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July 22, 2011 / ultrafox1963

The Norway Attacks: Fear and Loathing in the Twitterverse

My thoughts and sympathies, as I type this post, are with the people of Norway.  They have been the victims of TWO appalling outrages.

On 22 July, a bomb went off in the centre of Oslo, killing seven people and injuring many more.  As if that wasn’t horrific enough, news emerged hours later of members of a youth camp, run by the Norwegian Labour Party, being massacred by a gunman on an island at Utoya, some 20 miles away.

The reaction worldwide was one of shock and disgust, as it should be.  However, some commentators went further, speculating on who might have been vile and cowardly enough to have carried such atrocities.  Inevitably, suspicion fell on “Islamists” as being responsible. Equally inevitably, some, particularly on Twitter, reacted with hateful and Islamophobic remarks.

What was particularly disturbing on this occasion was involvement in the latter activity by some people in the Labour Party who are in positions to know a lot better. Indeed, one MP, Tom Harris (an ex-minister) was very quick to jump to conclusions.  He tweeted ‘we’ll still have the apologists for terrorism saying it was caused by “foreign policy” or by “disrespect to the Prophet” ‘.  (This wasn’t even his worst tweet of the day: earlier he’d praised the Murdoch press (!) for their new iPhone applications – has he been in a coma for the past three weeks?)

Harris was quite rightly taken to task by other correspondents for his behaviour.  Since he’d issued pronouncements indicating more knowledge than either the Norwegian media or police authorities possessed at that stage, I enquired with whether he’d been seconded to a detective agency.  In response (which to his credit, was almost instantaneous), he referred me to a report in the New York Times.  It was easy to see why a New York publication may have speculated about the source, although it also acknowledged the possibility of a domestic Timothy McVeigh-style attacker, but not so easy to see why Harris and some of his backers did so.

Later in the evening, more information emerged.  A suspect was arrested and has been linked to both the bombing and the massacre. He turned out to be of Norwegian origin and with a record of activity in ultra-right politics.   Has Harris issued a statement warning of the dangers of Aryan/Nordic terrorism?  To date, I’ve yet to see it.

Regrettably, we have come to expect crazed stereotyping and scaremongering  from the likes of Melanie Phillips or any of the Richard Desmond daily publications, which is then exploited by fascist groups such as the British National Party and the English Defence League.  But those on the left should act with a little more decorum and seek to calm fears rather than exacerbate them.

Harris’s actions show there is still a lot of work to be done to raise politics from the gutter in which it currently resides.

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