What do the tragic events in Utoya and Oslo tell us about the status of far-right, anti-immigrant or Islamophobic politics in Norway, Scandinavia and the rest of Europe? Commentators and “security experts” — many of whom were initially convinced of the Islamic nature of the attacks — have spent the past month speculating.
What were the perpetrator’s motives? Was he radicalised by his time in the anti-immigrant Progress Party or through his links with the English Defence League? Did his extreme views on the nature of Islam and mainstream politics lead directly to scores of people losing their lives? Should Europe brace itself for future attacks inspired by the far right?
It is comforting to look for meaning behind individual acts of murderous violence. It is far more difficult to accept that there is no proven path to radicalisation that inevitably leads to violent extremism. “Security experts” should take note that there is not necessarily a direct link between a person holding “radical” political views and a willingness to commit violent acts.
Variations of the anti-establishment, virulently Islamophobic views attributed to Anders Behring Breivik are held by significant sections of European publics. They frequently emerge from the mouths of elected representatives of anti-immigrant populist parties in national and European parliaments. They are celebrated in the comment pages of distinguished publications across the world. Popular figureheads occasionally inform me of the impending Islamic takeover of Europe, backed up by dubious statistics regarding birthrates and migration patterns.
These “radical” views are not the sole preserve of a disparate violent fringe — they are becoming legitimised as part of the political discourse. The “one long scream of resentment”, in the words of the late historian Tony Judt, “at immigrants, at unemployment, at crime and insecurity, at ‘-’ and in general at ‘-’ who have brought it all about” is being heard by more people than ever before. Yet there is a danger of reading too much into these opinions as the catalyst for an individual atrocity.
Those who feel that these events offer up the opportunity to diminish the power of far right, anti-immigrant or Islamophobic populist parties may also be disappointed: many of their supporters are horrified by these events too. Norway’s anti-immigrant FrP party leader, Siv Jensen, stated, soon after the attacks, that “an extremist” conducted these “repulsive” attacks and that “we stand together in this tragedy”. So events like this can actually play a role in mainstreaming these parties. It allows them to say: “We are not the extremists — they are the extremists. We abhor violence. We are a legitimate part of the democratic mainstream.”
Anti-immigrant populism is gaining momentum across Europe, taking advantage of sizable economic and social fears, a growing anti-elite sentiment and the creeping legitimisation of Islamophobia. These parties should be opposed not because they may have tangentially “inspired” individual acts of symbolic violence, but because their programme is dehumanising, sectarian and threatens the basis of a stable, cohesive society.
(mondediplo.com / 02.09.2011)