I'm as shocked as most other people are at the fact that there are people in our midst who could be so socially alienated that they could justify the killing of scores of young people on the basis that they are politically progressive. Equally shocking is the scale of this slaughter.
The nature of this event reminds me both of Oklahoma City and Columbine, which have their similarities in nature and their differences.
Every time a Columbine-style massacre takes place in the US, almost always carried out by a young white man who resents females and other targets, whose targets are always primarily young, I wonder if we are somehow going to come to terms with the extent to which our society is flawed, how much social alienation is becoming increasingly rampant, how so many people feel left out, bullied, side-tracked—while at the same time feeling like they deserve better. These damaged people—who usually made unobtrusive, normal-seeming neighbors until they went to school with a machine gun one day—then seek out a way to put their feelings of alienation into some kind of context.
Too often they find it in the form of rightwing, Christian ideologies that systematically dehumanize whole ethnic groups and anybody who believes in an inclusive, multicultural, egalitarian society. And while everybody and their mother is, of course, denouncing the actions of this Norwegian sociopath just as they denounced Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Klebold before him, "mainstream" conservatives as well as ostensibly more progressive parties throughout Europe, North America and elsewhere talk openly about the "failure of multiculturalism" and of Europe's grand Christian traditions.
The rise of the Right on both sides of the Atlantic has been fuelled by duplicitous politicians and corporate interests who have been appealing to the progressive nature of most people with talk of one big European family, while they implement policies which result in the further impoverishment of much of eastern Europe, continuing de-industrialization Europe east and west (and North America), combined with a flood of immigrants coming from places where job prospects are even more grim (such as eastern Europe, North Africa, Mexico, etc.) or from places that have been destroyed by European and North American foreign policy, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then the political elite blames the socioeconomic situation they have created on their victims, talking about the failure of multiculturalism, urban crime, welfare cheats, lazy workers, corrupt unions, etc. And they find lots of ways of saying we were all better off when society was whiter and more moral.
Of course, the big news is that society was never more moral, only more divided and stratified, before unions and multiculturalism. And Europe has never been white nor Christian. Jews got there way before Christ did, and the pagans long predated the Jews. Muslims have been there since the days of Mohammed.
On the one hand I think it's important to emphasize that this guy is an extreme sociopath, at least according to my definition of the word. But equally, I think it's important to note that xenophobes who make all sorts of wild and inaccurate generalizations about Muslims and progressives are very easy to find throughout Europe, throughout society, from the streets to the halls of power in Berlin, Paris, and London as well as Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo, and this is not at all helpful in preventing the next massacre.
It is not just the extreme right that needs to understand that, far from representing more advanced civilizations than the societies from which many of the immigrants are coming, Europe is, and has long been, a troubled place. The right rejects multiculturalism and always has. Many progressive people in Europe and North America talk about "tolerance" and inclusiveness as if these are traditional European values. Of course, for many Europeans, they are.
But the history of Europeans actively rejecting an inclusive, open society is long and terrible in a way that is still unparalleled on our troubled planet. While a multiplicity of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups were living together comparatively peaceably for centuries of Ottoman rule, in Europe the inquisitors and crusaders were slaughtering their fellow Europeans for not ascribing to the right set of beliefs. While Jews were fleeing the pogroms in Europe, their counterparts throughout the Muslim world were prospering. And then decades later came the Nazi Holocaust, when a man very much like Anders Breivik was running an empire, with lots of little Anders Breiviks doing his bidding, using gas chambers along with their machine guns.