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Europe’s simmering extremists (Herald Tribune)

31/07/2011

Europe’s new far right is not neo-nazi; it has traded anti-semitism for Islamophobia.

Jostein Gaarder and Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Many on the far right see themselves as defenders of enlightened values, including feminism.

OSLO It is tempting to view Anders Behring Breivik, the self-described Christian crusader behind the July 22 massacre inNorway, as an isolated case of pure evil. Yet history has taught us that such acts of violence rarely occur independent of their social and cultural surroundings. The assassination of Sweden’s prime minister, Olof Palme, on a Stockholm street in 1986, like the shooting in January of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords outside a shopping mall in Arizona, took place at a timewhen caustic antigovernment rhetoric was widespread.

Breivik managed to commit two terrorist attacks in a single afternoon. But the hatred and contempt fromwhich he drew his derangeddetermination were sharedwith many others throughout the international blogosphere of the extreme right. The racism and bigotry onanti-Islamic and anti-immigration Web sites in Norway and otherEuropean countries and inAmerica made it possible for him to believe hewas acting onbehalf of a community thatwould thank him.

Norway’s security police had estimated that only a small number of Norwegians belonged to domestic right-wing extremist groups in 2010 and that they did not pose a security threat— an estimate that clearly has turned out to be erroneous. There may be only a few known members of ragged and powerless white-power groups, but the thousands of extremistswho don’t belong to recognized groups are harder to pin down.

The Islamophobic blogosphere consists of loosely connected networks of people. Many do not see themselves as ‘‘right-wing,’’ but as defenders of enlightened values, including feminism.

The Islamophobes of Norway have no manifesto, but they share three fundamental views: thatNorway is in the hands of a spineless, politically correct elite that has betrayed the pure spirit of Norwegian culture by permitting demographic contamination; thatMuslims will never be truly integrated; and that there is a Muslim conspiracy to gain political dominance across Europe.

Hatred of Muslims and resentment of the left— one of us has repeatedly received resentful diatribes against the ‘‘multiculturalist elite,’’ and wasmentioned inBreivik’s own writings— is not confined toNorway.

Breivik has praisedGates of Vienna, a Web site that compares contemporary Europe to long-agowarswith theOttomans. He has praisedwriters like Bruce Bawer, theAmerican author of ‘‘While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying theWest fromWithin,’’and Bat Ye’Or, the pseudonymfor the British author of ‘‘Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis.’’ He is an enthusiastic reader of the virulently anti-Islamic blog of Pamela Geller, an Americanwho leads the group ‘‘Stop Islamization of America.’’

Europe’s new far right is, in other words, not neo-Nazi; it has swapped anti-Semitism for Islamophobia. Traditional racism may actually bewaning in several European countries, but hostility toward Islam and animosity toward Muslim immigrants is on the rise.

Norwegian society is changing, and rapid immigration has led to tensions. In a country of under 5 million people, the number of immigrants and their children has doubled to over 550,000 in the last 15 years. Many of themare Poles and Swedes seeking work, and their presence is uncontroversial. Others have arrived as refugees and asylumseekers fromcountries like Somalia, Iraq and Bosnia. And a substantial number have come to Norway to join relatives or spouses already in the country. About 200,000— includingmore than 30,000 Pakistanis — have roots in Muslim countries.

Because of our healthy economy, fueled byNorth Sea oil, controversies over immigration tend to concern culture rather than economics. The perception that immigrants are patriarchal and insular has sparked controversies over everything fromschool excursions to swimming lessons to disrespect for female teachers. Yet many ‘‘new Norwegians’’ fully participate in society. Indeed, some of themwere at work in the government buildings destroyed last week; others were taking part in the Utoya summer camp.

Conceding that a culturally diverse society raises complex social and political questions is one thing. It is quite another to state thatamulticultural society is impossible, or that Islam is incompatible withdemocracy. Yet the blogosphere to which Breivik belonged took these views as a basic premise.

It is too early to tell if anything positive can emerge fromthis tragedy. In the coming elections, Norway’sLabor Party will likely receive many sympathy votes and the right could be adversely affected by its associationswith Islamophobia. In the long run, the situation is less certain. In other Scandinavian countries, Social Democrats have beenpushed to the right by anti-immigration parties. We hope thatNorway’s longstanding consensus about immigration and integrationpolicieswill not be eroded.

Until last week, Norwegian authorities did not see the far right as a security threat. Breivik has now shown that thosewho claim to protect the next generation against Islamist extremism are, in fact, the greatermenace.

JOSTEIN GAARDER is the author of ‘‘Sophie’s World’’ and many other books. THOMAS HYLLAND ERIKSEN is a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo.

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