Is Anders Behring Breivik insane? I have no idea. But I’ve heard the comment, several times now, that he must be because only the insane would imagine that a terrorist attack could garner support for their cause, rather than the other way around. That’s nothistory.
There are plenty of examples of terrorist acts that have worked against the intention of the perpetrator. Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Alfred P. Murragh Building in Oklahoma City created sympathy for the federal civil service rather than the anti-government uprising he hoped for. But there are also examples where terrorists have gotten exactly what they wanted. Here are a few:
1181 Reginald de Chatillon-sur-Marne was unhappy with the fact that the Crusader states had signed treaties and settled into peaceful co-existence with their Islamic neighbors. Not satisfied with possession of Jerusalem, he believed that all Muslims were agents of the Devil and that all good Christians should do everything in their power to eliminate the scourge of Islam from the earth. So he got some followers and attacked a caravan of pilgrims on their way to Mecca. The next year he attacked a ship full of similarly intentioned Muslims. The problem for the Crusaders was that their entire mission had been founded on anti-Muslim propaganda, albeit most of it based on falsified information. To denounce Reggie would require admitting that their own cause was false. The atrocities themselves horrified the Islamic world, but it was the unwillingness of the Crusaders to do or say anything about them that convinced Saladin and his allies that the treaties were nothing but stalling tactics and that the Christians were, in truth, not reliable regional partners but their avowed enemies. The Islamic world united behind Saladin and retook Jerusalem, which in turn ignited the third and some subsequent Crusades (the ones aimed at the Islamic world, that is; not the ones against Christians of non-papist inclinations). A stable, amicable relationship was successfully turned into years of bloody warfare by the acts of a single terrorist leader. The heads of the Crusader states played into Reginald’s hands by allowing the perception that they sanctioned his actions.
1932 The two major parties took 93% of the vote in the Japanese election, the militarists being relegated to an invisible portion of the “other”. Three months later, an attack by junior naval officers in Tokyo left the prime minister dead. The officers surrendered and turned their trial into a platform for their political views, the first major presentation of the expansionist, emperor-worshiping position. The young, handsome, passionate officers’ willingness to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs garnered massive public support. Petitions begging for leniency were signed in blood by hundreds of thousands of people. To appease the newly energized pro-military forces, the new government was led, not by the head of the parliamentary party in the majority, but by military leadership which immediately recognized the territorial gains in Manchuria, legitimizing the army’s adventurism, and increased the navy’s budget. The next election, in 1936, proved that the support was personal, not political, as the militarists still couldn’t break double digits or gain a single seat in the parliament, so the ideologues in the military did it all again with another terrorist attack that overturned the results of another election. The militarization of Japan in the 1930s happened despite elections in which over 90% of the population consistently voted against expansion (the same results occurred in 1939 as well), because the government responded to terrorism with appeasement, with precisely the same results Chamberlain got over on the next continent.
2001 Is there anyone who doubts that the Al-Qaeda terrorists who took down the Twin Towers in New York got exactly what they wanted? A decade ago, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in every country that takes polls had positive feelings towards the U.S. Today, the U.S. is seen, at best, as untrustworthy and erratic, at worst as an outright enemy. A decade ago, Muslim Americans were broadly accepted as part of the melting pot. Today, there is a growing anti-Muslim industry that is prominent in the public discourse and making inroads into our government. The terrorists wanted to turn Christians and Muslims against each other. As horrified as we were by their actions, we gave them exactly what they wanted. They succeeded, not because they were smarter than McVeigh or their cause was more just, but because we let them. We played into their hands.
So far the Norwegians are not playing into Behring Breivik’s hands or trying to appease his co-believers. So far, all accounts indicate, the backlash is promoting the Labor Party he was trying to overthrow. But that doesn’t make him crazy for thinking it might have gone the other way.