A Statement on Norway: From Hate Speech to Violent Action

It is time for people of good will to stand together, across all our different political and social beliefs, and condemn hate talk. Not because it is politically correct to be nice – but because hate-filled rhetoric dehumanizes. All we have to do is to look at recent events to know that once a group of “others” is dehumanized, violence against individuals associated with that group is more likely to occur. 

The Norway killings are a stark example of how destructive hate-speech can be. Officials have confirmed that at least 77 young people and government employees were slaughtered on July 22nd. The attacker seemingly acted alone, targeting government employees and buildings with explosions, and then youth campers with bullets specifically manufactured to produce maximum harm. Across the globe, people were horrified when they saw that many of the victims of that second attack were only in their teens. 

In the West, some initial reports speculated that the attacks were carried out by Islamic militants, but the evidence refutes this. Authorities arrested Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian citizen and self-proclaimed Christian who readily confesses to the killings. Analyzing the initial speculations is important. They reflect the persistent stereotype that terrorism is nearly always perpetrated by violent Islamic extremists. 

According to the suspect’s statements and manifesto, he is vehemently opposed to multiculturalism (as he understands it) and Muslim immigration. The suspect claims to have attacked Norway’s Labor Party, which leads the country’s coalition government, in an attempt to destroy a political system he believes has failed and to bring attention to his vitriolic views and writings, which include an astounding amount of hate rhetoric. 

His 1500 page manifesto referenced many thought leaders, statesmen, and critics, but those referenced most often are people that self-identify as part of a “counter-jihad” movement. Mostly United States based, these individuals are well-known, outspoken anti-Muslim critics. Their work regularly references fearful stereotypes that demonize Muslims and questions Islam’s legitimacy as a religion. While these bloggers and activists are not responsible for the tragedy in Norway, it is worth noting that the suspect used their language to inform his own beliefs and actions. 

It is also noteworthy that members of the counter-jihad movement were among those to accuse Muslims of attacking Norway. To the contrary, the man responsible for the death and destruction in Norway is a Norwegian citizen who murdered out of his hatred for all Muslims. 
 
What will it take for the global community to realize that our differences are normal, that they are a strength? 
 
What will it take for us to use all possible resources – including multicultural education – to learn about one another, so we can thrive amid the reality of global diversity?
 
When will the teaching of respect be made a requirement in all schools – along with reading, writing and arithmetic?
 
When will we learn that civil disagreements – and not the words of demonization – are everyone’s responsibility?
 
We can make a choice. We can choose to remove hate talk from our public, private, and internal conversations. If we don’t, we run the very real risk that the anti-Muslim sentiment that spread across the U.S. last summer will rise up again as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches. 
 
The furor around the Park51 Cultural Center (also misnamed the “Ground Zero Mosque”), the King hearings, the hate talk that followed the death of Osama bin Laden, and the recent spate of Muslim passengers denied airline boarding show that we should all be concerned. A joint research effort by Ohio State University, Cornell University, and the University of New Hampshire shows that anti-Muslim sentiment has increased since bin Laden’s death. If this sentiment translates into hate talk, rather than vigilance against hate-speech, we run the risk of mourning our fellow citizens as Norwegians are mourning theirs. We can stop violence before it starts. Now is the time to recognize our common humanity.