Sunday, July 31, 2011

The "Oslo Syndrome" and the Terror Attack in Norway


Note to readers: I have written this as a preface placed at the start of my article on "The Oslo Syndrome." I am also putting it here to make sure that those of you who want to see it can do so:

This article is being distorted by various people and places into supposedly saying things that I in no way believe so let me address that.

1. Am I justifying the murders and saying they were well-deserved? Of course not.

I don't in any way believe such a thing. These were as I've said from the beginning terrible acts of terrorism. In the article you will see my explicit argument that nobody should be a victim of terrorism even if they support politically a group committing terrorism. Since my argument is that NO terrorism--defined as the deliberate murder of civilians as part of a conscious political strategy--is acceptable, why would I justify the cold-blooded murder of dozens of unarmed, non-violent people in Norway? To justify it I would have to be saying that I supported the murder of young people because I disagree with their political views or those of their elders. That would be insane though, of course, that is precisely what actual terrorists do. And many "respectable" people wrote in various ways that the September 11 attacks on America were "well-deserved." That was precisely the kind of thing I had in mind when writing the article as something dangerous and to be condemned

2. In short, since the entire purpose of the article is to urge a universal condemnation of terrorism and to ensure that it doesn't bear political profit, I had no intention of endorsing terrorism in this case! The point of the article can be simply stated as follows: It is a dangerous thing to empower or reward terrorism anywhere because that makes terrorism seem a successful strategy and thus encourages more terrorism. If
you argue politically that terrorists are justified in the Middle East or, to put it a different way, that they aren't terrorists at all, you are making terrorism more likely to happen. It is tragic--not justifiable or deserved but horrible--that such people or such a country then becomes the target of terrorism.

3. The less murder the better. The less hatred the better. In the article I give four examples of waves of terrorism that did not gain widespread sympathy and thus were stamped out successfully, with terrorism not reappearing, at least in those places, in a major way for decades after that.

4. If Hamas uses a strategy of terrorism and then gains Western sympathy and help, then Hamas and other groups will conclude that terrorism works. Thus, more terrorism will take place and more innocent victims murdered. It is not true to say that I claimed any group in Norway applauded terrorism against Israelis. They either did not define it as terrorism, did not take it into account as a factor to be considered, or supported groups despite the fact that they used massive terrorism. Indeed, Norway's ambassador himself said that people in his country viewed terrorism as only a response to occupation while the main newspaper attacking me repeatedly denied--and denies--that Hamas is a terrorist group. Again, the issue is not for people to say: Isn't terrorism great! The issue is for people to say: We have no problem with Hamas, it isn't terrorist, we should act in a way to strengthen its rule over the Gaza Strip, etc.

5. I never said and don't believe that the camp in Norway was a terrorist training camp. A terrorist training camp is a place where people are trained to use guns, explosives, and various methods to stage military attacks and then escape afterward. What went on in the camp in Norway was purely conversational, theoretical, and political. That's obvious.

6. So to summarize, my entire point is that one must avoid empowering terrorism. To then be accused of empowering terrorism when what I wrote was the opposite is rather bizarre.

7. There are many dishonest or ideologically blinded people who will either deliberately lie and distort arguments or simply cannot read what the text says without putting their own a priori assumptions on it.

8. As I have written many times, my view is that the problem is not Islam as a religion but revolutionary Islamist movements that draw on normative Islam but are only one of many interpretations that exist. I use the analogy of people fighting over the steering wheel of a car to get in control. The radicals who want to seize state power in the name of Islamism are the problem. Often their first victims are fellow Muslims.

9. My goal is to reduce the frequency and effectiveness of terrorism and to reduce the number of victims. This article was written in that spirit--to save lives in future. It is based on 35 years of work on this issue and following it on a daily basis. When those who attack me--overwhelmingly one faction within Norway--insist that Hamas is not a terrorist group and thus distinguish between "justified" terrorism and "non-justified" terrorism they are doing what I'm being accused of doing. By the way, that is precisely the same way that Norway's ambassador to Israel characterized the view of people in that country (as I quote in my article).

