And yet the great thing about being human is our ability to face adversity down by refusing to be defined by it, refusing to be no more than its agent or victim. (Chinua Achebe, The Education of a British-Protected Child, 2010, p. 23)
Terror unexpected: Oslo and Utøya, 22 July 2011
On 22 July 2011, in the midst of the school vacation, many Norwegians were enjoying summer holidays either at home or abroad. Those who remained in Oslo and its surroundings enjoyed the less crowded streets and picnic spots on the small islands in the Oslofjord, known mostly to locals. That day would see overcast weather in the morning, and pouring rain by the late afternoon. July 22 2011 would be the day that the small Scandinavian country of Norway suffered its first ever large-scale terrorist attacks: a bomb placed in a parked van outside Government Headquarters in Oslo and a shooting spree on the small island of Utøya, 60 kilometres north of Oslo, where the Labour Party Youth Organization (AUF) was holding its annual political camp. These attacks left a total of seventy-seven dead. Many more were maimed and scarred for life. At Government Headquarters the bomb blast at precisely 15.22.26 killed eight people, office workers and passers-by between the ages of twenty and sixty-one; nine others were severely injured, and another two hundred people received less severe injuries. In the shooting spree at Utøya, which lasted from shortly after the mass murderer’s arrival at 17.15 to his arrest by a Delta (SWAT) team from Oslo Police at approximately 18.32, 69 people between the ages of 13 and 51 – most between 15 and 19 – of the 564 people on the island – were killed, 67 by shots to the head and two plunging to their deaths or drowning while trying to escape. Disguised as a police officer, the killer walked around the small island, calmly, systematically and without haste calling teenagers to him by pretending that, as a police officer, he had come to their rescue, and then shooting them in the headat point-blank range with either a Ruger shotgun or a Glock pistol. According to some witness testimonies from survivors, the terrorist appeared to be in an elated state, shooting while crying out ‘Today you will die, Marxists!’, and laughing loudly afterwards.
The twenty-storey Government Headquarters was left in ruins; its windows were completely shattered by the blast, as were those of neighbouring shops and buildings, some several hundred metres distant. The explosion could be heard several kilometres away.
Uppermost in most Norwegians’ minds that afternoon, as soon as these events occurred, was a well-established scenario, one which Norwegians had been routinely fed by the Police Security Services (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste, PST), the terror experts at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, FFI), and the mainstream media: if Norway were struck by large-scale terrorist attacks of this kind, they would undoubtedly have been motivated or inspired by radical Islamism as a response to Norwegian military engagements in Afghanistan or to the Norwegian involvement in the so-called cartoon crisis (2005/06). And in its annual open threat assessment (the intelligence assessment made available to the media and the general public) the PST predicted in both 2010 and 2011 that it was mainly ‘extreme Islamists’ with global connections who posed a terror threat to Norway. Neither assessment indicated that groups considered by the PST to be on the extreme right represented a serious threat to Norwegian interests . It was therefore not surprising that both national and international news media throughout the evening and long into the night of 22/7 featured ‘terror experts’ engaging in wild speculation about the identity of the perpetrators and the motives for the terror attacks, ascribing them to al-Qaeda or affiliated radical Islamist groups according to well-established media scripts. Nor was it particularly surprising that most Norwegians – including many Norwegians of Muslim minority background – assumed that radical Islamists were behind the attacks.
However, the initial media reports were wrong. The 22/7 attacks did not involve radical Islamists. The individual who surrendered to Norwegian police at Utøya late that same evening and who confessed to both attacks the following day was a white Norwegian from Skøyen in Oslo West with extreme right-wing views and an intense hatred of both social democrats and Muslims. He had wanted to be captured alive in order to be able to lead his ideological struggle by telling the world about his reasons for wanting to start a war in Europe.
A terrorist among us
Later that evening, the man who was to be charged with the terror attacks was named as Anders Behring Breivik. The thirty-two-year-old son of a short-lived relationship between the former senior Norwegian diplomat Jens David Breivik (1935–) and the auxiliary nurse Wenche Behring (1946–2013), Behring Breivik described himself as a ‘conservative Christian’. However, as was amply illustrated by his deeds and in his tract, he was not in any respects a practising Christian. In his teenage years, he had nourished dreams of becoming a millionaire businessman, and he left high school before attaining his graduation diploma in pursuit of these dreams.
He was involved from 1997 to 2006 with the Norwegian populist right-wing Progressive Party (PP or FrP), which since its emergence in 1973 as a small, obscure anti-taxation and anti-bureaucratic party, through the 1987 parliamentary elections and onwards, had become one of Norway’s largest opposition parties. From 1987 the PP ran on the back of its anti-immigration and anti-Muslim discourse and policies. Postings on a web forum linked to the PP’s youth organization, FpU, from 2002 to 2003 indicate that he was already then intensely preoccupied with the social democrats of the Labour Party and with an allegedly secretive ‘Islamic invasion’ of Europe, which would eventually lead to a ‘civil war’ in Europe. FpU members with whom Behring Breivik was in contact at the time would allege to Norwegian media after 22/7 that he had expressed the view that Islam, rather than radical Islamism, motivated the 9/11 attacks on the USA. According to Norwegian author Aage Borchgrevink, he convinced his mother to become a PP supporter. This claim is, however, contested by the Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, who in her book about 22/7 claims that Wenche Behring Breivik throughout her adult life voted for the Progress Party. She was often seen at the party’s stand outside her local supermarket in her home district of Skøyen ahead of elections.10 Having failed to get nominated to any significant position within the PP and its youth organization, FpU, Behring Breivik’s formal involvement with the PP appears to have ended in disillusionment some time in 2006. That is not to suggest, however, that his support of the PP in any way abated: e-mails by Behring Breivik obtained by a Norwegian author and published in 2012 suggest an intense preoccupation with the PP’s electoral fortunes continuing well beyond 2006.
