When I was 17-years-old, I was a trouble child. I was oscillating between depression and rage, my teachers and parents had no control over me, and most of all, I had a profound sense of being an outcast from the society that I lived in.
To offset this overwhelming sense of alienation, I turned to the internet, my only window into a world outside my own. It was here that I actively sought to find meaning and to fill the gaping hole that my own society and culture could not fill.
What I found, (amongst other things), was a one-man black metal band from Bergen, Norway called Burzum – the brain-child of Varg Vikernes, a talented musician, a neo-nazi, an occasional preacher of eugenics (“racial purity”) and a convicted murderer who received Norway’s harshest jail sentence of 21 years.
This same sentence, by the way, is likely to be given to Anders Behring Breivik – the man who slaughtered 93 of his countrymen in Oslo, Norway on the same day that he published his 1,500 page right-wing, extremist, ultra-nationalist manifesto.
Back to the story: the reason I was drawn to Vikernes’ music was fairly straight forward; it was loud, it was reactionary and it was as alien to Pakistan as was my own fragile identity at the time. The reason I was drawn to Vikernes’ later articles and extreme, nationalist, political philosophy was perhaps more convoluted, but it did happen.
I read everything Vikernes wrote. I collected it and pored over it late at night, trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance I experienced due to his strong dislike of brown and black “inferior” races and my desire to be just as powerful as the man who wrote those words. Deep inside, my hatred for my life and the people I met connected with this ideology at some irrational level.
Vikernes’ solution of a Norway free of the impurities brought to the country by invaders, invading ideologies such as Christianity and members of other ethnic groups made me want to start a similar movement to rid Pakistan of all things and people I did not like.
Yes it was unutterably childish, but so deep ran my obsession that I wrote and mailed off multiple letters to Vikernes in prison, hoping to gain audience with my hero.
That failed. Circumstances changed. I got into university, and promptly forgot all about establishing my own “pure” society. That is where my story ended, as does that of 98 per cent of young men and women drawn to extremist ideas.
Such is the strength of ideology on the mind of a young person at an unstable, sensitive juncture of his/her life. There is an immense appeal in fringe, extremist ideas for the simple solutions they offer to explain life’s baffling complexity.
Why are things bad?
Why am I unhappy?
Because of religion, or a lack thereof. Because of race and skin colour. Because of capitalism and who owns the means of production.
Who do I blame?
Anyone and everyone but myself. If anyone disagrees with me, they are the enemy.
What do I do?
Preach extremism, separatism and hate, and if desperate enough – kill.
What Vikernes preached (and still does now that he has been released after serving a 16 year sentence) was a pseudo-scientific, folk-lore and history-based nationalism rooted in the most simplistic division of people based on race and culture. He preached a world of black and white, good and bad, heroes and villains, us versus them. He cherry picked problems in his society and presented simplistic explanations for them using half-clever critiques, strong rhetoric and a profound sense of superiority that masked the underlying insecurity of his position as an outcast (reminiscent of any local rock stars we know?).
He essentially preached what any extremist ideology does; a naïve, simplistic worldview that greatly appeals to a select few who are desperately searching for meaning in a world that makes no sense to them and who they are.
This is the same form of ideology preached by Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian author, and the leading intellectual of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – and al Qaeda. This is the same form (though a completely different set of ideas) of extremist ideology that suckered in Anders Behring Breivik and led to the murder of 93 people in Oslo.
So to those who are heaving sighs of relief in finding out that Norway’s terrorist was not Muslim, please stop, as that is playing right into the narrative of us versus them. This is a bad sign of possibly worse to come. Playing the role of the celebratory “other” will only serve to create more Vikernes’ more Breivik’s and (in a very real sense) steal your sons, daughters and friends away from you and place them closer to falling for such crazy ideologies, of which we have many of our own indigenous versions.
Breivik’s terrorist act is to be condemned. There should be no celebration of who he was or what he believed in, and may individuals and government’s have the strength and wisdom to clamp down on such people and their equally dangerous philosophies, without alienating even more individuals. Perhaps more importantly, may we all have the wisdom to see and help those we love slipping away from us, caught up in a spell of ideas in a moment of weakness.
Most importantly, may we all have the wisdom to look within ourselves, identify and eradicate or at least contain the extremism we all harbor in these trying times in our own country. We have 93 dead on a weekly basis, and far more desperate young men ready to believe in anything that may give their lives meaning in a crisis. That is what we should focus on after tragedies such as what happened in Norway.