To a large extent the threat comes from dissident republicans, although a watchful eye is increasingly kept on other groups, not all of them fighting for or against the idea of 32-county democratic socialist republic.
That does not, mercifully, keep us awake at night. We trust all of these organisations are well infiltrated by the gardaí and the PSNI — and there were large numbers of arrests in Cork and west Ulster last month — but sometimes, as in the case of Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr, murdered in Omagh in April, they get lucky.
It is in that context that we should reflect on the shocking mass murder conducted by Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and Utoya Island in Norway. Like the RIRA/CIRA/’Oglaigh na hEireann’, Breivik certainly deserves description as a terrorist. Like them, his appalling violence was motivated by political ideology and cultural hatred. (Whether the loyalist filth that attempted yet again to displace Catholics from the Short Strand in Belfast a few weeks ago have any politics or just a visceral hatred of ‘the other’ is very much open to question.) The Anders Behring Breiviks in every society are perhaps even more disconcerting for security agencies than the organised groups, however. If, as it first appeared, the attacks in Oslo had been the work of some Islamist faction, it would have been comprehensible, even if it were reprehensible. The debate about Norway’s participation as a NATO member in the Afghanistan mission would have raged out of control. There would have been a certain wearying predictability to it all.
But when the perpetrator was discovered to be a tall blond-locked Aryan, matters took — for most of us — a more disquieting turn. Not only did he not ‘look’ like a stereotypical 21st-century terrorist, in his preparations too, Breivik left too few traces to alert the Norwegian police and intelligence services to his likely deadly intent. Unlike our very own dissident republicans, he practically came from nowhere to dominate the front page of practically every newspaper across the globe.
I say ‘most of us’ because where Islamist terror strikes, from 9/11 in New York to 7/7 in London, prompt in some supposedly liberal observers dithering and mixed emotions. On the one hand, there is a desire to condemn the violence but also a need to somehow ‘understand’ it as a natural reaction to ‘evil’ Western foreign policy. Anders Behring Breivik is someone they can straightforwardly and unambiguously hate.
For those investigating the atrocity nothing is straightforward at all about Oslo and Utoya. Breivik was a farmer so, of course, he had easy access to fertiliser. He was a member of a gun club so that rang none of the usual alarm bells either. As for his extremist associations, yes they were there – but predominantly on the internet, not at public meetings or even secret gatherings in safehouses. There was precious little to suggest he ever intended to move from paranoid online fantasies to bombings and mass targeted shootings vaguely reminiscent of those in Mumbai in 2008.
There are those who say it’s not hard to understand: Breivik is just at one end of a spectrum of thought, that a prevailing climate of Islamophobia spiked his guns. But this is pointscoring, an attempt to close down debate about a liberal society that treats its citizens equally regardless of race or religion, versus a multicultural society that seeks to reflect and promote difference.
For sure, when we talk about any distinctive group, we should do so with care and restraint but we cannot surrender to the weird pathologies of a tiny few either. The man who shot US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords objected to government seeking to control people through grammar. Does that make all of us who think punctuation matters were morally culpable? Others blame Utoya on something dark in Norway’s soul: “Many Norwegians don’t want their idyll spoiled, by either joining the EU, or by turning multicultural — and it is this nativist side of the country that has now turned horrifyingly murderous,” according to one commentator. Such collective guilt-mongering, where one cold-blooded killer is seen as an expression of an entire people’s warped national traits, is as bogus as it is dangerous.
Regardless of the deeper cause, ironically given his views, Breivik has learned much from al-Qaeda: free societies are startlingly vulnerable. This is particularly true in Norway and its Scandinavian neighbours which are known for cherishing openness. There, politicians still move about relatively freely and among Scandinavians there is still a measure of resistance against efforts to roll out surveillance regimes.
Societies are all the more at risk when that openness extends to the WWW where there is always someone or some group to provide reinforcement to radical views. You want to marry your pet hamster? You think the world is run by a secret clan of green lizards? On the web, you’re never the only one.
Does that make Breivik a mirror of al-Qaeda, a Christian terrorist? Certainly, in his windy ramblings he wrote about attempting to revive Norway’s Christian heritage and civilisation, and of the threat to ‘Christian Europe’ posed by mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East. And if someone says they are a Christian terrorist, to an extent, who are the rest of us to dispute that? Although Breivik is sadly not some unique isolated case — think of the Oklahoma City bombing — there is no serious, organised global movement of Christian terrorism.
NOR, for that matter, is there some remotely respected Christian sage or denomination which gives such violence succour. Where is the Christian version of Iran? Where in the West are aeroplane hijackers feted as national heroes? When Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people or when Anders Behring Breivik did what he did, how many governments in Christian countries cheered or were anything less than emphatic in their condemnation? How many times did Breivik open his Bible for inspiration anyway? Not many, one suspects. Moreover, who can compare Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army or the bizarre militias which hang out in remote parts of the United States with Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Lakshar-e-Taiba, Jemaah Islamia and the countless mujahideens? Yes, Anders Behring Breivik was not the only one, but his actions appear to owe more to a disturbed mind than some coherent ideology with an organised support structure. Indeed, for all of Breivik’s protests about multiculturalism, where he allegedly declared war against that political ideology and its ‘cultural Marxist’ cheerleaders, the most striking thing is how much his worldview seems to have been fashioned by the estrangement-inducing politics of multiculturalism.
A killer is certainly a killer, whatever his motivation, but organisationally and in terms of the size and nature of the threat, there the similarities between a psychopath like Breivik and the global networks of Islamist terror end.