In the years that followed he was politically radicalized by endless hours on the internet. Yet right until late 2009 to early 2010, Behring Breivik was involved with an outfit called ‘Friends of Document.no’, which had close links with the more radical right-wing elements of the Progress Party centred upon its Oslo MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde. During this period Breivik contacted the PP’s central administration with suggestions for how the party could win political power nationally. So while Anders Behring Breivik’s extreme acts may have much to do with his troubled personal background and mental problems in combination with radicalization through the ‘echo chambers’ of extreme right-wing milieus online, the argument I will advance in this book is simply that these ‘echo chambers’ were not of his own making. This book therefore also speaks to one of the fundamental challenges in late modern liberal and secular ‘Western’ democracies in the era of all-around identity politics and the ‘culturalization of politics’. It is a fact that we, as modern liberal citizens, facilitated by the technological opportunities offered by an internet offering us ‘parallel but separate universes’, increasingly appear to live ‘enclosed in our own bubbles’. This situation is – as Cass Sunstein has reminded us – neither new nor original: there seems to be a basic human social psychological propensity for biased assimilation whereby people ignore contrary evidence, or even become more committed to their original point of view, and motivated assimilation, whereby people process information flows in a way that is distorted by their own emotions and their motivations.
Surveillance footage from the Government Headquarters on Grubbegata showed Behring Breivik making his escape from the scene of the blast – armed with a 9mm Glock 17 pistol and dressed in a fake police uniform purchased on the internet, complete with helmet and bulletproof vest. In spite of encounters with police in his teenage years, he had no criminal record, so he was able to obtain a weapon licence from the Norwegian police by registering as a member of an Oslo pistol club from 2005 to 2007 and again since the summer of 2010. His weapons had been legally purchased from registered Norwegian weapons dealers.
The 950-kilogram fertilizer bomb that would be used in the attack had been made by Behring Breivik at the farm – Vålstua – that he had rented from an elderly retired couple of farmers in rural Åsta in the municipality of Rena, some 165 kilometres north of Oslo, in April 2011. Two years earlier, in 2009, Behring Breivik had registered Breivik Geofarm with the Norwegian company register at Brønnøysund; the farm was officially a producer of ecological products such as fruits and root vegetables. In reality, the farm served as his cover for legally importing substantial amounts of fertilizer.
Behring Breivik, during subsequent police interrogations, never expressed any feelings of remorse for his actions. According to Behring Breivik’s defence attorney, Geir Lippestad, right from the first of many police interrogations on 23 July, he echoed German SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s statements about the massacre of European Jews on the Eastern Front in the course of the Second World War, when he described his actions as ‘cruel, but necessary’. Behring Breivik was reportedly able to recollect each and every murder in detail during the police interrogations. Lippestad would later describe Behring Breivik’s expression in the first police interrogation of the disappointment he had felt when he registered that the fertilizer bomb had failed to make any buildings in and around Government Headquarters fall to the ground, reasoning that only a limited number of people rather than the hundreds he had hoped for had been killed there. It was after this realization that he decided to execute his original plan B, namely the attack at Utøya. At court during the 22/7 trial, it was evident that Behring Breivik was at his most excited when describing the planning and execution of the attacks in all their dreadful details.
A taste of what was to come during the trial came in an open letter that Behring Breivik sent from his prison cell at Ila Prison to Norwegian media outlets in April 2012. Declaring white ‘Boers’ (Afrikaners) supportive of the racist and discriminatory apartheid regime in South Africa (1948–94) to be his ‘anti-Communist brothers’, as well as the first democratically elected South African president Nelson R. Mandela (1994–98) to be a ‘terror leader’ of ‘the Marxist terror organization ANC’, Behring Breivik signalled his support for apartheid by charging that the country’s last white president under apartheid, Frederik W. de Klerk, had ‘capitulated to the global Marxist lobby by negotiating the abolishment of apartheid’. During the 22/7 trial in Oslo Magistrate’s Court Room 250, which ran for ten weeks from 16 May to 22 June 2012, and was concluded by the reading out of a ninety-page verdict by the presiding magistrate, Wenche Arntzen, on 24 August 2012, it became clearer than ever that Anders Behring Breivik adhered to an ideology which to all intents and purposes was fascist. For while in his cut-and-paste tract 2083: A European Declaration of Independence he had attempted to distance himself from neo-Nazis and fascists, in his court appearance he endorsed a long line of Norwegian and European neo-Nazis who had been behind violence and terror since the 1980s; these ranged from the Norwegian neo-Nazi Erik Blücher to Jonny Olsen and on to the German neo-Nazi ‘Zwickau cell’, responsible for a string of murders against Turkish kebab shop owners in the 1990s and 2000s.
Shortly before Breivik set out on his murdering spree, he uploaded on to the internet a 1,516-page document written under his English pen name Andrew Berwick and a YouTube video. In Chapter 3, I analyse the tract and how it links with neoconservative and/or Islamophobic discourses in Europe and the USA during the past decade (between 2001 and 2011).
By the evening of 23 July, Anders Behring Breivik had confessed to both the bombing at Government Headquarters and the massacre at Utøya. The same evening, authorities discovered both the online document and the YouTube video that introduced his grandiosely titled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. From this tract, it would become clear that Behring Breivik had been planning his attacks in meticulous detail for a number of years, and that in the event that he survived, he envisioned his trial as a public platform to spread his message. In fact, the tract contained a draft speech prepared for the trial, from which Behring Breivik would eventually read at his first court appearance.
