You Can't Blow Up Ideas

The World

Fighting Extremism

"No one will bomb us to silence, no one will shoot us to silence, no one will ever scare us from being Norway."
Norway’s PM 22/07/11


Norway on a global scale is one of the most liberal countries you can come across, has one of the best welfare systems, is renowned for taking in asylum seekers from non-liberal states, and is rather successfully promoting a multicultural society.  As it mourns over the events that took place on Friday, the actor behind the killings has stated that he “wished to attack society and the structure of society”.  For a start these actions are the result of a right wing extremist, like all actions taken by extremists they are non-justified.  Moreover, Norway partly for all the previous facts mentioned is a target where extremist violent actions are shocking and preposterous.  However, and more importantly, this reminds all of us an important weakness of all violent actions that attempt to threat or change socio-political structures: you can’t blow up ideas. 

Extremist and accompanying terrorist actions have a long history and should not be taken as a new concept that has come into play.  Radical religious groups, extreme left or right wing groups (and various others) have used in the past bombs, guns and the blood of people in attempts to shake social foundations.  Various excuses to attempt to rationalize their actions.  It might be the proletariat, the purity of a race, some immoral path society always seem to be taking.  The objective; when enough bombs have echoed society will change the entirety of its structure or bits of it.

Similarly, governments (liberal or not) across time have more than often utilized violence to silence ideas and concepts of various groups.  It might the evil left, an unholy race, “dissidents” or even actual terrorists.  I can understand why the US needed to go after Al-Qaeda (not the 10 year war in Afganistan or Iraq though), or why the people behind the Red Army Fraction needed to be arrested.  But extremist ideas often continue to live on because they cannot be simply blown up or killed or locked away.

This is both good and bad.  It shows that concepts such as the War on Terror cannot be won with bombs or raids; ideas can’t be fought on this level.  Extremists or extremist (terror) -states are empowered by such actions as it provides a justification for retaliation or further violence.  Promoting open liberal democratic environments that reduce the space for extremist ideology is considerably more helpful.  It crumbles the justification of violent actions and the likelihood of their occurrence.  This type of “war” does not have clear wins or losses.  Voting is just one aspect of this; respect for other peoples’ opinion, open pubic discussion, equality and zero tolerance of discrimination are also important factors.  There’s good reason why Norway has not suffered from extremist violence since World War II and why these recent  events are outliers.  Moreover, it shows why Norway is not going to change its impressive social structure because of them.

As a great part of the rest of world joins the mourning we are reminded of all that we enjoy about liberal democracy.  We are also reminded that the neutralisation of extremism is a constant process that lies mainly in non-violent activities.  Individuals, organizations or states cannot destroy ideas, only other ideas can. 

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