Anders Behring Breivik has now entered the history books as one of the worst terrorist killers ever. The extreme right-wing Norwegian murdered at least 90 people in two separate attacks in and around Oslo, a city renowned for its beauty, charm and tranquility.
But, I wonder, will the emergence of Breivik – a tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Christian – change the Western public’s conception of what a “terrorist” looks like?
Ever since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., airplane officials have racially profiled thousands of people who seemed to fit the physical description of “terrorist." They have been removed from flights, forbidden from entering airplanes, and in some cases even arrested and deported.
This policy has ensnared and victimized numerous people from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (as well as from Middle Eastern nations and elsewhere) who had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.
Indian Sikhs have particularly suffered from this form of racial persecution since their beards, moustaches and turbans seemed similar to the “wardrobe” of al-Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden. Sikhs in the U.S. and UK were not only attacked, beaten and abused in the days following 9/11, but some were actually murdered. (Ironically, Sikhs and Muslims have been historical enemies.)
Now, what about Anders Behring Breivik?
Will men who look like him be similarly profiled and watched when they seek to board a plane or any other form of public transport? Will people suddenly become anxious and “on guard” upon the sight of tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed men? Will police and immigration authorities ask them personal and hostile questions simply because of what they look like?
I hardly think this will ever happen.
Timothy McVeigh killed more than 160 people when he set off bombs in Oklahoma City in 1995. He looked like the all-American boy. He paid for his crimes, but no one ever becomes uncomfortable in airports when they see people who look like McVeigh.
Breivik will likely be written off as an anomaly – some right-wing nut, who is probably mentally ill … and not part of some wider conspiracy to commit mass murder on innocent people.
Meanwhile, people with olive-to-dark brown complexions, beards and (especially) turbans, will continue to be watched with extreme suspicion and fear.