Behring Breivik sent this tract to 1,003 e-mail contacts in Europe and in Israel, including far-right and populist right-wing politicians and activists whom Behring Breivik considered to be suitable ‘Christian conservatives’ and potential allies. Two hundred and fifty of the recipients are believed to be English – among them were many sympathizers with the English Defence League (EDL), whom Behring Breivik admired and had established contact with via Facebook. As late as March 2011 he used one of his internet aliases, Sigurd Jorsalfar, to post messages on a forum linked to the EDL. Here, he called upon right-wing activists in the UK to ‘keep up the good work’ and described them as a ‘blessing to all of Europe’ for working against a supposed ‘Islamization’. The only recipients in Norway named by the media at the time were the youngest member of parliament in Norway, Mette Hanekamhaug (1987–) of the PP and Jan Simonsen (1953–), a former MP for the same party. In connection with the arrest and detention of the Norwegian neo-Nazi Varg Vikernes (‘Louis Cachet’) in the south-western province of Corrèze in France in July 2013 on suspicion of plotting terrorism in France, it would, however, become known that Vikernes too had been among the original recipients of the tract. The number of recipients suggested that even if Behring Breivik knew that he was alone in the course of the actions he was to take in the following hours, he certainly did not conceive of himself as being alone in his ideas. That he had chosen Hanekamhaug and Simonsen as the recipients of his tract in Norway suggested a keen attention to Norwegian politics and the media: Hanekamhaug, who was elected to the Norwegian parliament (the Storting) in 2009, had been the front figure in the PP’s 2010 campaign to get parliamentary support for a motion to ban the Islamic headscarf (the hijab) for underage Muslim girls in Norwegian schools. For his part, Simonsen had, as an MP for the PP from 1989 to 2001, been known for his virulently anti-immigration and anti-Islamic views; along-standing and passionate defender of Israel, he had proposed that George W. Bush and Tony Blair be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (awarded annually by the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize Committee) for invading Iraq in 2003. And though the majority of far-right politicians and activists throughout Europe appear to have taken exception to Behring Breivik’s action, a member of the French Front National (National Front), Jacques Coutela, in the immediate aftermath of 22/7, described him as ‘an icon’ and a ‘main defender of the West’ in the face of the ‘Muslim invasion’. The Italian MP Mario Borghezio of the Lega Norte (Northern League) condemned his violence, but endorsed his ideas, as did Arne Tumyr of the far-right outfit Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) in Norway. Kjersti Margrethe Adelheid Gilje, a hospital nurse of Christian background from the province of Rogaland who stood as a regional candidate for Demokratene (The Democrats) in the Norwegian parliamentary elections of September 2013, in addition to being a member of SIAN and the Norwegian Defence League (NDL), exclaimed on her Facebook page during the 22/7 trial in late June 2012 that she ‘fully support[ed] Behring Breivik’s views’ and proclaimed him a ‘visionary’. In newspaper interviews she characterized Islam as a ‘diabolical ideology’ which had to be ‘totally extinguished from the face of the earth’. In Russia, the young neo-Nazi leader Maksim Martsinkevitsj, a former leader of the neo-Nazi organization Format-18 (a direct reference to Adolf Hitler) and present leader of the neo-Nazi vigilante group Okkupaj-pedofilaj (Occupy the Paedophiles), who had in 2007 been imprisoned for three years for hate speech, referred to Breivik as a ‘sacred man’ who had done ‘a good job’, on a Russian talk show. In the one and a half years that have passed since the 22/7 attacks (during the writing of this book), intelligence agencies from Slovakia to Poland and the USA have claimed to have averted terrorist attacks by perpetrators alleging inspiration from Behring Breivik. It is quite clear, then, that Norwegian right-wing bloggers and media columnists who in the course of the 22/7 trial declared that Behring Breivik ‘represented no one’ were involved in a deliberate distortion of the facts.
From his writings as well as from his testimony in the 22/7 trial, it is clear that Behring Breivik intended to use his tract to promote and market his ideas. In court, he would describe the acts of terror perpetrated on 22/7 as ‘fireworks’ for the digital launch of 2083. In his tract, he cites the need to instigate a civil war in Europe in order to stop the ‘Islamization of Europe’ by European Muslims and to halt the enablers of said ‘Islamization’ in the form of ‘cultural Marxists’. In an image in the tract, Behring Breivik wears a uniform with the emblem ‘Marxist Hunter’ on his left-hand shoulder. In the Norwegian context, social democrats figured prominently among those Behring Breivik thought of as members of this group. His terror targets were not random: AUF has the highest number of party youth activists with a minority background of any youth party organization in Norway, and a number of the victims were of minority background. One visiting international delegate from the former Soviet republic of Georgia was also among the dead.
Parts of the tract are cut-and-paste excerpts from the works of US and European neoconservative and/or Islamophobic authors from Robert Spencer to Bat Ye’or to Bruce Bawer, and from the Norwegian blogger Peder Are ‘Fjordman’ Nøstvold Jensen to Melanie Phillips; other parts are the diary of a man planning to terrorize his nation. Throughout the tract, which will be analysed in Chapter 3, Breivik positions himself as a self-styled saviour and redeemer of a white, Christian European civilization.
Behring Breivik also had some specific targets among the crowd at Utøya, including former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939–), whom Behring Breivik referred to not as ‘landsmoderen’ (the mother of the nation) but as ‘landsmorderen’ (‘the murderer of the nation’) in a post on the website Document.no;the current minister of foreign affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party (known and despised in anti-immigrant and Islamophobic circles for his principled defence of Norway as a multicultural society); and op-ed editor and political commentator Marte Michelet of the liberal daily newspaper Dagbladet, who had delivered a speech about racism and Islamophobia to the AUFers assembled at Utøya on 20 July. Gahr Støre’s speech, which was covered extensively in the Norwegian media, was given on 21 July. AUF leader Eskil Pedersen was considered a ‘B-target’ by Behring Breivik. Michelet and Gahr Støre had long since left the island by the time of Behring Breivik’s arrival. As for Brundtland, she left the island hours before Behring Breivik arrived. Pedersen was alerted to the situation by one of his political advisers moments after the shooting started, and was evacuated aboard the boat in which Behring Breivik had arrived.