10. If you wish, look at other things I've written and I'm sure you'll conclude that the mischaracterizations of this article have nothing to do with my views or record of writing and scholarship. The great journalist Eric Sevareid once said that a writer cannot prevent and is not responsible for the deliberate desire of some to distort his words. In our current era, there are all too many people who think they can profit politically by doing so. I will depend on those who are open-minded and fair-minded to make their own judgments.

By Barry Rubin

One of the most sensitive aspects of the very sensitive subject of the murderous terrorist attack in Norway by a right-wing gunman is this irony: The youth political camp he attacked was at the time engaged in what was essentially (though the campers didn’t see it that way, no doubt) a pro-terrorist program.

The camp, run by Norway’s left-wing party, was lobbying for breaking the blockade of the terrorist Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip and for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state without that entity needing do anything that would prevent it from being a terrorist base against Israel. They were backing and justifying forces that had committed terrorism against Israelis and killing thousands of people like themselves.

Even to mention this irony is dangerous since it might be taken to imply that the victims “had it coming.” The victims never deserve to be murdered by terrorists, even any victims who think that other victims of terrorists “had it coming.” This is in no way a justification of that horrendous terrorist act. It’s the exact opposite: a vital but forgotten lesson arising from it that can and should save lives in future.

Call it the Oslo Syndrome.

The Stockholm Syndrome is named after an incident in which hostages taken by a terrorist group then quickly became supporters of that group. A combination of intimidation (persuade these people that we’re friends or they’ll kill us); human psychology (get to know someone and hear their sad—whether or not true—story and sympathy arises); and ideology (having—or thinking you have—common ideas and interests with the terrorist movement).

Then there was the Oslo Process, the 1993-2000 effort to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In retrospect, it can be read as an attempt to solve a conflict by offering a great deal to those who instead rejected the offers, believing they could obtain total victory through a strategy that included terrorism as a major component. Many in the West—especially Norway--think it only failed because not enough was offered, basically exculpating the terrorist side and strategy.

The Oslo Syndrome encompasses all of these things but goes a step further, for the most dangerous things you can do about terrorism is to make it appear politically successful and hence a great thing to do. For terrorism is not an ideology or a movement but merely a strategy: to murder noncombatants systematically and deliberately for political ends in order to get your enemy to give up and your own side to cheer and join up.

If you do this, will others, including the victims, be so terrorized as to give you whatever you want? Will they ignore the moral implications and support you nonetheless? Can you successfully make the argument that you are so oppressed as to justify terrorism, as the ambassador of Norway implied is true against Israel after the killings in the summer camp? Is it possible to engage in terrorism yet convince much of the world that your victims are the real terrorists?

According to Maariv, the ambassador said:

"We Norwegians view the occupation as the reason for terror against Israel. Many Norwegians still see the occupation as the reason for attacks against Israel. Whoever thinks this way, will not change his mind as a result of the attack in Oslo."

And if you can answer any of these questions with a “yes” then terrorism may be for you. Of course, not every worldview or movement would use it but for those who do it is a very practical issue whether using terrorism is likely to result in being reviled and killed yourself or being celebrated internationally and receiving large amounts of money.

The Oslo Syndrome can be defined the opposite of the Stockholm Syndrome. Instead of being a target of terrorism and then changing views to support the terrorists’ side, it means—individually, as part of a movement, or as an entire country—supporting the terrorists’ side then being victims of terrorism.

Here are four cases of terrorism being perceived as failures and itself dying out:

--The idea that terrorism works originated with Gracchus Babeuf, a French revolutionary journalist who coined the word in 1793. A few months later, his comrade, Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard, called terrorism, “The only way to arouse the people and force them to save themselves,” exactly what today’s terrorists think.Babeuf was executed, though, and that idea went out of fashion for decades.

--Late nineteenth, early twentieth century leftist or nationalist terrorism engaging in bombings and murders in Europe and a bit in North America.

