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America’s Breivik Complex: State terror and the Islamophobic right

This article was originally published at Alternet:

Few political terrorists in recent history took as much care to articulate their ideological influences and political views as Anders Behring Breivik did. The right-wing Norwegian Islamophobe who murdered 76 children and adults in Oslo and at a government-run youth camp spent months, if not years, preparing his 1,500 page manifesto.

Besides its length, one of the most remarkable aspects of the manifesto is the extent to which its European author quoted from the writings of figures from the American conservative movement. Though he referred heavily to his fellow Norwegian, the blogger Fjordman, it was Robert Spencer, the American Islamophobic pseudo-academic, who received the most references from Breivik — 55 in all. Then there was Daniel Pipes, the Muslim-bashing American neoconservative who earned 18 citations from the terrorist. Other American anti-Muslim characters appear prominently in the manifesto, including the extremist blogger Pam Geller, who operates an Islamophobic organization in partnership with Spencer.

Breivik may have developed his destructive sensibility in the stark political environment of a European continent riveted by mass immigration from the Muslim world, but his conceptualization of the changes he was witnessing reflect the influence of a cadre of far-right bloggers and activists from across the Atlantic Ocean. He not only mimicked their terminology and emulated their language, he substantially adopted their political worldview. The profound impact of the American right’s Islamophobic subculture on Breivik’s thinking raises a question that has not been adequately explored: Where is the American version of Breivik and why has he not struck yet? Or has he?

Many of the American writers who influenced Breivik spent years churning out calls for the mass murder of Muslims, Palestinians and their left-wing Western supporters. But the sort of terrorism these US-based rightists incited for was not the style the Norwegian killer would eventually adopt. Instead of Breivik’s renegade free-booting, they preferred the “shock and awe” brand of state terror perfected by Western armies against the brown hordes threatening to impose Sharia law on the people in Peoria. This kind of violence provides a righteous satisfaction so powerful it can be experienced from thousands of miles away.

And so most American Islamophobes simply sit back from the comfort of their homes and cheer as American and Israeli troops — and their remote-controlled aerial drones — leave a trail of charred bodies from Waziristan to Gaza City. Only a select group of able-bodied Islamophobes are willing to suit up in a uniform and rush to the front lines of the clash of civilizations. There, they have discovered that they can mow down Muslim non-combatants without much fear of legal consequences, and that when they return, they will be celebrated as the elite Crusader-warriors of the new Islamophobic right — a few particularly violent figures have been rewarded with seats in Congress. Given the variety of culturally acceptable, officially approved outlets for venting violent anti-Muslim resentment, there is little reason for any American to follow in Breivik’s path of infamy.

Before exploring the online subculture that both shaped and mirrored Breivik’s depravity, it is necessary to define state terror, especially the kind refined by its most prolific practitioners. At the dawn of the “war on terror,” the United States and Israel began cultivating a military doctrine called “asymmetrical warfare.” Pioneered by an Israeli philosophy and “practical ethics” professor named Asa Kasher and the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Amos Yadlin, and successfully marketed to the Pentagon, the asymmetrical warfare doctrine did away with traditional counterinsurgency tactics which depended on winning the “hearts and minds” of indigenous populations. Under the new rules, the application of disproportionate force against non-combatants who were supposedly intermingled with the “terrorists” was not only  justified but considered necessary. According to Kasher and Yadlin, eliminating the principle of distinction between enemy combatants and civilians was the most efficient means of deterring attacks from non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah while guarding the lives of Israeli soldiers.

Asymmetrical warfare has been witnessed in theaters of war across the Muslim world, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. The strategy was formalized in the Dahiya district of southern Beirut in 2006, when the Israeli military flattened hundreds of civilian structures and homes to supposedly punish Hezbollah for its capturing of two Israeli soldiers.