In the aftermath of 22/7, Norwegian society saw large-scale, countrywide mobilizations of quiet and dignified protests against these atrocities, and a vocal defence of Norwegian democracy. The Norwegian government declared 22 August a national day of mourning. In a ceremony in Oslo Spektrum, Oslo’s largest concert hall, which was televised by both the national broadcasting corporation NRK and the private station TV2, the King of Norway, Harald VII, almost broke down in tears as he made his address: ‘The tragedy has reminded us of the basics that connect us in our multicultural and diverse society.’
Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway, who has a long record of support for anti-racist causes in Norway, made a speech of unity, addressing viewers watching the ceremony right across Norway. He said, ‘After July 22, we can never again permit ourselves to think that our attitudes and opinions are without significance.’
The red rose, a traditional symbol used by the Norwegian Labour Party, especially during election campaigns, became a national symbol; the demonstration in Oslo was dubbed the Rose Procession (Rosetoget). Public spaces in all of Norway’s main cities were appropriated in symbolic and spontaneous acts of commemoration and grief. In Bergen’s main square, the Blue Stone (Den blå steinen), a popular meeting place, was covered in flowers. The highest level of participation in collective commemorations was by sympathizers of the Socialist Left Party (SV); the lowest was found among sympathizers of the Progress Party (FrP). In the midst of the grief and despair, political dividing lines remained apparent: only 12 per cent of those polled and who agreed with the statement that ‘there are enough immigrants and asylum seekers in the country’ took part in collective commemorations, whereas 30 per cent of those polled who expressed disagreement with the statement reported having been part of these commemorations. Researchers found that the terror attacks of 22/7 had led to modest increases in civic engagement, particularly among youth, increased interpersonal and institutional trust, and also led to a small increase in experienced fear in the population.
In a gesture of political solidarity, out of respect for the victims, the survivors and the bereaved, all political parties represented in parliament decided to postpone the campaign for the September municipal elections until mid-August. The parties also called on their youth movements to cancel the traditionally important election campaign debates at high schools across the country. August saw a groundswell of public sympathy for the Labour Party and its youth organization AUF that led to a momentous increase in public support for the governing party in the opinion polls and thousands of new registered members for the Labour Party and the AUF. Senior officials and ministers from the Labour Party took part in a series of funerals across the country. In a suburb of the northern city of Trondheim, 5,000 people attended the funeral of Gizem Dogan (seventeen), a victim of the massacre at Utøya who was of Turkish parentage. The Turkish minister of foreign affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, was present in an official delegation from Turkey. At Nesodden outside Oslo, Bano Abubakr Rashid (eighteen), a talented young woman of Kurdish parentage, who dreamed of becoming a professional politician, was laid to rest in a moving ceremony in which the last rites were read by a Norwegian Lutheran parish priest and an imam from the Islamic Council of Norway. In a humanist ceremony at Sundvolden Hotel near Utøya, where the survivors of the massacre on 22/7 had first been brought, the ‘Mother of Utøya’, Monica Bøsei, who had been among the first of Anders Behring Breivik’s victims at Utøya, was commemorated. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg spoke in her honour.
On Friday, 12 August, the Norwegian government appointed a 22/7 Commission tasked with investigating the circumstances of the terror attacks, the responses of the police and emergency services, and the PST. Oslo lawyer Alexandra Bech Gjørv (forty-five) was named as head of the commission. Though the commission’s report was due only in the summer of 2012, critical media attention would soon be brought to bear on both the PST and the police.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party urged Norwegians to respond with ‘more democracy and more openness’ and with increased civil and political engagement and participation. Referring to another watershed event in Norwegian history, the German Nazi invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, which was the start of five years of German Nazi occupation during the Second World War, Stoltenberg maintained that ‘Our fathers and mothers had promised one another: Never again an April 9th – We say: Never again a July 22nd.’
However, the private citizen who initiated demonstrations via Facebook soon faced death threats. Reports emerged of harassment of Norwegian citizens believed to be Muslim on the streets of Oslo in the hours following the bomb blast at Government Headquarters: a young Muslim was called a ‘quisling’, the quintessential Norwegian term of abuse for ‘traitors to the nation’ by an elderly Norwegian female; others of immigrant background were called ‘terrorist bastards’, ‘sons of Bin Laden’ and ‘Muslim bombers’ by passers-by and immigrants reported being chased through the streets of Oslo. At Bislet, a young man of Indian and non-Muslim origins who had lived in Oslo for twenty years was chased through the streets by a crowd shouting at him to ‘get the f—back to the place from which you came’. A Muslim male dressed in white prayer robes was chased off Oslo’s underground metro by other passengers. At Grønland, a young Muslim woman who worked at a local shop was accused by a customer of being behind the attack. In a lot of Muslim families in the capital, young girls were asked by their parents not to venture outside for fear of repercussions.
The Islamic community also reacted publicly. The Islamic Council of Norway (Islamsk Råd Norge or IRN) and its young secretary-general, Mehtab Afsar, who had strongly condemned the terror attacks, initiated a ‘flower march’ through the streets of the eastern parts of the capital, which was attended by the leaders of most of Oslo’s religious congregations and many Norwegian politicians. Oslo’s mayor, Stang, lauded Norwegian Muslims for their acts of solidarity in the aftermath of 22/7 and for having made it clear that they regarded the perpetrator as representing no one but himself. Stang also raised the question of whether this would have been the case if the perpetrator had in fact turned out to be a Muslim.
The secretary-general of the Islamic Council of Norway, Mehtab Afsar, told the New York Times shortly after the news of the bombings at Government Headquarters that ‘This is our homeland; this is my homeland … I condemn these attacks, and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them’.
The 22/7 Commission report
Internal evaluations of the National Directorate of Police and the Police Security Services in the aftermath of the terror attacks on 22 July 2011 amounted to little more than attempts at whitewashing Norwegian police authorities for a number of institutional and individual failures before and on the day of the attacks.
