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America's and Norway's common foe

The enemy isn't ideology. The enemy isn't extremism.

The enemy is terrorism, the unsanctioned use of mass violence to achieve political ends. That's what links the recent attacks in Oslo with Sept. 11. That's what connects Anders Breivik with Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, members of the Weather Underground from the 1960s and '70s and others who murder to score political points.

And that's what unites America, Norway and countries around the world in a common cause: the cause of fighting terrorism -- with the goal not of eliminating it (an impossible dream) but of preventing it, minimizing it and punishing those who carry it out.

Breivik -- who has confessed to the Oslo shootings -- has an anti-Muslim ideology, but focusing on his beliefs almost misses the point. The point is not ideology. This point is terrorist violence. There are ideologies of all kinds, and there are radicals of all kinds. The governments of America and Norway, among others, can cope with ideology and radicalism and have been doing so for many years.

Our governments are set up to channel those impulses into governing. Our capitols are designed for the explicit purpose of making sure people settle arguments with votes and not guns.

But terrorists reject all that. Terrorists are radicals-plus: radicals who've turned away from voting and walked across the brightest line of all, the line barring civilian use of violence to achieve political ends.

That's the line Breivik crossed. And once he crossed it, he found himself in unique company. Breivik no doubt loathes the Sept. 11 terrorists and their fanatic willingness to kill and destroy to make their point. But now that he has mass murdered in the name of a cause, he has more in common with them than he does with the citizens he left behind.

He used the same tactic they used on Sept. 11. He and those terrorists murdered with the same zeal. He stands with them on the wrong side of the line.

There is good news in all this. It is that the world's governments are not powerless against terrorism. In the days after a terrorist attack, it sometimes seems as if no one is in control, as if terrorists cannot be stopped.

That's the attack's point, of course: To discredit the government and boost the odds of radical change.

But consider the years -- not the days -- after an attack. Where is the Weather Underground today? Where is the Red Army Faction, the German "urban guerrilla" group responsible for dozens of attacks in the 1970s and '80s?

It's too early to ask "Where is al-Qaida?" -- but it's not too early to note that group's diminishing influence in recent years.

By committing murder, terrorists discredit their cause, turn would-be allies into enemies and mobilize whole populations to fight back. That has spelled the end of groups ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the Symbionese Liberation Army. It'll bring down Breivik's terrorist cause, too. -- Grand Forks Herald