Norway killings a symptom of spreading ideology

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EDMONTON (CUP) –– In the wake of the nightmarish massacre of at least 76 people in Norway, it's easy to characterize the tragedy as a single instance of insanity, or an anomaly within an otherwise peaceful Nordic social democracy. But the event is a symptom of a larger problem: an unpleasant direction in European politics.

Giving a person whose twisted morality justifies murder a podium and a megaphone to promote his ideology would be disrespectful to his victims. But it would be just as great a disservice to totally ignore the dangerous current – the expanding extreme right-wing faction – from which the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, ultimately hails. While a member of the most violent periphery of this community, Breivik’s ideology, pairing nationalism and conservative Christian values with virulent anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, is growing across the continent.

From Breivik’s words in court and in an absurdly long and ridiculous manifesto he distributed on the day of the massacre, it was this shared fear that drove him to target Norway’s ruling Labour Party in Oslo and at the youth camp. He believed this would punish the Labour Party for its soft stance on immigration, decimate its future leadership, and most importantly, bring his views wider attention.

There's no alternative than to contemptuously grant him the latter, as not to do so would represent a failure in guarding against the revival of far-right political extremes. With the growing support of numerous far-right political parties following the global recession, it's hard not to notice a disconcerting parallel to the rise of fascism across Europe following the Great Depression. In times of economic crisis, many jump to blame problems on outsiders or minorities, and appeal for the “cleansing” of a nation and its culture.

Far-right parties that have won increased support in recent years include the Sweden Democrats, Hungary’s Jobbik Party, France’s National Front, and the Freedom Party of Austria. In some countries, such as Italy, far-right parties are members of governing coalitions.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom has attracted a great deal of media attention with its law and order platform, and stated intentions to ban the Qu’ran and cease immigration from Muslim countries. The UK has not been immune to trends on the mainland; the blatantly fascist British National Party won great popular support in the most recent election, though it did not take any seats in Parliament. On the street level, the English Defence League is an active presence that the police often have to separate from Muslin crowds.

None of these parties openly endorse violence, but all place staunch nationalism and patriotism at their core, wish to minimize or eliminate immigration, and some, openly or discreetly, espouse views opposed to homosexuality, Muslims, the Roma people, and Jews. Some take a pro-Israel stance, fatuously citing this as proof that they aren’t in any way ideologically related to fascism.

Any group founded solely to oppose another ethnicity or culture, and mould an exclusive and rigid definition of a “nation,” is prone to violent tendencies. The more mainstream members of far-right parties may oppose Breivik’s actions, yet with such ideologies expanding, such savagery is inevitable. It's no coincidence that angry, paranoid, unemployed, often under-educated young men form the largest demography in many far-right groups.

Ironically, Breivik and some of his fellow ideologues bear a resemblance to the Islamic extremists they chiefly oppose. A conflict is indeed raging in Europe and elsewhere in the world, yet it would be both harmful and false to frame it as the West versus Islam – many in the media were too eager to find some scimitar-wielding Islamic organization to claim responsibility for Norway’s attacks.

Rather, it is a struggle against those who pursue authoritarian or violent action against innocents as legitimate means to solve problems, or remain reflexively opposed to other cultures, regardless of what religious or nationalistic fervour propels their anger. To decry Europe’s far-right and its worst progeny does not equate to forgetting Islamic extremism; these are rather twins of reactionary xenophobia.

John Miller
The Gateway (University of Alberta)

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