Ahead of the verdict and the sentencing in the ‘July 22nd trial’ at Oslo’s Magistrate’s Court on 24 August 2012, the 22/7 Commission published its 481-page report on the terror attacks. In the introduction to the report, the commission declared that the attack on Government Headquarters in Oslo on 22 July could have been prevented if security measures that had already been agreed upon had been brought into effect, and that a more rapid response by police authorities to the shootings on the island of Utøya would in fact have been possible. The report also concluded that with a better work methodology and a broader focus, the Police Security Services (PST) should have been able to trace the perpetrator before 22 July 2011. The commission’s report was a damning indictment of a series of institutional as well as individual failures ahead of and during the events of 22/7. In sum, the report contended, ‘22/7 demonstrated serious failures in society’s ability to obstruct and protect itself against threats’.
Norwegian police came in for particularly strong criticism. In the long litany of institutional and individual failures, the report listed the failure of the National Directorate of Police (Politidirektoratet) to put into effect, let alone consult, the plans it had developed for the eventuality of a terrorist attack; the failure by the Oslo police, who had received tip-offs about the vehicle registration number of Behring Breivik’s getaway car from a witness a mere ten minutes after the bomb blast at Government Headquarters, to communicate this to local and neighbouring police districts in time; the fact that Kripos, or the National Criminal Police Central, sent out a national alarm only at 16.43 on 22 July, an alarm sent out via internal e-mail systems which failed to reach most police districts in Norway; the failure of the operational leader of Oslo police to mobilize the police helicopter when news of the shootings at Utøya first came in; the failure of the elite police Delta Force to locate the port at Utøya, and to make use of the private boats that were already available and at their disposal. The terrified and completely defenceless teenagers at Utøya used their mobile phones but were in many cases misinformed by extremely stressed police telephone operators, who failed to alert them to the fact that the terrorist they faced was, according to the available police information, dressed in a police uniform; who claimed that a police helicopter was on its way, and that there were police in the area long before that was actually the case. The Police Security Services (PST) was criticized by the commission for having left uninvestigated for no less than five months the available information from the international and UN-directed anti-terror operation Global Shield, in which Anders Behring Breivik was named among forty-one Norwegian individuals who had imported chemicals that could be used for fertilizer bombs. The PST was furthermore criticized for having in effect been ‘blind in the right eye’ in the years before 22 July 2011. The report noted that in its threat assessment of 2007 PST had already warned that Muslims in Norway could become targets of violent right-wing groups, yet that it had failed to prioritize this (ibid.). Asserting that the perpetrator Anders Behring Breivik had in fact long before his terror attacks made a series of ‘extreme, hateful expressions hostile to Islam’, it also noted that PST had fallen seriously behind developments by failing to establish a unit in charge of the collection of digital information on internet radicalization. So preoccupied were the PST with the terror threat emanating from radical Islamists in Norway, in the years preceding the attacks, that even their operational information-gathering focused exclusively on sources within these radical Islamist circles, at least until the arrest and detention of Behring Breivik (ibid.: 232). It was only on the following day, Saturday, 23 July, that the PST started consulting sources in extreme right-wing political milieus. The government itself – and especially the bureaucrats and the political leadership at the Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Administration – came in for serious criticisms over their failure to close off public access to the street leading up to Government Headquarters, which the National Directorate of Police had recommended in 2004. In light of the 22/7 Commission’s extensive documentation of the failures of Norwegian intelligence and law enforcement agencies to track extreme right-wing activities ahead of 22/7, the political scientist Cas Mudde’s claim to the effect that extreme and radical right-wing groups had ‘received great (or even disproportionate) attention among European law-enforcement agencies’ seems little more than a sweeping generalization born out of academic ignorance. Though some tabloid media editors vociferously called for Norwegian Labour Party Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s resignation over the 22/7 Commission’s damning report, the Norwegian parliamentary opposition stopped short of introducing a parliamentary motion of no-confidence (mistillitsforslag) in the prime minister and his tripartite government when the parliamentary committee for Oversight of the Constitution (Kontroll- og konstitusjonskomiteen) presented its preliminary report in February 2013. It was perhaps less surprising that Norwegian terrorism experts, who had shown practically no interest whatsoever in the terrorist potential of extreme right-wingers in Norway before 22/7, and had for years briefed Norwegian intelligence agencies on terrorist threats (thus, arguably, leading the latter into focusing exclusively on terrorist threats emanating from radical Islamists in and outside Norway), would go to great lengths in order to exonerate the intelligence agencies as well as terrorism research institutes in Norway for any failures. By declaring the case of Behring Breivik to be ‘unique’ and ‘exceptional’, various Norwegian terrorism experts adhered to the contemporary ‘framing’ of terrorism in terrorism research, in which the centre of focus for understandable empirical reasons is and remains terror emanating from radical Islamist milieus, such terror being perceived as motivated almost exclusively by ideological factors. In this regard, radical Islamist terror is framed in a manner quite unlike that for various forms of extreme right-wing terrorism – which is framed as being expressive of individual psychopathologies. In the hegemonic narrative of the events of 22/7 ‘the links between Utøya and wider political reality’ have to all extent and purposes been ‘severed in yet another act of externalization’. The form of societal externalization that Norway has seen in the aftermath of 22/7 is by no means historically unprecedented. The narrative about Nazism and the Second World War that Germans told themselves until Germany started to come to terms with the atrocities its people had been part and parcel of in the 1960s was one focused on the individual psychopathologies of German Nazi leaders. This narrative provided an efficient means of avoiding any critical and general societal introspection about the horrors Nazism had inflicted on Europe in the name of Germany and its people. As we shall have occasion to see, the externalizing narrative framing the acts of terror perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik on 22/7, which has become hegemonic in Norway in the aftermath, has been established by conscious efforts in Norway by authors, politicians and media editors and reporters alike. And so much so that Norwegian media editors two years later would excoriate anyone calling for introspection about what 22/7 may have said about the direction Norwegian society had taken in the years leading up to these terror attacks as exhibiting ‘a totalitarian mode of thinking’.