--Latin American terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s failing to achieve revolution and being repressed.

--European terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s mobilizing little sympathy.

In contrast, Middle Eastern terrorism (Palestinian, radical nationalist, Islamist) enjoyed much local support and political success even in the West. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, an aide to Usama bin Ladin, Abu Ubeid al-Qurashi, recalled how Palestinian terrorism inspired the assault on America: millions of people around the world heard Palestinian claims and demands; “thousands of young Palestinians” joined the PLO.

Yasir Arafat spent decades as a terrorist, was applauded at the UN—after a speech in which he threatened more murder—then spent decades more as a terrorist, afterward becoming a virtual head of state and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Why should others not dream that the road to victory is paved with the corpses of deliberately murdered civilians?

If terrorist murders by Hamas and Islamists did not stop well-intentioned future leaders of Norway from enthusiastically considering them heroic underdogs, a local evil man could think his act of terrorism would gain sympathy and change Europe’s politics. After all, it has already changed the Middle East and even been sanctified by Western media, intellectuals, and governments.

When Norway’s ambassador to Israel distinguishes between “bad” terrorism in Norway and “understandable” terrorism against Israelis that opens the door to a man in Norway who thinks his country is “occupied” by leftists and Muslims?

In this sense, the most important thing about the terrorist in Norway is not that he is right-wing or anti-Islam, The most important thing is that he believed terrorism would work on behalf of his cause. After all, if he had held all of the same beliefs but didn’t think deliberate murder was a good strategy, nobody would be dead from his actions.

Of course, he was mentally unbalanced but did have a material basis for his imaginings. What he didn’t understand is that many Europeans will accept terrorism against Israelis or even Americans; very few will applaud terrorism against fellow Europeans.

Nevertheless, many people gave him the idea that terrorism would change minds, gain support, and bring victory. They weren’t those whose blogs he quoted a few times in a 1500-page manifesto and who explicitly rejected violence. They merely gave him programmatic ideas. It was the successful terrorists and their Western enablers who gave him the strategy he thought would work and implemented it with such a terrible outcome.

Oh, and one more thing. A young survivor of the terrorist attack at the camp in Norway explained:

"Some of my friends tried to stop [the gunman] by talking to him. Many people thought that it was a test ... comparing it to how it is to live in Gaza. So many people went to him and tried to talk to him, but they were shot immediately."

He's right but in a very different manner from what he thought. It is more comparable to how it is to live in Israel being targeted by Palestinian or Lebanese terrorists who won't be talked into sparing your life. But it is people like those teaching politics to the victims in Norway who want Israelis "to stop" the gunmen "by talking" to them. 


I have just discovered (from a letter written by someone in Norway who likes my article, "The Oslo Syndrome,)" that without my knowledge or permission the article has been published by a newspaper there, .  Since I don't speak the language--and the site is difficult to use--I have no idea what's going on with the responses or even if it was translated by someone or just appears in English. I can only assume that either people who don't speak English as their first language may misread it or that some unchecked translation gives a wrong impression. [If and when I have better information I will update this paragraph.]

Meanwhile, I will just post here the addendum I put on the end of the original article:

I have received three letters from Norway shocked and angry [along with one that understands my theme and provides additional information reinforcing it.] that I allegedly wrote that the victims of the terrorist attack in Norway were terrorists or supported violence. That was not in any way my intention. These people misread my point--perhaps because they were expecting that is what I was going to say.

And that's why I wrote the opening two paragraphs to make it crystal clear. Read especially the second paragraph where the issues is stated clearly. These people were victims of a horrendous terrorist attack. But if people cheer and help terrorist groups (even if they don't understand that they are terrorist, perhaps because their media and leaders haven't told them so or even told them the exact opposite) they make terrorism more successful and thus attractive as a strategy. That was the point of the article. I hope nobody will distort my words.

Now if only the media and various political readers in Norway stop acting as if its justified when Israeli kids are murdered by terrorists we might actually make some progress against all those extremists who are practicing--and rationalizing--terrorism.

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