From the ashes of the Israeli carpet bombing campaign emerged the “Dahiya Doctrine,” a term coined by an Israeli general responsible for directing the war on Lebanon in 2006. “IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot uttered clear words that essentially mean the following,” wrote Israeli journalist Yaron London, who had just interviewed the general. “In the next clash with Hezbollah we won’t bother to hunt for tens of thousands of rocket launchers and we won’t spill our soldiers’ blood in attempts to overtake fortified Hizbullah positions. Rather, we shall destroy Lebanon and won’t be deterred by the protests of the ‘world.’” In a single paragraph, London neatly encapsulated the logic of state terror.

While Israel has sought to insulate itself from the legal ramifications of its attacks on civilian life by deploying elaborate propaganda and intellectual sophistry (witness the country’s frantic campaign to discredit the Goldstone Report), and the United States has casually dismissed allegations of war crimes as any swaggering superpower would (after a US airstrike killed scores of Afghan civilians, former US CENTCOM chief David Petraeus baselessly claimed that Afghan parents had deliberately burned their children alive to increase the death toll), the online Islamophobes who inspired Breivik tacitly accept the reality of Israeli and American state terror. And they like it. Indeed, American Islamophobes derive frightening levels of ecstasy from the violence inflicted by the armed forces against Muslim civilians. The Facebook page of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s hate group, Stop the Islamicization of America (SOIA), is Exhibit A of the phenomenon.

During a visit to SOIA’s Facebook page, which is personally administered by Geller and Spencer, it is possible to read rambling calls for killing “the diaper heads” and for Israel to “rule the whole Middle East.” A cursory glance at the website will also reveal visual propaganda reveling in the prospect of a genocide against Muslims. One image posted on the site depicts American and British troops dropping a nuclear bomb in the midst of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. “Who ya gonna call? Shitbusters,” it reads.

A second image portraying a nuclear mushroom cloud declares: “DEALING WITH MUSLIMS — RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; Rule #1: Kill the Enemy. Rule #2: There is no rule #2.” Another posted on SOIA’s Facebook page shows the bullet-riddled, bloodsoaked bodies of Muslim civilians splayed out by a roadside. “ARMY MATH,” the caption reads. “4 Tangos + (3 round burst x 4 M 4′s) = 288 virgins.” However pathological these images might seem to outsiders, in the subculture of Geller and Spencer’s online fascisphere, they are understood as legitimate expressions of nationalistic, “pro-Western” pride. Indeed, none seem to celebrate violence against Muslims by anyone except uniformed representatives of Western armies.

The anti-Muslim fervor of Geller, Spencer and their allies reached a fever pitch during the controversy they manufactured in 2010 over the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in downtown New York City. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in North Carolina, a right-wing Republican ex-Marine named Ilario Pantano made opposing the mosque the centerpiece of his campaign for Congress, proclaiming that New York was “forsaking Israel” by allowing the mosque’s construction. During the height of the his campaign, a report relying on documented evidence and confirmed testimonies revealed that while serving in Iraq in 2004, Pantano had executed two unarmed civilians near Fallujah, firing 60 bullets into their bodies with his M16A4 automatic rifle — he even stopped to reload — then decorated their corpses a placard inscribed with the Marine motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.” The incident did not hinder Pantano’s campaign, however. His Democratic opponent never mentioned it, Pam Geller hailed Pantano as “a war hero,” and he swiftly became a cult hero of the Tea Party.

Pantano lost his bid for Congress, however, another US military veteran closely allied with the Islamophobic right won a surprise victory in Florida: Republican Representative Allen West. While serving in Iraq, West was discharged from the military and fined $5000 after he brutally beat an Iraqi policeman, then fired his pistol behind the immobilized man’s head. As in Pantano’s case, reports of the disturbing incident only helped propel West to victory. In fact, West boasted about the beating in his campaign speeches, citing it as evidence of how hard he would fight for his constituents if elected.