Islamophobic discourse and Islamophobia’s mainstreaming
In Norway, the aftermath of 22/7 has been greeted by a plethora of publications in Norwegian concerning the personal background of Anders Behring Breivik; various aspects of the terror attacks on 22/7; and about the trial against Behring Breivik. This book is not primarily about Anders Behring Breivik nor about the terror attacks he perpetrated on 22/7.
‘Violence has the inherent tendency to create uncertainty about cause,’ writes Donald L. Donham. And there are in any case so many unknowns in this case that a search for causal connections premised on mono-causal thinking would be futile. So let it be absolutely clear that accounts of 22/7 that reduce the terror that Norway experienced on that day to either psychology or ideology, rather than the co-imbrication of psychological and ideological factors, runs the risk of reductionism. Both psychiatric assessments of Anders Behring Breivik commissioned by the Oslo Magistrate’s Court suggest that the perpetrator of the 22/7 terror attacks was and remains a severely mentally disturbed individual with personality traits which include extreme narcissism and an extreme lack of empathy for other human beings. Behring Breivik’s legal counsel, Advocate Geir Lippestad, in a book on 22/7, discloses that even within Behring Breivik’s legal defence team there were disagreements over the question of his sanity. But the legal criterion for being declared criminally insane under Norwegian General Penal Code §44 is that a criminal perpetrator must be either psychotic or unconscious at the time of perpetrating a criminal act. Norway’s tragedy on 22/7 ‘was not the work of a psychopath’; nor are there any solid grounds to consider it the work of a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’, as Behring Breivik’s first psychiatric assessors, Synne Sørheim and Torgeir Husby, in their almost complete ignorance about extreme right-wing discourse and tropes about Islam and Muslims in Norway, wanted Norwegians to believe. In its verdict from 24 August 2012, in which Anders Behring Breivik was declared sane and criminally liable and sentenced to twenty-one years’ imprisonment, Oslo Magistrate’s Court declared that the defendant’s hostile views concerning Islam were linked to his extreme right-wing contacts on the internet, and that his critical views of immigration were shared by others. The court furthermore noted that central to anti-Islamist and extreme right-wing groups was the conspiratorial theory referred to as the ‘Eurabia theory’. This book, then, is first and foremost about the ideology which inspired Behring Breivik’s actions on 22/7, and about the fractures of contemporary Norwegian and European societies to which this ideology – or parts thereof – speaks.
Throughout this book, I will be using the term ‘Islamophobia’ in referring to ‘indiscriminate negative attitudes and sentiments concerning Islam and Muslims’. Now the term Islamophobia is a highly contested term both in and outside of academia in Norway, as in the rest of Europe. The contemporary contestation of the term has to do with the fact that it is not a neutral term and that it has a dual function as both a denunciatory and an analytical term. Zúquete argues that there is a lack of clarity regarding its meaning and to what it exactly refers, and Bowen laments that the term has come to be used in an ‘overly broad way’ and is ‘highly polemical’. Zúquete consequently calls for a ‘restrained usage’ of the term by social scientists. My using the term is first and foremost a pragmatic choice. Though the term itself may certainly not be ideal, inasmuch as it risks conflating negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslims, may seem to pathologize such attitudes, and may of course be misused and instrumentalized by Muslim actors who want to denounce any negative attitude towards Islam or Muslims as ‘phobic’, it is by now a term which has ‘come of age’, and which furthermore seems better suited than the available alternatives. A parallel with the (in the Western world) far more accepted term anti-Semitism may be in order at this point. There can be little doubt that some criticism of the state of Israel in our time is motivated by anti-Semitism, yet one realizes that the term may be misused and instrumentalized whenever it is suggested that all criticism of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories in breach of international law, and criticism of the slow drift of mainstream Israeli politics towards the extreme right in recent years, is characterized as being anti-Semitic in nature and motivation.
Mattias Gardell has defined Islamophobia as ‘socially reproduced prejudices and aversions against Islam and Muslims, and actions and practices which attack, exclude and discriminate against people on account of these people either being, or being presumed to be Muslim, and to be associated with Islam’. The fundament of Islamophobia is in other words a form of essentialist thinking about difference which is also found in various forms of racism. According to such essentialist thinking about difference, Muslims are believed to act and think in certain ways by virtue of their religious adherence. Through what has been described as an Orientalist practice of ‘religio-centeredness’ a Muslim is first and foremost regarded as a religious being. It follows from this that one may be the victim of Islamophobia regardless of whether one practises Islam or not. Gardell’s definition of Islamophobia has the virtue of casting Islamophobia not only as a theory, but also as a practice. For Gardell, Islamophobia forms part of a ‘knowledge regime’, as described by Michel Foucault. This implies that within the realms of this knowledge regime ‘certain assertions, beliefs and arguments about Islam and Muslims are regarded as given truths through the logic of repetition itself and due to the fact that they are consonant with what we have always heard, and therefore know’. The first registered usage of the term Islamophobia stems from 1910, when it was used in publications by two French colonial administrators in West Africa by the name of Maurice Delafosse and Alain Queillien.
The first academic using the term in English, and in the sense in which it has become known in recent years, appears to have been Edward Said (1935–2003), who, in the essay ‘Orientalism reconsidered’ in 1985, argued that Islamophobia, understood as ‘hostility towards Islam in the modern Christian West’, had historically been ‘nourished by the same sources as Anti-Semitism’. Islamophobia as a generic term for fears of and hostility towards Islam and Muslims became mainstream only in the aftermath of the 1997 report by the British Runnymede Trust entitled Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. The Runnymede Trust report was instrumental in popularizing and legitimizing the term within the mainstream media as well as in academia. Yet that report by and large left unanswered the question of how to define and delimit the term Islamophobia. ‘The most important task therefore is to locate some way in which Islamophobia may be defined as clearly as possible, setting out what one means by Islamophobia, and equally importantly, what one does not’. Islamophobia is not only a contested term – it is nothing short of a resented term in qualifiably Islamophobic circles.
