Two attacks rocked Norway today, with a large explosion rocking government buildings in central Oslo in the afternoon, followed by a massive shooting at a Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island. As people scrambled to figure out just what, exactly, was happening, a lot of confusion hit the airwaves. Just a couple of hours ago the death toll at the youth camp grew from an estimated ten to over 80 and counting, to which no words can really respond.
When I first heard about the attacks, I tuned in and the media coverage bounced between updates on casualties and analysts explaining why Muslim extremists would attack Norway. This analysis included Norway’s troop contribution to the NATO occupation in Afghanistan, recent re-publishings of offensive cartoons of Muhammed, recent activities of radical Kurds, and the prosecution of a controversial mullah. But all of it had to do with Islamists.
In the aftermath of Norwegian authorities announcing that they had apprehended an ethnic Norwegian suspect (who may or may not have Islamist ties), the news coverage hasn’t really shift – but there has been an addendum of “but we don’t know who’s really behind it.” The current understanding of terror just keeps refusing to shift from the paradigm of Islamic extremism.
However, several analysts (not making it on American TV) have mentioned the possibility of domestic right-wing extremists being responsible. Jakub Godzimirski of the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs said that “this attack has more in common with the Oklahoma City bombing than an Islamist attack.” And there are a few others who have been quotes as saying something similar.
But let’s not forget just how similar the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing were as well. While one was a foreign-born attack on finance and military using airlines and the other was a domestic attack on the federal government using a bomb, they were both religious extremists attacking America’s power structure. Just like al Qaeda carried out the WTC bombings, the OKC bombing was carried out by a man whose ideology was similar to Christian Identity – an extremist, anti-secular fringe of the Religious Right.
As Mark Juergensmeyer explains in his book Global Rebellion, Timothy McVeigh had contact with Identity members and probably visited their commune, Elohim City. According to several witnesses, McVeigh’s favorite book was The Turner Diaries, a book about an apocalyptic battle between freedom fighters and the dictatorial American government, including a patriot who bombs a federal government building in exactly the same way McVeigh did. McVeigh and al Qaeda were both religious attacks on the same secular nation.
What’s different is how America responded to them. McVeigh was treated as a criminal while al Qaeda has been treated by and large as militants in a war. McVeigh faced justice for crimes in American courts, and was punished. Meanwhile, some al Qaeda operatives have been turned into “detainees” and face a bizarre form of justice. Hopefully, Norway will deal with the alleged perpetrator of today’s attack in a similar manner to the way McVeigh was tried. Because setting off a bomb in a city center and shooting at young political organizers is a terrible crime, and whoever is responsible should be held accountable.