But nevertheless, I believe it’s vital to note at the outset here that anyone who destroys innocent lives and communities—and even more so anyone who includes children in his or her scope—reveals him or herself to be on a core level so bereft of human emotion and empathy as to be clearly insane.
Yet if terrorism constitutes insanity on an individual level, it also and with more significance comprises on a communal level the triumph of simplistic and simplifying narratives. That is to say, each terrorist must, as a prerequisite for committing his or her acts, fully embrace such simplistic narratives on a number of key levels: in terms of history and community, a terrorist must believe entirely in an us vs. them narrative, one in which Northern enemies are conspiring with African Americans to destroy Southern white civilization (in the KKK narrative), the British seek to eradicate the indigenous culture and community of Northern Ireland (in the IRA narrative), Western nations bring their corruption and evil to Muslim nations and holy territory (in the Al Qaeda narrative), and so on; and in terms of individual identity, a terrorist must believe that every person who belongs to that “them” community is equally culpable for its crimes and so equally deserving of the ultimate punishment as a result. Of course many people might similarly embrace such narratives but not (because they’re not as crazy, among other factors) respond with terrorism; but recognizing the importance of these simplistic narratives to terrorism makes even more plain the high stakes in pushing back against those narratives throughout our society and culture.
The early and evolving information about Anders Breivik, the Norwegian farmer who committed the horrific terrorist acts in that nation over the weekend, reinforces each of these ideas: Breivik, who according to his own writings saw himself as a “conservative Christian knight,” was without question crazy; yet he was also heavily influenced by simplistic narratives about politics and culture, particularly narratives about the evils of multiculturalism and “cultural Marxism” and the threats that those boogeymen represent to 21st century societies. And as the first two links below (both pieces written by investigative journalist Dave Neiwert, probably the best chronicler of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history) detail at great length, Breivik’s attachment to those narratives connects him very explicitly to many of the American right-wing terrorists who have committed or attempted to commit their own heinous crimes over the last few years; each of them, as the details always illustrate, was similarly disturbed, but each likewise has been heavily influenced by these simplifying narratives. And as Neiwert’s second piece argues, it is no coincidence that these American terrorists have usually been directly and overtly influenced by the right-wing media empire, and particularly by the voices of talk radio and Fox News; the most central and salient characteristic of those voices is their continual creation of simplistic political and cultural narratives, visions of our national identity and community that mirror quite precisely the aforementioned multi-level simplifications on which terrorism depends.
I’m not arguing that these right-wing voices directly incited the terrorist acts, nor, by extension, that they should be censored or shut down; again, the terrorists themselves seem in each and every case to be certifiably crazy. But neither can we turn a blind eye to the increasing—or at least increasingly prominent—presence of crazy talk in our political and cultural conversations, of voices that exist solely to create and perpetuate some of our most simplistic and simplifying narratives. Pushing back against those voices and narratives, seeking to complicate and challenge their ideas, might not stop any individual terrorists, but it can most definitely strengthen the quality and value of our national conversations. Not to do so would be, well, crazy. More tomorrow,
PS. Four links to start with:
1)      A story on Breivik’s political beliefs, with lots of relevant links:
2)      Another great story by that same journalist (Dave Neiwert), on Glenn Beck’s multifarious connections to political criminals:
3)      An even greater story, on the fortunately failed attempt to bomb an MLK Day rally in Spokane:
4)      OPEN: What do you think?

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