In these circles, both in Europe and the USA, various argumentative strategies have been launched in order to discredit the term, and to dissuade academics and the media from actually using it. Among these argumentative strategies, we find the creation of fictive and arbitrary historical genealogies for the term (such as the widespread notion that it was a neologism invented by the Muslim Brothers in Egypt – see Bawer for this claim – or by Iranian Islamists during the Iranian Revolution – see Storhaug – by Tariq Ramadan – see al-Kubaisi – or even by an alliance of Islamists and the ultra-left during the Rushdie affair); the argument that it pathologizes perfectly rational fears concerning Islam and Muslims, or that it delegitimizes legitimate critique of religious practices and faiths.
The simple answer to rejectionist discourses on Islamophobia is in my view not to discard the term, but to apply the term with discretion and care. So let me therefore be clear about the fact that it is for me not an expression of Islamophobia to harbour and articulate the thought that mainstream interpretations of Islam are often conservative and patriarchal with regard to proscribed gender relations, that mainstream interpretations of Islam are homophobic and that the religious interpretations of radical Islamists are abhorrent. Muslims who are intolerant of other faiths, homophobic and misogynistic, and who endorse violence and terror in pursuit of their politico-religious aims do in fact exist, and it would do violence to a sustainable concept of Islamophobia to qualify those who are critical towards them or their interpretations of Islam (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) as ‘Islamophobic’. A case in point: Taimur Abdulwahhab al-Abdaly, a Swedish citizen of Iraqi background, set off a bomb, killing himself and injuring two passers-by on Drotningsgatan in central Stockholm on 11 December 2010, in the first terror attack attributable to radical Islamists in the Nordic countries. Thereafter, the Islamic Council of Norway mobilized for a demonstration against terror in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. On a bitterly cold day in Oslo, a dozen demonstrators turned up. The banner under which the secretary-general of the Islamic Council of Norway, Mehtab Afsar, addressed the small audience read ‘Islam means Peace’. A mere 10 metres away from this demonstration, an even smaller group of far-right activists aligned with the Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) had gathered with a slogan which asserted that ‘Islam means War’. The often heard and repeated argument by Islamophiles that ‘Islam means peace’ is in many respects – in the face of radical Islamists who do invoke Islamic foundational texts (however selectively) in order to incite and legitimate terror and violence – just as essentialist as the argument of Islamophobes to the effect that ‘Islam means war’. Islamophobes and radical Islamists are strikingly similar in their essentialist views on and interpretations of Islam, and the polarization that they seek to foster and nourish. Their discourses are a mutually reinforcing ‘plague on both our houses’. Yet the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Norway and Europe are acting in good faith when they assert that ‘Islam means peace’, and are willing to assert that belief openly and publicly in the face of both radical Islamists and far-right activists who both assert that ‘Islam means war’, should, whatever analytical misgivings we may have about the essentialism of the assertion, provide some assurance.
But we need to ‘take seriously the idea that Islam is best seen as a set of interpretive resources and practices’ that individuals of Muslim background ‘grapple with’ and ‘shape’. Like Bleich, I would not argue that those non-Muslim Norwegians and Europeans who are concerned by such phenomena as the presence of mosques, or of large concentrations of Muslims in certain urban neighbourhoods (especially so if they happen to live in the same neighbourhoods themselves), are necessarily ‘Islamophobic’. Let me take a concrete case in point: when the Ahmadi Muslim Jama’at in Norway opened the doors of the largest purpose-built mosque in Norway, the Bait un-Nasr at Furuset in the north-eastern suburbs of Oslo in September 2011, it was amidst a heavy presence of armed police guards. Given that it was by members of a minority Muslim sect which is widely persecuted and discriminated against on the Indian subcontinent, and especially in Pakistan, where state authorities under pressure from Islamists declared Ahmadis to be ‘non-Muslim’ under the nominally socialist and secular prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974, the establishment of the mosque had been accompanied by opposition and threats from non-Muslim Norwegians as well as Sunni Muslims from the time it was first referred to in the media in 1994. There was such opposition that the small Ahmadi congregation in Oslo, which according to its own estimates counted no more than 1,100 individuals in the Oslo region, and 1,500 nationally, had to postpone the opening owing to security concerns. A Labour Party MP of Muslim background whom I interviewed around this time told me that she had received hate mail referring to this particular mosque as a ‘Muslim Brotherhood mosque’. Ahead of the Progress Party’s national convention in May 2011, Christian Tybring-Gjedde brought a newspaper reporter to the vicinity of the mosque in order to whip up sentiment against it. We shall meet Tybring-Gjedde on several occasions later in this book as one of the Progress Party’s main traffickers in extreme right-wing rhetorical tropes about Islam and Muslims in recent years, and who delivered a speech for which he was reported to the police for possible breaches of the so-called Norwegian ‘racism’ paragraph, the Norwegian General Penal Code’s §135(a). Here, he laughingly declared to the reporter in question that the mosque was an ‘alien element’ in the surroundings: ‘symbolizing something which makes me concerned about the future of this country’. That ‘something’ was ‘the Islamic expansion in Europe and Norway’. He charged that ‘today’s tax-financed cultural elite’ was instrumental in bringing about this situation, since they allegedly competed in order to ‘criticize our country’.
Tybring-Gjedde went on to argue that ‘no [Norwegian] Muslims had raised their voices against Bin Laden’ – demonstrating how little attention he had actually paid to a number of statements coming from Muslim religious leaders in Norway after 11 September 2001 – and that Muslims who did not represent ‘gender equality, freedom of religion and freedom of expression and the other [Norwegian] values’ had ‘nothing to do here’ (Mauno 2011). Yet the local concerns over the mosque from non-Muslim Norwegian residents at Furuset – as expressed to a scientist of religion at the same time – were far more temperate. These concerns centred upon the Bait un-Nasr’s large and highly visible structure conveying the impression that Furuset was a ‘Muslim’ area, and that it might further a process in which the existing lack of common meeting places would now engender further segregation and intensify the living of disparate parallel lives among people living in the local neighbourhood.
