The Region: The Oslo Syndrome

Many Europeans will accept terrorism against Israelis or even Americans; very few will applaud terrorism against fellow Europeans.

Jens Stoltenberg_311 (photo credit: Scanpix Scanpix / Reuters)
Jens Stoltenberg_311
(photo credit: Scanpix Scanpix / Reuters)
One of the most sensitive aspects of the murderous terrorist attack in Norway by a right-wing gunman is this irony: The youth camp he attacked was 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 to do anything that would prevent it from being used as a terrorist base against Israel. They were justifying forces that had committed terrorism against Israelis, killing thousands of people like themselves.
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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 victims who think other victims “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.
Call it the Oslo Syndrome.
The Stockholm Syndrome is named after an incident in which hostages taken by a terrorist group 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).
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 rejected the offers, believing they could achieve total victory through tactics including terrorism.
Many in the West – especially Norway – think it only failed because not enough was offered.
The Oslo Syndrome encompasses all these things, but goes a step further, for the most dangerous thing you can do about terrorism is to make it appear politically successful. For terrorism is not an ideology or a movement, but merely a tactic: to murder noncombatants deliberately for political ends.
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 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? 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 or being celebrated internationally and receiving large amounts of money.
The Oslo Syndrome can be defined as the opposite of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Instead of being a target of terrorism and then changing 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 a failure and 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 and 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, which failed to achieve revolution and was subsequently repressed.
– European terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s, which mobilized little sympathy.
In contrast, Middle Eastern terrorism (Palestinian, radical nationalist or Islamist) enjoyed much local support and political success even in the West. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, an aide to Osama bin Ladin, Abu Ubeid al-Qurashi, recalled how Palestinian terrorism inspired the assault “thousands of young Palestinians” joined the PLO.
Yasser Arafat spent decades as a terrorist, and 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 murdered civilians? IF TERRORIST murders by Hamas and Islamists did not stop well-intentioned future leaders of Norway from considering them heroic underdogs, an evil local 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 tries to distinguish between “bad” terrorism in Norway and “understandable” terrorism against Israelis, that opens the door to a man who thinks his country is “occupied” by leftists and Muslims.
In this sense, the most important thing about the Norway terrorist 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.
Had he held all of the same beliefs but didn’t think murder was a good tactic, nobody would be dead from his actions.
Of course, he was mentally unbalanced, but had 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, and bring victory. They weren’t those whose blogs he quoted a few times in a 1,500-page manifesto, and who explicitly rejected violence. It was the successful terrorists and their Western enablers who gave him the tactic he implemented.
The writer is director of global research in the International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. He is a featured columnist at PJM and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal