Is extreme phenomena exceptional or does it expose truths normally obscured from popular view? This weekend has seen much debate around the motives behind Anders Breivik’s murderous rampage on Friday, in which close to a hundred mostly young Norwegian socialists were killed in the most horrific circumstances imaginable.
Today, in light of abundant evidence that Breivik was spurred on by media-fuelled Islamophobia and the delusional racist fanaticism of the English Defence League, among others, that right-wing press has gone into overdrive to conclude that Brevik’s actions are exceptional, that they are not attributable to the general rise of the demonisation of Muslims across Europe and that the motive for Friday’s violence was nothing other than mental instability. For some, the mask has slipped a little, for example those who have said that such events are now inevitable given the scale of non-white immigration into Europe.
As Adam Bienkov has written in an excellent article this morning, this approach is typified by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has written in the Telegraph:
“It wasn’t about immigration, or Eurabia, or the hadith, or the Eurocrats’ plot against the people. It wasn’t really about ideology or religion. It was all about him… There is an important lesson in the case of Anders Breivik. He killed in the name of Christianity – and yet of course we don’t blame Christians or “Christendom”. Nor, by the same token, should we blame “Islam” for all acts of terror committed by young Muslim males.”
But as Bienkov points out, after the 2005 London bombings, Boris Johnson was singing from a rather different hymnsheet:
“That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem. To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers… What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s mediaeval ass?”
Johnson’s comments are typical of the bourgeois hypocrisy of the right-wing press over the weekend.
So when Muslims are responsible, it is their ideology that lies at fault. When a right-wing terrorist is found responsible for a terrible crime, it is not his ideology but his mental and emotional state that is to blame.
I don’t want to comment further on the nightmare that unfolded on Friday. What I do wish to do is draw a parallel with this insistence on the exceptionalism of reaction, in relation to the crisis that has for the past month been engulfing the British establishment.
What started with allegations of criminal activity by a small number of journalists at one Sunday tabloid has now widened to include – and swallow up – senior members of the Metropolitan Police, News International and most significantly now threatens current members of the British government. Over the weekend it was suggested that there is evidence which proves phone hacking at titles owned by other media groups. After each of the remarkable series of revelations that have broadened the scope of the corruption, the establishment mantra has been ‘isolated incidents’. Glen Mulcaire was a private investigator, working off his own steam. Then, when it became clear that that wasn’t the case, the story changed and the journalists who hired him were bad eggs, defying the law-abiding sensibility of the News of the World’s proprietors. Then, we learn that Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks knew about it and did nothing but failed to inform Rupert and James Murdoch. Then, it transpires that the Murdochs were aware … Then, David Cameron and George Osborne were informed of some details of the crimes but not of others that would, coincidentally, have led them ‘in hindsight’ to make radically different decisions to those that they did.
Phone hacking, whilst shocking and depraved, isn’t the story. In the last month a bright torch has been shone on some of the murkiest relationships in the British ruling class. We have seen how close the ties between the leaderships of both the main political parties have been with the aspiring monopolists of the media industry. We have seen how senior police officers charged with upholding the law have gleefully taken advantage of the largesse of News International. We have seen how a quarter of all the staff in the Metropolitan Police’s PR unit have backgrounds in that same company, the very one whose criminal activity their employer was tasked with uncovering. Should we be in any sense surprised that they failed to act upon compelling indications of wrongdoing there?
And yet that same establishment that finds itself so compromised persists in treating the whole scandal as if it offers no lasting insight into the way that our society works. These complex networks of corruption, we are told, are an isolated series of unfortunate and regrettable incidents. Nothing more.
But there is nothing isolated about the pandemic of corruption now a visible open wound in British society. There is nothing transitory about it. Corruption within and between different sections of the ruling elite is the glue that binds the system in Britain together, and it has been ever thus. A few examples:
- The Zinoviev letter fraud conspiracy of 1924
- Collusion in the North of Ireland between British army intelligence and loyalist paramilitary death squads
- Robert Maxwell and his crusade against Arthur Scargill and the NUM leadership, generously aided by the British and American intelligence services
- The daily corruption of the country’s rich, who continue to make substantial profits and see enviable increases in their standard of living three years into a global economic crisis, whilst at the same time prescribing austerity for everyone else and do nothing as an anthropogenic famine hits millions of people in the horn of Africa
- Health Minister Andrew Lansley in the pocket of private health companies
- The corruption of the bankers and their allies in government, who have been handsomely rewarded for their part in the economic crisis with public-funded bailouts (I notice advertisements for yachts in the Financial Times’ How to Spend It supplement remain at approximately pre-2008 levels). Meanwhile Surestart centres and libraries face the axe.
How many ‘scandals’ are required before it becomes commonly accepted that they are no such thing? That scandals are not islands of temporary, insane illegality but in fact episodic expressions of the way this unequal, corrupt society works every day?
Just as murderous racist violence in Europe is part of a wider rot of intolerance that has swept the continent, on rare occasion we glimpse the tip of the iceberg, and see that Britain is rotten to the core. July 2011 has been one such occasion.