It is very quiet in the streets. Everywhere there are flowers. There is a strong will not to allow this situation to create a climate of fear. What we see right now is Norway and Oslo from their best sides.
If we want to learn from these killings and want to prevent similar attacks in the future it is necessary to understand the political and social contexts which have shaped Anders Breivik’s ideas and his view of the world.
The only one responsible before the law is Breivik himself. But his deed is an act of political terror, which remains unintelligible if the political environment is not also considered. It is about the topics of integration and about Muslims in Norway and other Western societies. Breivik regards Muslims as a foreign occupying power and speaks about a permanent war between Western and Islamic societies.
The facts themselves have only little to do with Islamophobia. Not more than 3.5 per cent of Norway’s population are Muslim. In spite of this, islamophobic groups continue to claim that Islam represents a danger to the Western world and thus also to Norway. Often the arguments are demographic: in so and so many years Muslims would make up the majority. An implicit claim in this line of reasoning is therefore, that Muslims are not only dangerous in general, but they are so invariably, and from (or even before) birth. These groups consider others who do not regard Muslims as a danger, as traitors. To their minds this legitimises the use of drastic means. And if one thinks about the means that could be applied against traitors in situations of war, it is easy to understand that some people could be prompted even to violent acts.
The gaining of popularity in Scandinavia of populist, right-wing groups shows that hatred is the consequence if people are turned into scapegoats for all kinds of social and economic problems. If people talk mostly to the likeminded and confirm their view of the world to each other – on different websites or comment pages – an ideological system of reference is created. If you take a short glimpse at Breivik’s manifesto, you will see that there is virtually nothing new in it. In terms of claims and points of departure, most of it can also be found in many forums on the Internet, but to a growing extent also in mainstream channels. And this is not limited to Norway only. This could also have happened in Denmark, Holland, Austria or Italy. There the same worlds of thought regarding Muslims can be found.
In most cases, right-wing populism is strongly linked to the political situation in the respective countries. In Nordic countries, right-wing populists have always drawn a clear demarcation line to the Social Democratic parties, who to their minds have always been traitors to this or that cause. What is interesting, however, is that the kind of Islamophobic rhetoric has meanwhile become a common denominator to right-wing populist parties. Although they come from different ideological and historical backgrounds, all these parties have in their programmes the kind of Islamophobic rhetoric which also appears in Breivik’s manifesto. This is a transnational movement which has to be understood, analysed and actively denounced.
The strategy of some Social Democratic parties to also adopt right-wing populist elements has turned out a disastrous one. The general setup in which the right-wing populists could prosper was the weakening of the Social Democrats – at least in the Nordic countries. What was more decisive, however, was the diffusion of the political conflict along the socio-economic axis. If as a voter, I can no longer make out any clear differences between Social Democrats and Conservatives as regards economic policy, the reform of the welfare state and the fight against terrorism, this will lead to my interest in politics deteriorating or to other topics gaining prominence; for example, so-called cultural topics or the topic of immigration.
To successfully fight increasing right-wing populism, two things are necessary: First, it has to be understood that Islamophobia is the form fascism and racism are taking nowadays; and second, the progressive parties would again have to take on the roles of true and reliable representatives of people’s social and economic interests.
I hope that the strength demonstrated so impressively in these days by Norwegian society to return to its original values such as equality of all, no matter what their origin and their religion, will continue. This is and was also Norway. And I hope that this Norway will be able to prove that it is stronger than hatred and xenophobia.