Though Breivik’s hatred for Muslims clearly spurred him to violence, he wound up murdering scores of the non-Muslims. He believed they were enabling an Islamic takeover of Europe, or what he called the creation of “Eurabia,” and that the “traitors” deserved the ultimate punishment. In homing in on liberal elements in Norway, Breivik borrowed from the language of right-wing figures from the United States, labeling his targets as “Cultural Marxists.” Initially introduced by the anti-Semitic right-wing organizer William Lind of the Washington-based Free Congress Foundation, the term “Cultural Marxism” was a catch-all that defined a broad array of leftist types, but especially those who preached “political correctness” towards immigrants, homosexuals, and other oppressed groups including the Palestinians. “Let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists,” Breivik wrote in his manifesto. The killer also sought to differentiate between good Jews (supporters of Israel) and bad Jews (advocates for Palestinian rights), claiming that “Jews that support multi-culturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism as they are to us.”

Breivik’s characterizations of the left (and of left-wing Jews) echoed those familiar to right-wing bloggers and conservative activists in the US, particularly on the issue of Israel-Palestine. The only difference seems to have been that Breivik was willing to personally kill sympathizers with Palestinian rights, while American Islamophobes have prefered to sit back and cheer for the Israeli military to do the job instead. The tendency of the American right was on shocking display this June when the Free Gaza Flotilla attempted to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip (during the previous flotilla in 2010, nine activists were killed by what a United Nations report described as execution style shootings by Israeli commandoes). As the debate about the flotilla escalated on Twitter, Joshua Trevino, a US army veteran and who worked as a speechwriter in the administration of George W. Bush, chimed in. “Dear IDF,” Trevino tweeted. “If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla — well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” While Trevino hectored flotilla participants, Kurt Schlicter, a former American army officer and right-wing blogger for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace site, joined the calls for bloodshed. ”Sink the flotilla,” Schlicter wrote on Twitter. “Enough screwing around with these psychos.”

Neither Schlicter or Trevino saw any reason to apologize for inciting the murder of fellow Americans, nor did Trevino appear to face any consequences at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he serves as Vice President. Instead, Trevino earned a rousing defense from prominent conservative personalities like Erick Erickson, a paid CNN contributor who lauded “the correctness of Josh’s opinion” that Israel should kill American leftists. Indeed, no one from inside the American right’s online media hothouse condemned Trevino, Schlicter or Erickson, or even brooked a slight disagreement. Meanwhile, the incitement against Palestine solidarity activists has continued, with pro-Israel operatives Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid writing this July in the Jerusalem Post that “Flotilla Folk are not like other people.”

When the smoke cleared from Breivik’s terrorist rampage across Norway, American Islamophobes went into  intellectual contortions, condemning his acts while carefully avoiding any criticism of his views. While making sure to call Breivik “evil,” the ultra-nationalist commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan insisted that “Breivik may be right” about the supposed clash of civilizations between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Pipes, for his part, accused Breivik of a “purposeful” campaign to discredit him by citing him so frequently in his manifesto, while a panicked Geller claimed that Breivik “is a murderer, a mass murderer. Period. He’s not anything else.”

The comically revealing reactions by American Islamophobes to Brevik’s killing spree demonstrate the politically catastrophic situation they have gotten themselves into. All of a sudden, their movement was under intense scrutiny from a previously derelict mainstream media. And they were likely to be monitored to an unprecedented degree by federal law enforcement. These same figures who influenced Breivik had been printing open calls for terrorist violence against Muslims and leftists for years — while a few went a step further on the battlefield. Before Breivik killed 76 innocent people, they had generally gotten away with it.

Why were America’s Islamophobes able to avoid accountability for so long? The answer is not that their yearnings for righteous political violence had not been fulfilled until Breivik emerged. The truth is far more uncomfortable than that. America’s Islamophobic right was only able to make so much political headway because a broad sector of the American public had tolerated and even supported the kind of terror that they openly celebrated.

