By Paul Goodman
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On Friday evening, Twitter was pulsating with messages from those who claimed that the horrific murders in Norway were the work of Islamist terrorists. Yesterday morning, it became evident that the terrorist involved in the horrific attack is almost certainly not an Islamist but a crazed fundamentalist – if not fascist, if not neo-nazi. Whatever the truth may be, it was clear the previous evening that it couldn't possibly be known so quickly, and that those leapfrogging to conclusions on Twitter were out of their reckoning.
Others will soon jump headlong to join them. Just as on Saturday some rushed to claim that Islam caused the killings, others will hurry to assume that the explanation is somehow to be found in Christianity. Yes, both religions have been twisted throughout their ancient history to excuse mass murder. Yes, Islamism poses a terror threat and an integration problem. And yes, so do other extremisms, albeit on a much smaller scale to date. (I have drawn attention to the problem on this site.) We should remember the Admiral Duncan pub bombing in which three people died.
But most British Muslims aren't dreaming of a international Caliphate or pre-modern enclaves: they've got work, home and family to get on with. Neo-naziism is the hobby of a few freaks and failures. Terrorist perversions of Christianity are rare in America, and even more rare outside it. The lesson both from Twitter on Friday and yesterday is that, to reverse the famous saying of Peter Simple's Dr Heinz Kiosk, We Are Not All Guilty. Islamist wickedness isn't driven by British foreign policy; neo-nazi evil doesn't spring from controlling immigration; the Christian tradition has nothing to do with white supremacism.
We will doubtless hear shortly that it is, and other rubbish from the left to this and similar ends before debate on the murders is over. The truth is more simply and stark – namely, that there will always be vicious people who, when their depravity is sparked by pernicious ideas, will murder innocents, in much the same way that a bomb sparked by a timer will explode. Towards the end of Conrad's great anti-terrorist novel, "The Secret Agent", Conrad's nihilist professor mocks a man who has plans to help others which draw on the teachings of Jesus, and the Christian ideals of faith, hope and love.
"Conceive you this folly, Ossipon?" the professor says to his companion. "The weak! The source of all evil on this earth!…Exterminate, exterminate! That is the only way of progress. It is! Follow me, Ossipon. First the great multitude of the weak must go, then the only relatively strong. You see? First the blind, then the deaf and the dumb, then the halt and the lame – and so on. Every taint, every vice, every prejudice, every convention must meet its doom." In the novel's final paragraph, the professor walks alone through the streets "calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world…like a pest in a street full of men."
If we pray today, this Sunday, we should pray for Norway's innocent dead; if not, we should mourn them. Either way, we must remember that the young people murdered were our fellow enthusiasts for democratic politics. But their slaughter cannot be explained solely by evil ideas, like neo-naziism, or by the perversion of good ones, like Christianity, since wicked thoughts need actions to bring them to life. Conrad's professor was a prophecy of the totalitarian murderers of the last century. He was alive and bringing death last Friday, his acts proof of the depths of depravity which the mind will never fathom and into which the heart can fall.