Norway and the war on terror

August 4, 2011

Elizabeth Schulte explains how the "war on terror" lets the real purveyors of violence go free.

IN THE aftermath of the right-wing terrorist attack in Norway last month, it became clearer that ever--the U.S.-led "war on terror" has nothing to do with making the world a safer and freer place. In fact, it has only made it more dangerous and less democratic.

Despite all the pious words from Republicans and Democrats alike, the only thing the supporters of the war on terror have succeeded in is turning suspicion against Arabs and Muslims, whipping up Islamophobic sentiment and then acting surprised when there's a violent backlash.

And when the face of terrorism is a far-right extremist that doesn't fit their "Islamic terrorist" mold, they turn the other way.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, in which right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik is accused of setting off a bomb near Norway's oil ministry and going on a shooting spree that killed 77 people, many of them teenagers attending a Labor Party Youth Movement camp, the last thing on the media's mind was right-wing terrorists.

On the contrary, they were determined it was Islamic terrorists or al-Qaeda copycats.

The remains of the Norway's prime minister's office after Anders Breivik's terror attack
The remains of the Norway's prime minister's office after Anders Breivik's terror attack (Alejandro Decap)

But within hours of the incident, it became obvious that the assault wasn't the act of Muslim extremists but a white, right-wing Christian fanatic who blamed Muslims, immigrants, multiculturalism, Marxism, feminism and trade unions for destroying his "beloved Oslo."

Organizing by the far right in Scandinavia has been well-documented by activists like the late author and antifascist Stieg Larsson, a regular contributor to the antiracist magazine Expo who also found himself the target of death threats from fascists. But despite reports of fascist activity, the Norwegian government chose instead to focus elsewhere.

"In an annual threat assessment published in January, the Norwegian security service highlighted the 'heightening' threat posed by radical Islamists in Norway but said 'far-right and far-left extremist communities will not pose a serious threat to Norwegian society in 2011,'" reported the Financial Times.

Moreover, the racist hatred of Breivik and others like him was fueled by anti-Muslim sentiment that is part and parcel of the war on terror. Norway's Progress Party, the right-wing populist party that Breivik was a member of until 2007 and the second-largest party in the Norwegian parliament, has in the past whipped up its base by scapegoating immigrants and Muslims.

Even after it was clear the killing spree was the work of the right, leading Progress Party members were determined to stay on message. "All the debates that we had prior to July 22 will come back. All the challenges that Norway was facing and the challenges that the world was facing are still there. Al-Qaeda is still there," Progress Party head Siv Jensen told Agence France Presse.

BUT THE right wingers aren't the only ones to blame. Liberal and conservative politicians throughout Europe and in the U.S. have all come to the agreement that the war on "Islamic extremists" is one worth fighting, even if racism is unleashed in the process. This war has given them the excuse to intervene in any number of countries, from Iraq to Yemen to Pakistan.

In the U.S., Republican and Democratic politicians agree that the crusade against terror is a war worth getting behind. And if Islamophobia has flourished as a result, it's a price worth paying.

So for instance, when Obama came under attack for momentarily defending the right for Muslim groups to build the Park51 community center--or the so-called "Ground Zero mosque"--he immediately came back with a retraction, questioning the "wisdom" of building at that location.

Right-wing fanatics--who counted among their forces some unsavory characters, including one of Breivik's favorite bloggers, Pam Geller, the founder of "Stop Islamization of America" who is also a fan of the fascist English Defense League--continued to picket the site, using the memory of September 11 as an excuse for their hate mongering.

Decidedly, if the terrorist is Arab or Muslim, they are more likely to warrant the federal government's attention. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the radical right has grown significantly over the last few years. A recent SPLC report argued, "by far the most dramatic growth came in the antigovernment 'patriot' movement--conspiracy-minded organizations that see the federal government as their primary enemy--which gained more than 300 new groups, a jump of over 60 percent."

In a list of radical right terrorist plots compiled since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and injured 500 more, the SPLC reported, "Most contemplated the deaths of large numbers of people--in one case, as many as 30,000, or 10 times the number murdered on September 11, 2001."

Despite this, Islamic groups remain the federal government's primary focus. This means that Arabs and Muslims are under suspicion when they fly on airplanes. They are under suspicion when they raise money for charitable organizations. They are under suspicion when they speak out. And they are under suspicion when they gather to worship.

In February, several Muslim organizations filed a lawsuit against the FBI for targeting them for surveillance and infiltration in violation of their First Amendment rights and the right to be free from religious discrimination.

"So extreme was the FBI informant's efforts to lure mosque members into terrorist plots--following the FBI's typical pattern of manufacturing its own plots and then touting it success in stopping them--that members in one of the targeted mosques actually called law enforcement authorities to report the informant for appearing dangerous and unstable," reported's Glenn Greenwald.

The Department of Justice dismissed their suit, citing "state secrets" privilege.

CLEARLY, THE solution to preventing acts of terrorist violence isn't delivering greater power to federal or state governments. As the war on terror has shown, when the federal government isn't scapegoating Arabs, Muslims and immigrants, it uses these powers to shred our civil liberties and crack down on left-wing dissent.

This is a longstanding tradition. During the civil rights movement of he 1960s, when white supremacists terrorized, tortured and lynched civil rights activists, the federal government turned its attention toward investigating and harassing the movement itself. The FBI wiretapped and bugged civil rights organizations and constructed a campaign of dirty tricks to try to discredit Rev. Martin Luther King.

The federal government's priority wasn't keeping the racist terrorists in line, but controlling the liberation movement that threatened to upend the status quo.

The answer for us today is creating a climate in which Islamophobia and racism is publicly opposed, and creating our own atmosphere of intolerance--against racism and bigotry.

It was multiracial counterprotests, built from the bottom up, that successfully countered the racist hatred of the anti-Park51 demonstrators a year ago, and offered an alternative of solidarity and unity. Similarly, in Norway, hundreds of antiracist protesters turned out to confront the Norwegian Defense League when they tried to mobilize their forces in April, vastly outnumbering them and overwhelming the racists' message.

Hand in hand with opposing racism and bigotry in all its forms goes opposing a "war on terror" that has meant only more war and more terror for people around the globe--more terror for the thousands of Afghan people who have died in the U.S. war there and for every country where there's a U.S.-sponsored soldier, bomb or predator drone.

It's U.S. empire--pursuing to control the globe and squeeze profits from every corner--that is to blame for the violence and terror. It's in all our interest to oppose it, and the racism that props it up.

Further Reading

From the archives