Right-wing terror in Norway
reports on the murderous rampage in Norway by a far-right sympathizer--and the media's rush to blame an all-too-familiar scapegoat.
CLOSE TO 100 people died in Norway at the hands of a far-right fanatic whose connections to the organized racists and Islamophobes extend to the anti-Muslim bigots in the U.S.
Anders Behring Breivik is accused of setting a car bomb in downtown Oslo. At least seven people died in the blast in front of the Oil Ministry, but which also apparently targeted a 17-story office tower that contained the offices of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, leader of the governing Labor Party.
But the much more terrible death toll came from a shooting spree at an island summer camp for young members of the Labor Party.
Breivik, dressed as a police officer, reportedly claimed he was on the island of Utoya, northwest of Oslo, for a "security check." After gathering campers together, he opened fire--and proceeded to hunt down and kill dozens more after the initial bloodbath. He continued murdering until police finally made it to the island--and then gave himself up.
According to lawyer Geir Lippestad, Breivik confessed to the killings and said he "went to Utoya to give the Labor Party a warning that 'doomsday would be imminent' unless the party changed its policies."
The media instantly blamed "Islamic terrorism" for the killings, but Breivik is the exact opposite--a former member of the youth wing of Norway's far-right Progress Party, with "a history of anti-Muslim commentary and an affection for Muslim-hating blogs such as Pam Geller's Atlas Shrugged, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch," as Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald reported.
To judge from his messages on Facebook and other websites, Breivik saw himself as a warrior against immigrants--especially Muslim immigrants, who he blamed for "[transforming] my beloved Oslo into a multicultural shithole." In one post, according to a rough translation from Norwegian, Breivik declared:
The essence is that Muslim boys learn pride in their own religion, culture and cultural conservative values at home, while Norwegian men have been feminized and taught excessive tolerance. This makes them totally unprepared for what awaits them...
The curriculum at school now also largely consists of the demonization of our ancestors (evil imperialists, big farmers who raped maids, bloodthirsty Crusaders who invaded the peaceful Muslims), while it gives a victim role to Muslims. The result is that Norwegian girls aged 12-18 are particularly vulnerable and often oppressed.
Breivik saw himself as an organizer--and expressed admiration for the English Defense League (EDL), the Islamophobic and thuggish group that has become a serious force in Britain. Breivik wrote:
I must say I am very impressed with how quickly they have grown, but this has to do with smart tactical choice by management...Creating a Norwegian EDL should be number three on the agenda after we have started up a cultural conservative newspaper with national distribution.
The agenda of the Norwegian cultural conservative movement over the next five years is therefore:
1. Newspaper with national distribution
2. Working for the control of several NGOs
3. Norwegian EDL
FROM THE moment news broke about the explosion in Oslo, though, the international media had their eyes on a different culprit: Muslims.
The headline on Rupert Murdoch's vile Sun newspaper in Britain blared: "'Al-Qaeda' Massacre: Norway's 9/11." Ironically, the right-wingers that Breivik admired joined in, too. Stop Islamization of America founder Pamela Geller lectured: "You can ignore jihad, but you cannot avoid the consequences of ignoring jihad."
But the less openly partisan media and pundits were no less quick to conclude that al-Qaeda was to blame. As Shiva Balaghi wrote on the Jadaliyya website:
I read a story in the New York Times that squarely pointed to jihadi groups angered at the war in Afghanistan. The expert the Times cited was Will McCants. I checked in on his Twitter feed throughout the day, as he allegedly translated an alleged website by the alleged terrorists responsible for the attacks in Norway. Throughout the day, he translated Arabic phrases from a forum about the type of explosives used, car chases through Oslo and arrests, etc....
The Financial Times was no better. From the start, it reported allegations of Islamic terrorism, continuing with this view well into its evening reporting, by which time an arrest had already been made in the case...Judy Woodruff's interview with a Norwegian journalist that aired on PBS's NewsHour followed a similar scenario.
Even after it became undeniable that a white, Christian, Norwegian man was responsible for the rampage, the media still seemed determined to blame Muslims. A New York Times article that reported on Breivik's arrest in its opening paragraph nevertheless quoted "terrorism specialists" who claimed that:
even if the authorities ultimately ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday's assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking al-Qaeda's signature brutality and multiple attacks.
