social commentary

It is Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness

As Harry Potter knew, you can only defeat evil when you’re willing to face it and speak its name, to take away those things which give it its power.

I’m speaking of Anders Behring Breivik, the extremist right-wing, militant Norwegian who declared war on his fellow citizens in Oslo and the tiny island of Utøya, killing at least 93, mostly teenagers. In the hours and days that have followed, many questions have been asked, many of them answered by the murderer himself. In a 1500+ page manifesto, Breivik wrote of an ideology of hate and intolerance, decrying Norwegian (and in fact, European) policies of multiculturalism and tolerance. Since his surrender to Norwegian police after gunning down the young attendees of a Labour Party youth camp, Breivik has been unfailingly cooperative, eager to tell his story — and to have people listen.

His goal was not to cut people down in the prime of their lives — that was only a side benefit. His goal was not to reduce the numbers of left-leaning thinkers young enough that they would become tomorrow’s leaders. That was only a bonus. His goal was a platform on which to spread his message of hate. He did not make himself a martyr because he has a message to get out. He has an audience now, held captive first by fear, then by horror, then by disbelief and finally by grief and seeking understanding, and perhaps most disturbingly, for a small group, by fascination.

But Anders Behring Breivik is not a fascinating creature. He is a garden-variety, run-of-the-mill terrorist. He is blonde, blue-eyed, athletic, and looks “harmless” according to the prototypical features we have been taught to look for in a terrorist. But at the end of the day, his manifesto differs little from the manifesto of any other religious zealot declaring war to suit their misguided interpretation of the religion or cause they claim to fight for. He is no different than Timothy McVeigh. He is no different than Osama bin Laden. He is no different than a Nazi war criminal. All used horrific violence to terrorize people, to bring them, by coercion and fear, into line with their ideology.

The best reaction to Anders Behring Breivik, to the growing Neo-Nazi movement in Western Europe, to the militant right-wing agenda in the U.S., to Al-Qaeda, to all those who demand our attention in the worst way possible is to refuse to give it to them. Instead, we should turn our eyes to the victims, we should shed our tears for them, we should light a candle and drive out the darkness. For as Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister said just yesterday:

“If one man alone can show so much hate, imagine all the love and humanity a whole nation can give.”

Or a whole world.

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