John Howard, Paul Sheehan, and the road to the Oslo massacre
2 August 2011
Chickens don’t come home to roost more ironically than this, really: Norwegian Christian fundamentalist assassin Anders Breivik drew profound inspiration from the Australian political right.
Through the long northern winter evenings, Breivik trawled the web, downloading John Howard, Ross Cameron, Peter Costello, Cardinal Pell and Keith Windschuttle – admiring their actions and cutting and pasting their words into his 1500 page manifesto. That’s an awful lot of mentions for a small country like ours.
All of the themes and angles pioneered by the Howardista intelligentsia are there in Breivik’s thinking and his manifesto: the false appeal to Christianity as the bedrock ideology of the state; the claims that Muslims were taking over the country by stealth and that a sinister secularist/Green/Marxist/feminist/latte-sipping/politically-correct elite dominated the media, education and the law.
Contrary to the view now universally espoused by a panicked commentariat, Breivik isn’t certifiably mad. He’s sane, lucid, highly organised and completely focussed. His ideas are based on a false consciousness, but they are not disordered. They are ideas openly espoused by several moderate-sized, legal, European political parties and are, unfortunately, alive in the political mainstream here. Breivik just took those ideas to their logical end.
He knew who his political enemies were and his well-laid plan struck not at Muslims (he would have had trouble finding more than half a dozen of them together in the Norwegian capital) but at the official, mainstream, political left that he sees as traitors to the nation.
Breivik is a harbinger of the resurgence of European right-wing nationalism. His manifesto is an updated version of the fascism and Nazism of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The new nationalism’s defining obsession is exactly the same: the sanctity of the mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, state.
There’s also the weirdly elitist worship of the knights of old. In Breivik’s case the choice of the Knights Templar, a mediaeval pan-European order of Christian knights who fought in the Crusades and pioneered modern banking is somewhat ironic. Pope Innocent II exempted the order from obedience to local laws, the payment of taxes and subordination to any authority other than the pope. Unsurprisingly they got rich. Ironically, after two centuries and the loss of the Holy Land to the Muslims, the Templars’ Catholic internationalism and overwheening power fell foul of the increasing nationalism of local monarchs. Philip IV of France (who owed squillions to Templar bankers) had them arrested, tortured into giving false confessions and put to death. The Pope disbanded the order in 1312.
Hitler’s Nazis played it safe with the knight-worship thing by harking back, instead, to the German Teutonic Knights. Nazi propaganda depicted them as forerunners of the drive to wrest Lebensraum from the ‘subhuman’ peoples of eastern Europe.
Heinrich Himmler idealized the SS as a 20th-century re-incarnation of the medieval Order. Hundreds of thousands of Danes, Dutch, Bosnian Muslims, Italians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Belgians and Cossacks and, yes, Norwegians, fought in ethnic SS units. These fascists believed in the future of Europe as Breivik and the new European Right see it – a harmonious community of ethnically-pure states – but they misunderstood Hitler, who always saw Germany’s interests as absolutely dominant over those of every other nation.
Breivik saw Howard as a strongman who’d taken a decisive line against asylum-seekers and Muslim immigration but he probably had no understanding of the Howard back-story – the man is, in reality, one of the greatest political conmen in history.
Howard clawed his way into power in 1996 by pandering to the old Australian obsession with East Asian immigration. Spurred on by the initial success of Pauline Hanson, he dog-whistled shamelessly to the backward and bewildered, but Asians were in the frame. Back then, the tiny Muslim community – mainly Lebanese – was on nobody’s radar. But when Howard became prime minister there was no way, with China our biggest trading partner and Vietnam and Indonesia becoming more important, that he was going to go on attracting attention to East Asians.
It was then that the big bullies of the political right made the big switch and pulled the Muslim bogey out of the bag. Almost overnight the tiny unremarked minority of yesterday were promoted as a huge creeping threat to “Australian values”. The Murdoch press and Howard’s intelligentsia went to work with a will.
Their crusade against “political correctness” also appealed mightily to Breivik. This little slogan was, and is, a code word for anything progressive (or just novel) that the new dumb feel vaguely threatened by: public respect for the other person’s culture or religion; the fact that race is just skin deep; solar panels; acknowledgement of Aboriginal dispossession; feminism; no corporal punishment in schools; climate science; cycleways; being nice to gays. In fact “political correctness gone mad” is an all purpose slogan for putting anything down without debate.
Oddly enough, one Australian far-right “thinker”, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan, didn’t score an endorsement from Breivik, but I guess he could only fit so many Aussies in. Whereas Howard, Costello, Cameron, Pell and Windschuttle are demagogically toying with ideas they know to be wrong, just to appeal to win votes or influence, Paul Sheehan shows every sign of actually believing them.
Nobody in the media dog-whistles more obsessively than Sheehan (except perhaps Alan Jones). Back in February Sheehan coined a new slogan: “One language, one law, one culture” (or as the Nazis would have put it: Eine Sprache, ein Gesetz, ein Kultur). Kids, that’s pure Breivik.
The lesson from Olso couldn’t be clearer. Those who cynically or sincerely play with racist, religious and ethnic demagoguery are a danger to society and persons of goodwill should unite to drive them out of politics.