True Scotsmen don’t kill: sorting through the personal, political and religious debris of another senseless act

After the shock of Norway’s recent bombing and shooting atrocities, commentators from both sides of the shallow and predictable chasm that passes for ideological debate these days jumped on board to make their points.

I’m not going to criticise them for that. It is entirely legitimate to make comments and wonder at the motivations, whether personal or political, behind such a profoundly disturbing event. It’s the content and quality of their observations that matter.

Many left-wing or progressive writers characterised Anders Breivik as emblematic of the resurgent dangers posed by right-wing terrorism, forgotten in the post-9/11 world of Islamic paranoia. They also suggested his actions were linked by their motivating ideology, if not method, with the words of leading conservative politicians, academics and opinion writers. At the progressive/socialist Overland blog, Stephen Wright suggests Breivik is emblematic of a fascist state of mind ‘that permanently adopts an unchanging rigid argument that cannot and must not be altered’. A fair enough observation, though he gives only conservative examples of this mindset in the real world, ignoring the increasing trend for left-wing activists to avoid rational debate in favour of rhetorical talking points. Nevertheless Breivik was, in the words of Guy Rundle, ‘the armed wing of hysterical Right commentary’.

The predictable response from right-wing populists like News Ltd’s perennial cash-cow Andrew Bolt came swiftly.

‘Hear that gloating sound, among the sobs for the 76 people murdered last week,’ he wrote. ‘It’s Leftist polemicists, gleeful that the Norwegian murderer was a “far-Right Christian”.’

Aside from the blatant hypocrisy of calling the Left gleeful opportunists who exploit tragedy to smear their political opponents while simultaneously milking every last ounce of triumphant ideological point scoring from that same accusation, Bolt was also one of the main reasons many on the Left were, perhaps, over-zealous in their desire to remind everybody, not so much that Breivik was a Christian, but that he was not a Muslim.

Australia’s right-wing pin-up wannabe refused to even acknowledge or reflect on the implications of his own energetic willingness to embrace initial suggestions of Islamic involvement. ‘Once the identity of the attackers becomes known,’ Bolt wrote just hours after the attacks, ‘the consequences for Norway’s immigration policies could be profound.’

Of course, he did later update and confirm the facts on his blog, as they became clearer. But his first considered, widely syndicated column on the incident was devoted, in its first half, to viciously decimating the Left for allegedly exploiting the attacks. Its second half then detailed why Breivik was in no way a comparable right-wing European version of Islamic terrorists, but rather a deranged individual acting on entirely personal, psycho-pathological motives.

Sure, that’s fine, you say. And you’d be right.

It seems like some on the Left have indeed been quick to draw a long bow on this one, trying hard to make Breivik into a solely political-religious figure of far-right hysteria when it’s clear that personal psychology played a large part in his crimes, as it does in all terrorist acts. One of the Right’s more cogent arguments on this score, it seems, is a purely numerical one: Islamic terrorism deserves to  be treated more seriously and considered of a different order because, simply, it seems to occur more often and in more organised ways. To be honest, I don’t know and don’t have time right now to research the figures needed to prove or disprove that perception, but let’s for argument sake assume it’s generally true. There have been more attacks carried out by Islamic terrorists in the last, say,  25 years than by right-wing fanatics, whether alone or in groups. But where some on the left want to minimise the personal and highlight the political, Bolt and his cohorts crawl to the other extreme (at least on this, non-Muslim, occasion).

Again, that would be fine, if he made a half-compelling argument. But he didn’t.

Bolt writes that every society ‘has people so damaged or evilly wired that they are capable of mass murder’. He lists Thomas Hamilton, responsible for the Dunblane Primary School massacre in Scotland, America’s Columbine killers and Australia’s own Martin Bryant as examples.

Such terrible, irrelevent and badly chosen examples. He makes it too easy for me.

Martin Bryant appears to have been an almost textbook example of the depressed, socially awkward and isolated loner who sought to be remembered for his crime and has subsequently attempted suicide no less than six times.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, likewise, appeared to have no motivation for their massacre at Columbine High School beyond the desire to leave an impression and, perhaps, as a form of bullying-victim’s revenge. Both teenagers succeeded in ending the rampage by suicide. Some commentators sought to link their actions with appreciation of heavy metal music and video games, a fear enthusiastically revisited in Breivik’s wake by groups like the Australian Christian Lobby. But as Michael Moore famously observed, the boys also went bowling prior to committing their mass homicide.

‘Rarely do we bother to ask what faith such men followed, or politics they preached, to understand why they killed so many people’, Bolt writes. ‘They are mad.’

Except these individuals never made any mention of their faith or politics. They didn’t even talk about the music they liked or writers they read or what sports they played. We discovered these details and perhaps saw meaning in them, but none of the men Bolt mentioned cited these factors as reasons why they killed. They were either dead by their own hand or truly, clinically insane. Loners,  self-perceived losers. Angry at the whole of society but not any particular race or religion.

Breivik, on the other hand, gave himself up obediently. In fact, reports suggest that if he had been any less compliant, even a few moments slower in surrendering, Norwegian police would probably have shot him. Breivik did not want to die because he had a broader point to make. He confessed to the shootings and sought to justify them using explicitly political language. He composed a 1500 page cultural manifesto prior to the attacks. He does not appear mad by any objective, clinical sense of that term.

Just fundamental. Fascist. Fanatical.

Political.

And Christian, even if the connection is a complex one.  After all, Breivik has described himself as “100 percent Christian” and declared his support for a mono cultural Christian Europe. Even Greg Sheridan, hardly a beacon of the elitist-left, admits it is reasonable to call someone a Christian terrorist if they claim to be inspired by Christianity. But in their desperate need to distance Breivik completely from the Good Faith, other conservative pundits and individuals around the world have resorted to the most blatantly flawed reasoning. They don’t simply argue that Islamic terrorism remains a greater threat because it is more widespread than Christian inspired crimes. That point is debatable, but valid.

Instead, most conservatives have chosen to rely on the circular, closed-system logic of No True Scotsman, arguing that whatever Breivik might have said, written, done or desired, he could never be a Christian in any shape or form because Christians don’t include people like him. They include enlightened public letter-writers like Dallas Clarnette (and others), who suggests that Breivik is not a Christian because “a Christian could not conduct himself in this way”. Similar claims have also been made by Bolt along with his American role model, Bill O’Reilly. ‘No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder,’ O’Reilly said after Breivik was arrested. ‘The man might have called himself a Christian on the net, but he is certainly not of that faith’.

It’s particularly interesting that Andrew Bolt’s first example of the psychopathic, completely non-political murderers whom Breivik should be counted among was the Scottish killer Thomas Hamilton, a suspected paedophile whose frustration at being harassed was part of his possible motive. True Scotsmen don’t kill, perhaps. But real ones do.

There is no such thing as an ideal, “true” version of Christianity, Islam, or any other belief system. At issue are the real-world actions of individuals who claim to be motivated by existing traditions.

All true journalists (and bloggers) I suspect, whether left or right, should know that.

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