Quotable: Johan Galtung on the Oslo massacres

Democracy Now interviews a man who understands a thing or two about the dangers of fascism and the need for nonviolent conflict resolution: Johan Galtung — sociologist, author, activist…and, by eerie coincidence, grandfather of one of the survivors of the Utøya Island massacre:

All of what he says is worth quoting, but the following bits of the transcript are what stand out most prominently for me:

You can imagine the shock when I heard that my granddaughter had arrived not only on the island the day of the massacre, but together with the assassin on that small boat. And he was carrying a huge weapon, according to Ida—I-D-A is her name, member of that young Labourite youth organization, where I, myself, was a member many years ago. And she then understood, when the shooting started, that this is serious. So Ida escaped with a friend, a girlfriend, Johanna, and they were able, after getting rid of a red rain jacket, to camouflage themselves behind a stone under her green rain jacket. And on the other side of the stone, the assassin was standing, shooting. And their friends fell down, and crying, crying, crying. And there was a pool of blood. But she escaped, together with her friend, unhurt. And you can imagine that when, after one hour or close to an hour, a boat came, they didn’t dare go out. But then came a big unmistakable boat, and they escaped to that one.

This brings it very close. It’s a small society, you know? And we Norwegians, as you put it mildly, are not used to that kind of thing, 76 people killed on one day. And with an annual murder rate of 40, two years’ rate on one day. I don’t use the word “terrorist.” That’s an American vocabulary, which has found much too much usage. It’s a sign saying, “Stop thinking. He’s just simply bad and evil.”


Don’t try to explain this in terms of anything Norwegian. Our right-wing populist party, which is very far from anything I stand for, I have to defend. They had strongly anti-Islamic, also racist, connotations two or one decade ago. They have, to a very large extent, liberated themselves from that. Anti-immigration? Yes. But they are not alone in that in Norway. He’s not a reflection of that party. He was a member and left it, and left it because he found it much far to the left or to the center and not to his liking. And the general climate in Norway, of course there are Islamophobes, and of course there are people to the extreme right not organized as a party. We have our fair shares.

But we also have something else. We have 10 percent of Norwegians born abroad, and a heavy portion of them are Muslims. And by and large, they are integrated perfectly, speak fantastic Norwegian. You now have them second generation. And as I say to my family members, I am totally prepared for the circumstance that there will be a Mohammed Galtung and a Fatima Galtung in the future. And Galtung is some of the oldest families in Norway, from Viking times.

Now, having said that, I have the impression that their encounter with middle-range social democratic Norway has also modified and made their Islam less, shall we say, confrontational, although I know enough about Islam to know that the word “confrontation” is not built into it, except when it is trampled upon—the fourth stage of jihad, to put it that way. In general terms, with some few exceptions, the relations are good, and very different from what you can find in other countries. You have England, Netherlands, of course, Hungary. And in Italy, a parliamentarian just said that he was 100 percent in agreement with Anders Breivik, but not with his violence, but ideologically in agreement.


His ideology, OK, we have to go into it. And it doesn’t help anything, as I said, to call him a “terrorist.” We have to try to understand him. So I identify three features very quickly. Point one, a civil war in Europe between deep Christianity, which is his essentially as Catholic, and Islam. And a civil war has been going on and is going on. Point two, Islam is penetrating on a road greased by multiculturalism, tolerance, and key proponents of this tolerance are the builders of that road, which he finds in what he calls “cultural Marxism” and social democracy. And point three, debate is impossible. You cannot end the Norwegian democracy and have a debate about this, because people are deaf and dumb. The Islamists, as he calls and would refer to all Muslims, will not listen; they are just pursuing their cause. In other words, the only possible response, horrible as it is, is violence—terrible, but necessary. There you have three features.

And that makes me immediately ask the question, what does it remind me of? And I have one simple answer and one horrifying answer. I will take the simple answer first: it reminds me of Nazism. There’s a civil war in Europe between Jews and Aryans—also a very basic tenet of Hitlerism, Nazism. And the Jews are of two kind: the Bolshevik Jews in Moscow and the plutocratic money Jews in London. Point two, there is something greasing the way for them, and that is miscegenation, racial mixing, marriages between Jews and Aryans—the worst crime imaginable. And point three, these people have their minds set; there is no dialogue possible. The only thing one can do is to expel them. You might even reward them for expelling them. And if not, the alternative is to execute them. Now, that last point was picked up by Breivik. I don’t think he had it from Nazism, but his idea was that each Muslim family in Norway should be paid 25,000 euro to leave, back to their own country. And if they rejected that, the alternative was execution—exactly the same as the Nazis did under the famous Transfer Agreement during the 1930s, when 60,000 Zionist German Jews were given not only the permission, but encouraged to leave for Palestine. Well, I can call this ideology neo-fascism, and it’s an updating, where instead of being anti-Semitic, it’s anti-Islam, and instead of miscegenation being the fantasma, it’s multiculturalism. So Breivik talks cultures where the Nazis talked race. But otherwise, the similarity is almost point to point.

