White supremacists, incestuous hacks and an irate Melanie Phillips

Peter Wilby on why Anders Behring Breivik’s actions must make us challenge our assumptions. Plus: co

When an attack comes from people with brown skins, we know what to make of it. It is an example of "Islamic terrorism", and part of a worldwide conspiracy to overthrow civilisation as we know it. Brown-skinned folk must be closely monitored. Islam's holy book and the statements of Muslim leaders of all sorts must be scrutinised for anything that appears to encourage or excuse violent acts.

When a Nordic white supremacist kills scores of Norwegians in what may turn out to be Europe's biggest single act of terrorism next to the Lockerbie bombing and the 2004 Madrid atrocities, our responses - or at least those of the media - are instinctively different. While any Muslim killer is potentially an al-Qaeda agent, Anders Behring Breivik must be an unhinged loner and misfit. The category "Christian terrorist" does not exist and so neither the Pope nor the Archbishop of Canterbury is called upon to dissociate himself. "Links" to the English Defence League are alleged, but though the league is considered racist and inflammatory, it is rarely presented as an existential threat to western liberal democracy.

Right-wing killers, it is assumed, are not ­internationally co-ordinated and do not attend jihadist training camps. They do not, therefore, present a serious danger to "our way of life". Whatever the truth that ultimately emerges, Breivik should at least cause us to question those assumptions.

Extremists in our midst

We in Britain may have been spared a similar atrocity only by luck. Police regularly find white supremacists in possession of rocket launchers, grenades, pipe bombs and manuals on how to use them, and some senior officers have warned that elements on the extreme right would like to stage their own "spectacular". Most people recall David Copeland, the former BNP member whose nail bombs, planted in London in 1999 and aimed at gays, blacks and Bangladeshis, killed three and injured 139. But how many have heard of Robert Cottage, Martyn Gilleard, Neil Lewington, Terence Gavan and Ian Davison?

Cottage, a former BNP candidate, was jailed in 2007 for storing explosive chemicals in anticipation of a civil war. Gilleard, an organiser for the British People's Party, which has fielded candidates in local elections, was jailed in 2008 for possession of bullets, swords, knives, nail bombs, manuals on how to make bombs and sub-machine guns. Lewington, a neo-Nazi, was jailed indefinitely in 2009 after police discovered a bomb-making factory in his flat. Gavan, a former BNP member, was jailed on terrorism charges in 2010 after bombs, shotguns and pistols were found at his house. Davison became the first Briton to be jailed for making a chemical weapon in May 2010. His Aryan Strike Force recruited 350 people over the internet with the aim of establishing white supremacy in white countries.

None of these cases was prominently reported in the national media. Muslims, on the other hand, need only sneeze or download a dubious text from the internet to put the mass-circulation press on red alert.

Medicine for Melanie

The left-wing blog Liberal Conspiracy points out that Breivik's 1,500-page online "manifesto" carries two extensive quotations from the work of the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. She has taken this badly. Suggestions that she supports terrorism or is responsible, even indirectly, for mass murder in Norway, she argues, show "the frenzy of a western culture that has lost its mind". A "blood-lust is building" against her, she warns. Well, to use her favourite exclamation, golly. One is bound to sympathise but one also feels bound to point out that she frequently denounces those who do not share her views on Israel as "fellow-travellers of Islamofascism and genocidal Judaeo­phobia". It isn't nice to be accused of inspiring white supremacist killers but nor is it nice to be accused of supporting genocide.

Hacks at the sharp end

In this column two weeks ago, I suggested that journalists with intimate knowledge of the newspaper industry should be in charge of attempts to put its house in order. Those chosen to sit on the Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking are not what I had in mind. Elinor Goodman and George Jones, former political editors of Channel 4 News and the Daily Telegraph, respectively, were members of the Westminster lobby, a peculiarly closed and incestuous community almost entirely removed from mainstream journalism. They, like Sir David Bell, a former Financial Times journalist who rose to company chairman, know little about the sharp end of newsgathering but lots about what politicians consider acceptable. Which is, no doubt, why they were chosen.

Over and over again

The first Test match in this summer's series ­between England and India was gripping. It would have been more so if overs had not been bowled at such a leisurely pace. At Leeds in 1930, when Donald Bradman scored a triple century, Australia reached 566 by lunchtime on the second day, suggesting England bowled at least 20 overs an hour. Now, 14 overs an hour is considered fast going.

Even for Twenty20 cricket, supposedly invented for the super-fast modern era, teams are allowed 75 minutes to complete their overs, a rate of 16 an hour. Still, it would be a mercy to paying spectators, as well as those watching at home, if a similar rate could be achieved in Test cricket, with fielding teams incurring heavy penalties in runs when the target is missed.

But it won't happen: the delays give the television companies more opportunities to slip in advertising breaks.

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 01 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the far right