Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Owning The Narrative

I've been loosely following the reports of the Anders Breivik trial. What Breivik did was despicable; there's no justification for murder - let alone in that manner. What did those teenagers do? Yet according to the media, how Breivik justified his action was that of necessity. He saw himself as doing good.

It will come as no surprise that I'm not keen on the idea of living under any form of theocracy, it's an affront to human dignity and to freedom of conscience. I'm very lucky to be living in a country that not only has a strong focus on civil liberties, but will largely still work towards them. That we live in a country where there's a public debate over gay marriage is something to be proud of, not for the fact that homosexuals are still treated as inferior in the eyes of the government, but that we have a society that is focusing on a question like that. So it goes without saying that I'm against any incursion onto society that's going to limit individual rights, and especially rights of minorities. And on that, I am in opposition to fundamentalist Islam.

Yet Breivik doesn't speak for me. In that we might be (barely) bedfellows on opposing fundamentalist Islam, I don't think that Breivik in his words or actions embodied any of the liberal democratic values that are at the core of my opposition. I'm all for multiculturalism, and think it's a measure of a healthy society. And I don't care whether or not someone is a Muslim any more than a Christian or an atheist, provided that belief doesn't by necessity be forced on others.

So again it should be no surprise that I have no love for right-wing nationalist groups or those who wrap themselves in patriotism and try to place a barrier between our culture and others. Yet it's the right-wing nationalists who are trying their best to be the voices of opposition to particular aspects of culture that people should genuinely be afraid of. That people can live in multiple ways and bring different experiences and perspectives on life should be a good thing, there's nothing to fear in someone eating falafel instead of sausage, or being Buddhist instead of Christian. Yet the prejudices that can and do follow need to be vetted in the same introspective light we do our own society.

It shouldn't be those right-wing groups who are the voices of opposition to any fundamentalist Islamic incursion of values, it should be the domain of all those with conscience and a respect for human dignity. That there are problems with immigration policies shouldn't be a matter of being racist or xenophobic, nor conversely that it's hating one's own culture or wishing for a destruction of society. There's got to be some way to have the conversation in reasonable terms, so that unreasonable voices don't dominate it.

Breivik, apparently, is trying to put his views on trial, with desired witnesses including right wing bloggers and Muslim fanatics. And that is what should be a concern, that a man who felt "doing good" involved personally killing 69 people - most of whom were teenagers - and killed 8 more by setting off a bomb, is trying to be the frontlines against the problems that have arisen from Islamic migration in Europe. Some of his concerns are no doubt imagined, overblown, and taking extreme cases as being the norm. But that he's the voice speaking out, like the jingoist political parties, is what should be of real concern. They, by being the voices in opposition, are the ones owning the narrative by which the discussion is framed.

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