After Itamar: Exploring the cynical logic that makes everyone a target

Everyone is rushing to condemn the gruesome murder of a family in the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. Even President Barack Obama felt compelled to offer his “unequivocal condemnation” of the murders. For what it’s worth (very little), I offer my own denunciation of the killings. Murdering kids can not be justified on any human level. However, even if the motives of the killer seem obvious to everyone, journalists covering the incident must be reminded there is no hard evidence that a Palestinian terrorist committed the crime. No viable armed faction has taken credit, and Israeli police are even treating Thai workers as suspects.

Itamar is heavily guarded, surrounded by an electrified fence, and monitored 24/7 by a sophisticated system of video surveillance. Yet there is no video of the killer. Like it or not, until the identity of the killer is confirmed, the murder can only be described by journalists as an “alleged terror attack.” Legitimate outrage is no excuse to flout the basics of journalism 101.

Given the amount of violence visited upon local Palestinians by the residents of Itamar and nearby settlements, I will not be surprised if the killer turns out to be a rogue Palestinian bent on revenge. In one instance documented in 2007, settlers from Itamar stabbed a 52-year-old shepherd named Mohammad Hamdan Ibrahim Bani Jaber to death while he tended to his flock. Routine attacks from Itamar have prompted the near-total evacuation of the village Izbat Al Yanoon, while settlers from nearby Jewish colony of Yitzhar have staged homemade rocket attacks on local Palestinians and torched their mosques. As I have reported, Yitzhar is home to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the notorious “Torat Hamelech,” which uses rabbinical sources to justify the killing of non-Jewish civilians, including children, in combat situations.

Medical Xray of live ammunition lodge in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

Medical x-ray of live ammunition lodged in the skull of Ussayed Qadous, shot at point blank range by Israeli troops near Itamar in 2010

A year ago in nearby Palestinian farming villages Awarta and Iraq Burin, Israeli soldiers were accused of executing local youths during riots against settlement expansion. As Jesse Rosenfeld reported, despite the clear evidence of execution style killings, none of the soldiers who held the Palestinians in custody at the time they were shot were convicted of any crimes. And to my knowledge, no official American response followed. Thus the besieged villages near Itamar have been left without any recourse or legal means to redress their harassment and murder.

Israel’s method of occupation and its military rules of engagement — which are supported by the US in spirit and through acts like the recent UN settlement resolution veto — openly skirt international law, eliminating any outside mechanism for mediating conflict or redressing the grievances of civilians harmed by war. Under these terms, where distinctions between civilians and combatants are deliberately blurred in order to deepen Israel’s control over land gained through military conquest, horrific attacks like the kind allegedly witnessed in Itamar become all the more possible.

To establish an ethical basis for military operations aimed at consolidating the occupation, the Israeli army has turned to Zionist academics like Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher. In the service of the army, Kasher churned out elaborate manifestoes justifying Israel’s tactics during Lebanon II and Operation Cast Lead. Kasher’s concepts of warfare are best defined by his explicit justifications for killing unarmed civilians in any instance when an Israeli soldier believed that they were in danger. Kasher strained his logic to the point that he highlighted the 2004 US invasion of Fallujah in Iraq, when American troops fired white phosphorous shells into the city center and demolished hundreds of homes, to justify Israeli actions in Gaza. “If it’s between the soldier and the terrorist’s neighbor, the priority is the soldier,” Kasher said. “Any country would do the same.”

Another academic with close ties to the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus, Professor Arnon “the Arab Counter” Soffer of Haifa University, urged the army to massacre Palestinian civilians after the withdrawal from the illegal settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza. Soffer, who devised the separation wall policy in order to confine the Palestinians of the West Bank to what he called “three sausages,” reasoned that mass murder was the only way to maintain the security of the Southern Israeli perimeter communities while avoiding political concessions to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

Prof. Arnon Soffer: "Kill, kill, kill."

