Written by Daniel Greenfield
The tragic events in Norway should be a wake up call to the authorities,
not to the dangers of so-called "Right-Wing Extremism", but to the very
real dangers of marginalizing a political opposition and a point of view to
the extent that they have nowhere to go but underground.
The response to the attacks by the Norwegian press and the incitement
against the right of center dooms the repetition of this same cycle of
violence in which views are driven underground, where they simmer into real
extremism and then explode. The easy and simple way to diffuse this cycle
of violence is to reach out and create safe spaces for freedom of speech
even for the most disagreeable views.
European liberals often boast of keeping a tighter lid on extremism than
America, with tighter curbs on free speech, but the current tragedy is yet another reminder that this lid is counterproductive. Suppressing a legitimate opposition only leads to the rise of an illegitimate opposition.
Shutting down ideas you don't like brings back those same ideas, only
Democracy only works as a stabilizer when it is actually democratic. But
the European left often uses the word to distinguish legitimate views from
illegitimate ones. This is a misuse and perversion of what a democratic
society is. It is not a place where only your views are freely represented,
but where all views are represented.
An open society is a safety valve. It keeps people from turning to violence
because they have peaceful alternatives. However once views begin to be
treated as beyond the pale and once there is an organized campaign of
hatred and incitement being directed against a point of view by the
authorities and the press, then an unfortunate violent reaction becomes
Here one may encounter Communist and Nazi protests side by side, yet
America has a lower share of political violence and political extremism in
government than Europe does. It is because we don't lock up ideas or people
who have them, that we do have a free country. A freedom that is not based
on constant investigations of extremism, but on a system where even the
most repugnant views get their hearing.
The outbursts of political violence in Norway and Sweden-- countries which
have become notorious for suppressing right of center free speech should be
a sign that change is necessary. The authorities may be tempted to once
again reach for the club, but they might consider trying the bullhorn of
free speech instead. Police powers are tempting when you have them at your
disposal, but when it comes to dealing with political dissent, they only
exacerbate the problem. And if the opposition ever comes to power, it
leaves the club in their hands.
The American, European and Israeli left all tend to respond to political
violence with verbal violence, campaigns of hate and incitement that
blanket everyone to the right of them as violent extremists. And there is
no surer way to create a self-fulfilling prophecy than to broadcast over
and over again the message that anyone who disagrees with you is liable to
turn to violence. Especially when such a hate campaign is aimed at
silencing that opposition.
Campaigns targeting a political point of view as illegitimate create a
cycle of violence, as suppression campaigns drive views underground leading
to acts of violence, leading to further suppression campaigns and to
further acts of violence. The only way to break the cycle of violence is to
recognize that while you may disagree with an idea, the best way to prevent
it from fueling political violence is to protect the peaceful right of
expression for those ideas.
The very act of suppressing ideas is extremist. And it leads to
oppositional extremism. This familiar set of tensions between the
authorities and a suppressed opposition inevitably explodes into violence.
And for the authorities to defuse political violence aimed at them, they
must first defuse the suppression of political speech.
If the Norwegian authorities really wish to work for a safer society, they
will reach out to create an environment where political activism and speech
is protected. But unfortunately all signs are that they remain committed to
the same disastrous state of affairs. And the tragedy that occurred can be
laid at the feet of this obstinate clinging to the tools of power, while
avoiding the means of engagement.
The left's own political extremism creates its own reaction. And cracking
down on that reaction only makes it more extreme. It may be tempting for
the left to think that it can use police powers and incitement to suppress
that reaction, but after this last attack, it may want to think about
following another path. If it truly wishes to convince Norwegians that
violence is not the answer, the best way to show it is by turning away from
violence, and toward democracy.
Political violence emerges from tensions created by making political
engagement a high stakes game. Lowering the stakes and the barriers to
political engagement has been shown over and over again to also lower the
level of violence.
The answer to political violence cannot be more violence or incitement, it
must be engagement. And it is ironic that in Oslo, a city where
international engagement has been developed into a fine art, the
authorities treat engagement with the right as a foreign notion. But what
goes for the world, goes for Norway also.
The reams of ignorant commentary that scapegoat entire political movements
for the actions of one man are not only dangerous, they are a more
insidious form of political extremism that no free society can afford. They
send a message that criminalizes ideas, rather than actions, and by
criminalizing ideas, they create a slippery slope into violence.
The best memorial for a tragedy is to understand why it happened and how to
prevent it in the future. Domestic political unrest arises not from
external factors, as is the case with Islamic terrorism, but from internal
ones. Healing a country begins with healing its fractures. And the only way
to begin the healing is to open a dialogue on freedom of speech.
Daniel Greenfield: Named one of the Jewish Press' Most Worthwhile Blogs, 2006, 2007 , 2008 and 2009. Cited at Front Page Magazine , The Spectator and CommentaryMagazine, and One Jerusalem, Outpost Magazineand Gateway Pundit, Power Line, Little Green Footballs and American Thinkerand Hot Air and the New Media Journal.