The details of the horrific terrorist attacks in Norway are well known. Most of the media commentary has focused on whether Anders Breivik, the perpetrator, was insane or mentally disturbed.
While Breivik may have had mental health issues, there is no doubt that a racist political culture gave rise to the diseased mind and criminal actions of Breivik. He circulated in a racist milieu created by the convergence of far-right parties, and the growing anti-immigrant and Islamophobic mainstream political culture. The growing European extremist far-right parties are the dangerous terrorist threat in our midst, more so than the much-hyped jihadist irritant. The Left has been warning about the interplay of economic degradation and anti-immigrant politics that results in the growth of racist, rightwing parties that advocate anti-immigrant policies, blame multiculturalism and Islam for Europe’s problems, and express their grievances through violence.
Hopenothate documents that Breivik was active in the anti-immigrant Progress Party in Norway, and strongly supported the English Defence League, a fascistic, racist group in England. His strongest admiration was for the Dutch Party for Freedom, the racist, Islamophobic party in the Netherlands headed by Geert Wilders.
As Michael Brenner states in Counterpunch; will the Oslo attacks prompt a rethink about the main terrorist threat from the extreme rightwing and make us question the purported monolithic Islamic jihadist threat, a rationale used to justify a ‘war on terror’, ongoing invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as covert military operations in Somalia, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries? The Norway attacks should compel us to question the underlying assumption that a tight-knit group of jihadist fanatics, taking a literal interpretation of the Quran and hating every value that the West stands for, are intent on unleashing acts of violence against targets in Europe. We must also question the widespread insinuation that Muslim communities in Europe are hotbeds of Islamic conservatism, a fifth column if you will, preaching hostility to their host country and plotting a takeover through the imposition of Sharia law and a high birthrate. These are fundamental principle of most anti-terrorism measures since September 11, 2001. Will the Norway attacks compel us to rethink this assumption and change our policies to address the greater danger, the terrorist threat of rightwing racist violence, especially in Europe? I wonder if we will examine Christian fundamentalism with the same rigorous scrutiny that we examine Islamist clerics of every stripe?
As Seumas Milne states; ‘whatever Breivik has done, he hasn’t done in isolation’. Breivik’s repulsive manifesto is dripping with hatred of Muslims, multiculturalism and is based in Christian conservatism. That is nothing unusual in today’s far-right Europe. But what is even more disturbing is that this way of thinking reflects the ideas and values of mainstream conservative thinkers, at least since the 2001 September 11 attacks. The supposed ‘Islamification of Europe’, the alleged swamping of Europe and America with refugees, the appeasement of Islam by multiculturalism (whatever that is supposed to mean), and the constant sharia-hysteria – all these ideas have found a comfortable resonance within mainstream political culture, and conservative writers, while condemning the terrorist violence of Breivik, have all contributed to the poisonous ideology that gave rise to his violent behaviour. Melanie Phillips, a writer at the Daily Mail, has long spoken of the multicultural policies of Britain as ‘treachery’, undermining the British identity, and has repeatedly complained in her writings that mass immigration is going to swamp Britain. While there is a big difference between Phillips’ scholarly veneer and Breivik’s ranting, there is an underlying ideological continuum. Fixating exclusively on jihadism has made us ignore the ever-rising terrorist threat in our midst.
As Miriyam Aouragh and Richard Seymour note, ‘the “war on terror” licensed a period of intense imperial revivalism.’ The inspiration for Breivik came from mainstream intellectuals and writers, who have dehumanised Islam and Muslim as uniquely irrational, savage and barbaric, engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’ against our western way of life – remember Samuel Huntington and his semi-scholarly ravings?
And it is not just in Britain, but across Europe, there is a convergence of Islamophobic politics, diatribes against the supposed threat of Sharia law, and the anti-immigrant far-right groups that have increased because of economic discontent. The words ‘Hitler was right’ were spray painted on a memorial stone in Vilnius, Lithuania, to the 72 000 Jews who were killed by fascist Lithuanian paramilitary forces in Ponary Forest during World War Two. The far-right has traditionally attacked Jews, but is now moving onto a new target. Interestingly, Breivik claimed admiration not just for far-right political parties in Europe, but also expressed support for Zionism, and the Serbian paramilitaries who murdered thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s. I suppose that birds of a feather flock together.
The Socialist Worker newspaper has long covered terrorist violence from the anti-immigrant groups, while the hate-spouting neo-conservative writers like Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis and Bill O’Reilly simply shrug their shoulders and continue on their way disseminating hatred. Attacking Islam and multiculturalism from the right has long been a staple of the mainstream media, and now we see the results. But do not worry, the terrorism experts who have been bloviating for years about jihadism, now explain to us the cause of Breivik’s atrocity; Islam.
More importantly, this is the world that created Breivik and thousands like him; a world where government social services are increasingly privatised and unemployment is on the rise; where the 1991 US war on Iraq was televised as a spectacle to behold in awesome regard; where Muslims are regarded as terrible threat to ‘our’ way of life (I still do not know what ‘our way of life is supposed to be); where multiculturalism is under sustained attack as ‘appeasement’; where the labour unions have retreated and the major Labour parties have accommodated themselves to the capitalist agenda of cost-cutting and corporate profits; and since 2001, the US in cooperation with several European countries are waging criminal wars of occupation against countries with predominantly Muslim populations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with these realities are the culture wars – the attacks on migrants and refugees, the ‘jihad versus McWorld’ philosophy of rightwing blowhards like Benjamin Barber, (that was the title of his 1996 book)
The convergence of the Islamophobic culture and the far-right has resulted in parliamentary success – many current European governments are ruling in coalition with extreme rightwing parties, such as in Denmark and Austria.
The mass protests in Oslo in the wake of the terrorist killings, the thousands of people marching to oppose rightwing terrorism gives us hope for the future.