“When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,” Soffer argued. “Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” And that is exactly what Israel did when it followed Soffer’s logic in Operation Cast Lead. (Note the use of the word “animal” in Soffer’s language and in the language of Israelis responding to the murders in Itamar; the word is essentially a signal to kill Palestinians indiscriminately).

While Soffer and Kasher have both served as outside consultants for Israeli governments and the army, another advocate for slaughtering Palestinian civilians, Yaakov Amidror, has been appointed to serve as Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor. “That’s a totally illegal order,” Amidror once snapped at Israeli news anchor Haim Yavin, who had said that Israeli soldiers were instructed to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon. “What should be said is ‘kill more of the bastards on the other side, so that we’ll win.’ Period.” Amidror has criticized Kasher for formalizing the army’s ethical code — “I said this should remain unwritten, so there wouldn’t be anything written, as [then] it would become technical,” he declared — and even called for the on-site execution of Israeli soldiers who refused to advance in battle. (Amidror also happens to be a religious settler who lives in the West Bank.)

Kasher, Soffer, and Amidror’s arguments relating to the killing of civilians are eerily similar to those advanced in a halakhic context by religious nationalist rabbis. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of Yitzar, a settlement that neighbors Itamar, has written in his book “Torat Hamelech” that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and should be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” A guide for anyone pondering when killing goyim is permissible, the book has been described by Rabbi Dov Lior of the settlement Kiryat Arba as “very relevant, especially in this time.” Lior, who has said that “gentile sperm leads to barbaric offspring,” is also a firm advocate of slaughtering Palestinian civilians. In 2008, when the IDF’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who reveled the officers with his views on modern warfare: “no such thing as civilians in wartime.” (For his part, Ronski has urged Israeli troops to show Palestinian civilians “no mercy.”)

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

National Security Advisor appointee Yaakov Amidror: kill civilian "bastards" and shoot non-compliant soldiers on the spot

So what is the difference between rabbis like Lior and Shapira and secular academics like Kasher and Soffer? I put this question to a 20-something settler (he is the last guy I interviewed in this video) during a rally in defense of the publication of “Torat Hamelech.” “Well, the difference is that someone like Kasher is speaking from his kishkes [guts],” the settler told me. “But Yitzhak Shapira is speaking from Torah; he’s speaking from Hashem.” In other words, the philosopher and the rabbi share a philosophy that justifies killing non-Jewish civilians, but the ethicist uses rational arguments rooted in secular Enlightenment thought, while the rabbi claims to be translating for God from ancient documents. In the end, both are working to cultivate an environment in which legal and moral protections for civilians are discarded in order to advance the maximalist goals of Jewish nationalism.

During his opening statement in his debate against Judge Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University on November 5, 2009, former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold claimed that the Goldstone Report was in fact an attack on Israeli society. In a section entitled “Maligning Israeli Society,” Gold and Lt. Col. Jonathan Dahoah Halevi wrote: “The language used by the UN Gaza report — and the gravity of its allegations about “deliberate” Israeli attacks on civilians — maligns Israeli society as a whole, for the Israel Defense Forces is a citizen’s army, an army which is made up of the people of Israel.”

In Gold’s own words, there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers — the army is society. Without knowing it, Gold deployed the very same argument Palestinian militant factions have used to justify suicide attacks inside Israel and the murder of the children of settlers in the West Bank. Thus Gold revealed the extent to which the process of comprehensively militarizing Jewish Israeli society — a central goal of Zionism since the days of Joseph Trumpeldor — had obliterated the distinction between civilian and combatant, transforming every human being into a possible target.

In such an environment, horrific violence against the innocent is not only possible, but inevitable. Of course, most of the violence will be meted out against the Palestinians, who live under a seemingly permanent occupation with negligible deterrent capacity and no political rights. But Israelis must also live in this moral wasteland and face the depressing consequences. Having to someday accept that they were responsible for its creation might be the cruelest fate of all.