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The media coverage of the Norwegian drama: When a terrorist attack becomes a trial for immigration and immigrants

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The Western media coverage of the July 22 (2011) terrorist attacks that took the lives of 76 people in Norway have been extremely disturbing, even disgusting. In the wake of these terrorist acts, the debate quickly shifted to immigration policies as the “most enlightened” pundits and journalists went on trashing multiculturalism policies. Essentially, they have followed the lead the killer, Behring Anders, provided in his manifesto. 

In Canada, the journalist Normand Lester, a leading figure of this trend, wrote in a paper: “Trudeau and Chretien are responsible for giving Canada immigration laws that allow all the scum of the world to settle here, from Asian triads to Islamic terrorists, the Caribbean gangs and Latino drug cartels.”Needless to note the author’s penchant for stereotyping. He added in another paper: “The state cannot impose on the society the values that are contrary to those that make large consensus. To do so is to call for social unrest and pave the way for individual or collective slippage. Behring Anders is a monstrous example.” I’m still looking for the logic that leads to the concluding sentence. 

Regardless, this has been the general tone of the debate in most of the Western media.Even more progressive newscasts have fallen prey to this perspective in their obsessive attempts to explain the unexplainable; to make sense of something incomprehensible. For instance, on Monday July 25 2011, Chris Matthews, the host MSNBC Hardball received as guest Brian Levin who talked of immigrants as if they were a plague: “We invited these people in and now, we have to keep them,” he said. “The percentages over the next decade will show countries previously homogenous, countries like Belgium and Sweden, hitting 10 percent Muslim populations,” he added. Brian Levin, with the complacency of Chris Matthews, was clearly suggesting that the growing migrant population is what creates anxiety in a society like Norway’s, which was unaccustomed to diversity. His “analysis” was so culturally oriented if not clearly racist, that he himself felt the need to state: “I’m not advocating islamophobia.” Really?

Shifting the debate this way has clearly been an attempt to give a free pass to a terrorist who happens to be a Western white man, to place the blame on foreigners, who supposedly by their mere presence, create discomfort and malaise in an otherwise good and peaceful society. True, these newsmakers would claim that they are not trying to excuse the killer. They would say that they are just trying to understand. However, the problem is the angle of that understanding, the way the discussion is framed, the way the debate has been conducted. I have not heard much about the killer’s upbringing, the books he reads, the movies he watches, the types of games he plays, people he associates with, etc. The debate was clearly diverted from these basic questions to focus almost entirely on supposed anxiety and apprehension the presence of foreigners creates.

Media coverage and news processing often drive me nuts, but I also usually remain among the silent majority who quietly undergo absurd spin and propaganda loaded with divisiveness. However, this time, I felt strongly compelled to speak out for my own sake. As an immigrant and a minority, I feel threatened in a society where the dominant discourse suggests that my presence creates anguish among the good people of the land. I feel threatened because such a discourse, which tends to legitimate a terrorist gesture defying all moral sense, leave me at the goodwill of any crank who sees himself as a mission carrier.

Mirroring the society

The fact is that Western media perfectly mirrors Western society, which is profoundly navel-gazing, unable to look at itself with the basic sense of critical interrogation.A society unable to face a simple reality: cruelty does not have color or race or ethnicity; it does not belong to any particular group nor does it spare any; it is simply a human reality that permeates every society, every race and culture. Unfortunately in this hemisphere, the dominant discourse has traced paradigmatic boundaries within which people here see the world. The equation is strikingly binary, with on the one hand a group of Westerners basically good, and on the other, people basically or even fundamentally evil. This is the paradigm within which our media operates and is trapped even when the raw facts challenge their assumptions. This explains why the initial reaction after the Norwegian tragedy was to look elsewhere; not among the good people of Norway. Not surprisingly, the erroneous suspicion of Muslim extremists was rapidly echoed in the United States by Rupert Murdoch Fox News, a network well known for its xenophobic and islamophobic rhetoric. This willingness to turn a blind eye to the obvious causes us to always be taken aback when a tragedy strikes. It seems like we have learned nothing at all from Ted Kaczynski and Tim McVeigh. Sad!

Aug. 3, 2011

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Kamga, Osée


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