But you see, then, when again you ask the question, “What does it remind you of?” there is a horrifying answer, which will be very difficult for Norway to process. This is exactly the ideology of the Washington-led attack on Muslim countries. There’s a civil war in Europe. It’s called “clash of civilizations,” the idea that came from the Princeton professor Bernard Lewis and was taken by Samuel Huntington’s publishers and put as title of his book, and I think wrongly attributed to Sam. But that doesn’t matter; that’s a small detail. The road is greased by failed states and by local groups taking command those failed states, so that in these failed states, the local groups, be they Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, these groups can launch decisive attacks on the Christian Western mainland, and particularly then U.S. And 9/11 is then interpreted in that context. And point three, makes no sense to have any dialogue. These people, you cannot talk with them. Terrible as it is, the only language they understand is violence. Well, my country, Norway, is a part of that: sharpshooters in Afghanistan killing Taliban.

I had talked to a number of Taliban. I feel very deeply touched by that. They are human beings. They are fighting for their country. Some are what we would call “extremists,” most of them are not. I think their ideology has essentially three points. Point one, they stand up for Islam, but know they have made—know very well they have made mistakes, particularly with regard to women. Point two, they hate Kabul as the landing platform for foreign invaders. And they hate being invaded. I have no difficulty accepting those three points. I have great difficulties, or I cannot—I simply reject the Norwegian government signing up with the U.S. effort to try to quench what they see as a rebellion of people with whom they cannot talk.

And then you have Norway in Libya, F-16s, 535 sorties, throwing 501 bombs on what they call military targets. OK, Breivik could say, “My bomb killed very few, and it was on the target.” The target was the center of decision making. The parallel is disgusting. And the point about it is that, suddenly, my little country Norway stands as victim. We are mourning today. There are beautiful ceremonies. And I must reach out to the Prime Minister, saying his words are extremely well chosen. He does it beautifully. And at the same time, Norway, under the leadership of Washington, is doing exactly the same thing, only on a much larger scale: perpetrator—victim and perpetrator.

Well, I hope my country will be able to process that. And I think the way to process it, there’s only one road, and that is to point to positive openings, both in Norway, in Europe, and in the world. So, as a mediator, I’m working on that and have a couple of small things to say.


My granddaughter ends her letter to all her relatives, and I do not have her permission to circulate this in any detail, but she ends with a very important sentence. “I want you all to know that if I haven’t answered to all the expressions of compassion that I have been reading by now, it’s because I have tried to think, and I have tried to think of one thing: how can we prevent movements like the movement Breivik participated in?” I find that very wise. And the question is, what are the answers?

Let me give one answer immediately. Challenge these people on the extreme right in debate. Get them out in public space, in the open. Challenge them. Let me only say one thing. If you want to challenge them, you should have been well prepared. These people are well prepared. Don’t underestimate them—point one. This has to happen all over Europe. It is not a question of just identifying cells. It’s a question of going to them personally. Get them out. Invite them into the best of our society, the open, free debate. But—and then comes the difficult point—it’s difficult to do that unless you are willing to open for the same possibility in dialogues and debates with Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda. And I can only say, having done it, it’s very, very easy. But you have to understand them. That doesn’t mean you have to accept them, but you have to go your portion of the way.

And I can add to that one point. The mourning today in Norway is in churches and in mosques. How about a joint ceremony? A joint ceremony would be beautiful. We haven’t quite come to that stage yet, but we could be close. And the closest place in Europe would be the Mezquita in Córdoba, which was a mosque and was destroyed partly. They were trying to make a cathedral, and now is some kind of mix. Well, the Muslims in Spain have suggested to have, let us say, Muslim ceremonies on Fridays, Christian on Sundays, and I could add, how about joint ceremonies on Saturdays? It’s been rejected by the local clergy. And then I turn my face on the map to Turkey. OK, you had a big, big cathedral in Constantinople, and it was turned into a mosque. How about doing the same there? How about doing the same? You have Premier Erdogan in Turkey, Zapatero, and they have made the Alliance of Civilizations. What a fantastic symbol this would be, leaving these rightists behind, saying, “You are not a part of our history. You belong to the past. You belong to the past. Come and join us in this endeavor. Talk with the Islamic people you are so afraid of.” And you will find them 99.99 percent very, very reasonable.

Lots of crunchy nuggets for thought in there. Sit, listen to the interview, and chew them over.

This entry was posted in Quotable Notables. Bookmark the permalink.