Anyone who takes a gun and starts killing innocent people is fundamentally deranged. Such people will probably always exist, and some of them will act. Not all such cases have political motives, but some do. Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building. There’s a roll call of killings of doctors and staff involved with abortions in America. Jared Lee Loughner shot Senator Gabrielle Giffords and many others. And now Anders Breivik in unbelievably horrific attacks in Norway.
Breivik’s attacks were political. An ultra-right, anti-muslim extremist attacked government buildings and members of Young Labour. No doubt I will now be accused of “politicising a tragedy”. But this was a political tragedy from the start. If we are to honour the dead, if we are to take any useful actions as a result of these horrifying events, then the political dimension cannot be ignored.
Extremism breeds violence. Hate speech breeds violence. Violent rhetoric and violent action are tightly interwoven (consider this phenomenal list of incidents in America, and this relevant post at Kiwipolitico). So what are the limits of free speech? Similarly, in Western countries extremist groups and paramilitary organisations (predominantly but not exclusively right wing) are increasingly active. To what extent should we tolerate such organisations? Other relevant factors – what gun laws are appropriate? Has violent political rhetoric gone too far? What level of government surveillance is acceptable, and when should a government act? There are no easy answers.
Some of these debates are playing out in New Zealand right now with the trial of the Urewea 18. America is confronting them in form of the tide of violent rhetoric that opposes Obama’s presidency, in relation to the rise of the Tea Party, and in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting. Of course we’re going to see all of these issues explored in Norway over the coming weeks and months.
Societies decide these issues. Blogs are just one of the many forums where debates can take place. But they are also microcosm of the free speech vs. hate speech trade-offs, and thus living examples of what a society accepts or tolerates. So my particular plea to each of us, especially those who administer blogs, is to make sure that we lead by example. Oppose hate-speech, violence, and the glorification of violence. Make sure that our blogs reflect the kind of society that we want to live in. Don’t be part of the problem.
In closing, my condolences once again to Norway, and in particular to Norwegian Labour Party members and their families. Final, brave and brilliant words to Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg: “The answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity”.