In April 1995, a powerful explosion shattered a building housing the offices of several federal departments in downtown Oklahoma City. Almost everyone thought it was a terrorist attack by the Muslim fanatics who had attacked the World Trade Center two years previously. They were stunned when it turned out that the bomber was Timothy McVeigh, a 27-year-old Gulf War veteran and a white radical with ultra-rightwing views.
Norway’s tragedy reminds me of the Oklahoma City bombing. Scenarios involving Islamic, Kurdish or Libyan connections were soon replaced with the shocking news: the main suspect is a true-blue Norwegian national, one Anders Behring Breivik.
The tragedy in Oklahoma City now looks like a sinister foretelling of the events that later took place in the United States. Timothy McVeigh said he wanted to punish the “tyrannical” U.S. government for what he and other ultra-right radicals regarded as “treasonous actions against the Constitution of the United States.”
Fifteen years later, during the 2010 congressional elections, public attention focused on politicians who share McVeigh’s passion, such as the Tea Party movement which views the federal authorities as well-nigh their worst enemy. The roots of this phenomenon run deep in American history.
But the current polarization of society, the radicalization of views, and process of alienation, which results in the different sides not prepared to cede an inch even though they are fully aware that their stubbornness will only worsen the situation – as exemplified by the debt ceiling stalemate – have reached a really alarming level. The socio-political mechanism used to coordinate public views is malfunctioning increasingly frequently.
The tragic events in Europe can be compared to those in the United States. There is a growing gap between the elite and the electorate whose sense of stability has been profoundly shaken. Populist protest parties are popping up everywhere. They hold broadly isolationist, protectionist views and oppose immigration, cultural diversity and market liberalization. These are all closely bound up with European integration, an elitist experiment launched in the second half of the 20th century that currently involves the whole of the Old World. Norway, not an EU member, is nevertheless tightly bound by the union’s norms and regulations.
Breivik actively contributed to anti-Muslim Internet forums. He has apparently confessed, and may have been motivated by a desire to draw public attention to the “treasonous” policy of the authorities who, he has claimed, are destroying society with their policy of multiculturalism. This potential terrorist demanded the total cultural assimilation of immigrants and complained that the government has lost the ability to govern and is being led instead by its own “empty rhetoric.”
There have always been ultra-right movements in Scandinavia and also a tradition of political violence, especially in Sweden. But it used to be the domain of marginal figures, people who live on the edge of society. The Norway attack, if perpetrated by Breivik and any possible accomplices he might have had (remember that McVeigh had a collaborator – an old army buddy), was most likely an isolated act carried out by mad fanatics. But the Oklahoma City bombing also functioned as a prelude to the deepening crisis in U.S. society - a society unable to come to terms with the rapidity of change on the domestic and international scenes. Similarly, the Oslo tragedy may turn out to be an ill omen of social cataclysms yet to come in the Old World, where people are failing to respond fast enough to all the challenges of globalization.
The best metaphor for the current American crisis is the 2007 film by the Cohen brothers, “No Country for Old Men.” At the end of George W. Bush’s rule, when 80% of Americans thought the country was headed the wrong way, Joel and Ethan Cohen showed that the problem does not lie with Bush, as many thought, but with the fractures in society that appeared long before Bush (the action takes place in Texas in 1980).
The character played by Javier Bardem personifies the cold-blooded, irrational but inspired violence that is eating away at the fabric of society, revealing the worst imaginable human traits which people of the “old school” can neither accept nor understand.
The absurdity of international politics in which the boundary between war and humane acts (the concept of “humanitarian intervention” formulated in the 1990s) has been consciously eroded, resonates with the destructive social processes underway in some countries. Taken together, this has gone beyond the “no country for old men” metaphor – and is creating a world that is no place for anyone.
Uncertain World: The reckless West
Uncertain World: Armenia and Azerbaijan’s shaky status quo
Uncertain World: Out of the confusion, conspiracy theories emerge
Uncertain World: Inertia and maneuvering in Russia’s foreign policy season
Uncertain World: Twenty years after the Balkan tragedy
Uncertain World: SCO’s 10 year search for balance
Uncertain World: Epilogue on joint missile defense
Uncertain World: Time for reflection
Uncertain World: Georgia’s risky decision to recognize the Circassian genocide
Uncertain World: Europe after Sofitel
Uncertain World: Pakistan’s vicious circle
Uncertain World: The master of historical byplay
Uncertain World: CSTO must evolve into military alliance
Uncertain World: Arab spring - after the euphoria has faded
Uncertain World: BRICS goes from fantasy to reality
Uncertain World: History and uncertain future spark heated debate
Uncertain World: Those peace-loving Germans
Uncertain World: Putin, Medvedev split over Libya
Uncertain World: In pursuit of common sense
Uncertain World: Vice President Biden’s reconnaissance visit to Moscow
Uncertain World: Yanukovych has boosted Ukraine’s stability – but for how long?
Uncertain World: Learning from Libya and Singapore
Uncertain World: Why don't Russia and Europe need politics to cooperate?
Uncertain World: Russian-Japanese territorial dispute flares up
Uncertain World: Europe without ambitions
Uncertain World: Terrorism’s local roots
Uncertain World: East-West democracy in Tunisia
Uncertain World: Master of intrigue
Uncertain World: Political responses to economic challenges in the next decade
Uncertain World: U.S.-Russian alliance cannot be ruled out
Uncertain World: A troubled year across the former Soviet Union
Uncertain World: Arguments against Russia joining NATO
Uncertain World: Lukashenko set for re-election, not surprisingly
Uncertain World: WikiLeaks document dump to undermine Obama’s clout in Moscow
Uncertain World: Unfinished business - Asia’s troubles rooted in a disputed past
Uncertain World: A quarter-century of going in circles
Uncertain World: The disputed Kuril Islands and Russia’s broader Asian strategy
Uncertain World: Talking Afghanistan without schadenfreude
Uncertain World: Russia’s Asia challenge
Is Russia unpredictable? Perhaps, but one shouldn’t exaggerate – its randomness often follows a consistent pattern. But is the world at large predictable? The past two decades have seen all forecasts refuted more than once and have taught us only one thing – to be ready for any change. This column is on what the nations and governments are facing in the era of global uncertainty.
Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertise on Russian foreign policy and global developments. He is also a frequent commentator on international affairs and contributes to various media in the United States, Europe and China, including academic journals Social Research, Europe-Asia Studies, Columbia Journal of International Affairs. Mr. Lukyanov is a senior member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civic Society Institutions. He holds a degree from Moscow State University.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.