"If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from al-Qaeda," said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. "One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons."
In other words, as Greenwald observed, "Al-Qaeda is always to blame, even when it isn't, even when it's allegedly the work of a Nordic, Muslim-hating, right-wing European nationalist."
And who can take seriously the idea that "brutality" and "multiple attacks" are somehow the innovative "signature" of al-Qaeda alone--especially with information emerging that Breivik used ammonium nitrate fertilizer for his car bomb, just like right-winger Timothy McVeigh when he demolished the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995?
According to European Union officials, in 2009, there were 294 attempted terrorist attacks, successful and not, in six European countries. The EU report concluded that Islamist groups were responsible for exactly one. "Yes, one," wrote Canadian journalist Dan Gardner. "Out of 294 attacks. In a population of half a billion people. To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comité d'Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine."
NOW THAT the media are focusing on Breivik and his right-wing views, he is being portrayed as a lone crackpot, complete with a 1,517-page self-published manifesto allegedly copied in part from the Unabomber.
But Breivik's diatribes against Muslims and multiculturalism are very much a part of political debate in Europe, as in America--a direct result of the rightward shift in mainstream politics and the frightening successes of the far right that have only accelerated during a period of economic crisis.
Thus, while Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that Breivik's assault went against "freedom, respect and the belief in peaceful coexistence," she herself recently joined fellow right-wing heads of state Nicolas Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of Britain in campaigning against "multiculturalism" so hated by Breivik.
"Multiculturalism" has become a favorite target for conventional conservatives and far-right sympathizers alike--they use this shorthand phrase to refer to liberal immigration policies and tolerance for the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Last year, for example, Sarkozy attempted to rebound from dropping support in opinion polls by carrying out a mass deportation of Roma immigrants and championing legislation to ban full facial veils worn by some Muslim women in public spaces. Merkel, too, is attempting to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment to shore up support for her Christian Democratic Union.
This rhetoric is characteristic of the last 20 years since the end of the Cold War--and the creation of new scapegoats to replace Communism: Islam and immigration.
But it is also further evidence of how ideas once confined to the far right have permeated mainstream politics--thanks not only to attempts by mainstream conservatives to co-opt the support of far-right groups, but of the capitulation of one-time social-democratic parties like Britain's Labour on immigration and other questions.
Europe's far right has enjoyed more than ideological success. Its parties have made electoral gains that would have seemed unimaginable a few decades ago, including in northern European countries like Norway once known as havens of social democracy.
Norway's right-wing populist Progress Party, for example, is the second-largest party in parliament, with 23 percent of the vote in September 2009 elections. In Finland, a similar populist formation, True Finns, is third among the country's political parties. In Sweden, the far-right Sweden Democrats won seats in parliament for the first time after winning 5.7 percent of the vote in elections last year.
Also nearby is the Netherlands, where the Party of Freedom won 15.5 percent of the national vote last year on a virulently anti-immigrant platform--the party's founder Geert Wilders is notorious for having compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.
[T]he ideas that led Breivik to fascism are not at all marginal. The Islamophobia that has been energetically disseminated by the belligerents of the "war on terror," the view seriously entertained by many that Europe's Muslim minority constitutes a threat meriting legal supervision and restriction at the very least, has provided the intellectual and moral basis for the mass murder of Norwegian children.
No one who is not prepared to countenance this can have anything morally serious or even creditable to say about this slaughter. And anyone who starts from the idea of blaming Islam is placing themselves in a contemptible affinity with the perpetrator.
No part of the political mainstream--neither conservative nor liberal parties--is blameless in the crusade against immigrants and Muslims that shaped Anders Behring Breivik.
But this has also produced revulsion among millions of people horrified by the return of the far right and its ideology--whether in the form of openly fascist parties in Europe or the Islamophobic fanatics who gravitate to the Tea Party movement in the U.S. or the "respectable" politicians on both continents who seek to exploit anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Turning that revulsion into active opposition is the best way to present an alternative to the hatred and violence of the far right.