Norway attack: Europe’s double standards

Anders Behring Breivik’s trial is being followed across the world. Bilal Zaheer Ahmad’s trial is not. Breivik massacred 77 people. Bilal threatened to kill those MPs in England who voted for the Iraq War. Breivik is being called “the attacker,” “the gunman,” and “a lone angry nutter” while Bilal has been dubbed “terrorist.” Breivik might be sentenced for thirty years for his crime. Bilal has been jailed for 12, possibly 17, for planning or inciting terrorism. Breivik has no remorse for what he did. Bilal claims to be apologetic for making the threats on a US-based Internet forum called

While reading out Bilal’s sentence, the English judge, Mr. Justice Royce proclaimed “you became a viper in our midst willing to go as far as possible to strike at the heart of our system.” He went on to address Bilal and say “what you stand for is totally alien to what we stand for in our country.” It is true that Bilal’s hateful and threatening comments would be unwelcome, not only in England but also in other parts of the world by all societies. However, surely the hateful speech spouted by the British Nationalist Party, the English Defence League, Geert Wilders’ Dei Freihat party, Marine Le-Pen in France, the Freedom Party in Austria and the Swiss People’s Party is also similarly alien to the European and Western ‘Enlightenment’ values that are often spoken about with such reverence and pride. All these parties have different platforms and have varying opinions about the economy, education and health but they all also have one thing in common: Islamophobia.

Christian organisations across the world were quick to disown Breivik and emphasised that he is not a Christian. The question that must be asked is why political parties and in fact a lot of the mainstream media do not also publicize how some of the world’s most respected Muslim leaders with large global followings have also denounced terrorism and those so-called Muslims who kill people in the name of Islam. So now the question is this: why can Bilal not be seen as a highly disturbed, emotionally unstable loner who needs psychiatric help? Why the need to connect him to “Islam” and emphasize the fact that he was in possession of “jihadi” literature?  Breivik too wrote an exhaustive volume on his methods, beliefs and goals. He was a regular and active contributor to right-wing websites like “The Gates of Vienna” and “The Brussels Journal” and claims to have held meeting with a secret cell of the Knights Templar. He also followed deeply polemical websites like Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs. Why are those who are posting threats on these fora not being arrested and charged with hateful speech and incitement to violence? Some of the evidence produced against Bilal was similar online material and a facebook video. Breivik too had posted a video online and had boasted of facebook contact with right-wing organisations across Europe.

Of course, Norway and England have different terror laws and different justice systems but the last few weeks have revealed how, to a large extent, there are deep double standards when it comes to questions of terrorism. Surely what Breivik did was unquestionably a terrorist act. The problem it seems is that while key resources and huge amounts of money are being devoted to fighting the war on “terror,” the nature of “terror” is presumed to be Islamic in origin even before any investigations are carried out. The world’s media, ranging from Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to the usually more reasonable Independent, illustrated this by jumping the gun and positing that Muslims were behind the events in Norway. The Independent noticeably dispatched it’s “religious affairs correspondent” to Norway after the attacks who then promptly wrote an article entitled: “Analysis: Jihadist Networks have long singled out Norway.” Jeroen Rink, a Dutchman who became friends with Breivik and played online videogames with him received the manifesto hours before the attack. In it Breivik boasted that he had recently bought Modern Warfare 2 because it was the hottest game out there but also because for him it provided “training-simulation.” Of course, none of this was flagged by any government agency.

The Guardian in its coverage of the Bilal case talked of the books he had in his possession and also claimed that Bilal had been radicalized in college. Of course implicit in this is that he was part of a larger network, while commentators across the world have repeated ad nauseam that Breivik is simply a lone madman. Assuming without accepting that this might be true, the fact is that Breivik’s actions are symptomatic of the rise of a culture of violent right-wing extremism across Europe. Matthew Goodwin, an expert on right-wing extremism at the University of Notthingham, says “even though they’re [right-wing groups] not necessarily creating terrorists, they are certainly contributing to a culture within the far right that holds a potential for violence…” Unfortunately, it seems that the tendency is still to deny homegrown terrorism. People talk of the threat of ‘Islam’ against the ‘West.’ Why not also talk of the threat of the West against itself?

The author is a research scholar at Cambridge University. He may be contacted at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2011 on page no. 23

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