What Tybring-Gjedde does in this case is to act as what Sunstein refers to as a ‘polarization entrepreneur’, attempting to ‘create communities of like-minded people’ in the full awareness that these communities ‘will not only harden positions but also move them to a more extreme point’ (ibid.). In doing so, he basically uses Ahmadis, in spite of their being for good historical reasons some of the more ardent supporters of secularism among Muslims worldwide, as a ‘floating signifier’ for a purported ‘Islamic colonization’ of Norway and Europe. In contradistinction to the views and sentiments expressed by the local residents interviewed, then, Tybring-Gjedde, true to his long historical record in this field, steps into the domain of Islamophobia.
The qualifier ‘indiscriminate’ in ‘indiscriminate negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslims’ is in fact what allows us to distinguish analytically between legitimate and phobic concerns relating to the presence of Islam and Muslims in a western European context. A mere dislike of increasing numbers of Muslims and Islamic infrastructures in one’s neighbourhood is, in other words, not in itself qualifiably ‘Islamophobic’; yet if you hold that Muslim citizens move into your neighbourhood as part of a long-term plan to ‘colonize’ or ‘Islamize’ your neighbourhood, your country or ‘your’ continent, and/or that all Muslims are potentially violent, and that Muslim women reproduce so as to establish demographic dominance, then you have clearly veered into the realm of Islamophobic thought. Sociologist Ali Rattansi points out that Islamophobia is not necessarily racist, except when it takes what he refers to as ‘hard’ or ‘strong’ forms.
Those academics who are prone to a rationalistic bias, as well as a sizeable number of Muslims, have over the years suggested that the antidote to Islamophobia may be more balanced and nuanced information about the heterogeneity in contemporary interpretations of Islam and Islamic foundational texts, as well as about the heterogeneous nature of the lived lives of Muslims in various social and historical contexts. Hence, in the face of what she correctly diagnoses as an increasing intolerance towards Muslims in western Europe which challenges central tenets of classical liberal virtues advocated by European liberal thinkers, Nussbaum argues for a ‘systematic cultivation of the “inner eyes”’ or ‘the imaginative capacity that makes it possible for us to see how the world looks from the point of view of a person different in religion and ethnicity’.
Yet this ignores the fact that Islamophobic discourses emanating from extreme and/or populist right-wing milieus in Europe and the USA are not in the least interested in the finer details of Islamic interpretations and their heterogeneity, let alone in the complexities of what being a Muslim in a late modern liberal and secular context might conceivably mean.33 For central to, and determinative in, the Islamophobic discourses are the ability to define what Muslims are – or can be. What Goldberg refers to as ‘the idea of the Muslim’ is therefore absolutely central to Islamophobic discourses, and the biases of the ways in which we filter and process information mean that reason and rationality – pace Nussbaum – may have relatively little to do with what gets established as dominant ‘ideas of the Muslim’ in particular social and historical contexts. It also ignores the radical democratization of freedom of expression in the era of the internet, which, as Lentin and Titley argue, has made Muslims in particular ‘prosaic objects of public debate, on which anyone can hold an opinion as to their essential compatibility, and the parameters of their permissible freedom’ (ibid.). In effect, the academic who wades into mediated public debates on Islam and Muslims and attempts to put forward balanced and nuanced arguments under these circumstances is likely to be characterized by extreme and/or populist right-wingers alike as yet another ‘apologist for Islam’ or ‘quisling’ even, who is part and parcel of the process of the purported ‘Islamic colonization’ of Europe.
One of my main research interests from the perspective of a social anthropologist involved in research on Muslim public intellectuals in Norway as well as on ‘vernacular concepts of the secular’ among youth of Muslim minority background in Norway has focused on the ‘mainstreaming’ of Islamophobia and Islamophobic discourse in Norway in recent years.
I have written Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia to explore various facets of the public discourses concerning Islam and Muslims in Norway in the past decade in order to provide a background to the analysis of the ideology which appears to have motivated the déclassé mass murderer Breivik. For while Breivik is alone in the extremity of his actions, his ideology is far more widely shared, in Norway as in Europe and even the USA. This is not to suggest, however, that Anders Behring Breivik’s ideological motivations must be seen as primary or even directly causative for, or of, the terror attacks on 22/7. John R. Bowen has insightfully argued that Behring Breivik had ‘drenched himself in the writings of far-right, anti-Islam activists from the United States and Europe’ and ‘planned his killing spree as a way of saving Europe from Islam’ and that while ‘anti-Islam writings do not explain his actions’ it is ‘difficult to imagine those actions in the absence of such writings’. Acts of violence – like any other human acts – are ‘embedded in an intricate matrix of causal relations’, and when speech that incites violence is turned into actual acts of violence, it is to the recipient rather than the giver of the speech one must turn for explanations. I suggest that the relationship between psychological motivations and ideology is a dialectical one, or in other words that Behring Breivik may have been a young man in search of an ideology which ‘suited’ his purposes. His ideology is therefore necessary – but alas not sufficient – in order to legitimize his actions. This means, however, that one cannot – as any number of Norwegian and European far-right politicians and activists have attempted to do in trying to distance themselves and their ideas from Behring Breivik in the aftermath of 22/7 – reduce ideology to something extraneous to these acts of political and human evil; the ideology must also be analysed.
Norway and the rise of the far right
As was pointed out previously, Anders Behring Breivik had a background in the Norwegian Progress Party (the PP). It is perfectly clear in light of the available evidence in this case that he alone was responsible for the terror attacks of 22 July 2011. When members of all political parties represented in the Norwegian Parliament (the Storting) in the aftermath of Anders Behring Breivik’s terror attacks stood shoulder to shoulder in declaring that these attacks were attacks on Norwegian democracy and on all those Norwegians who consider democratic principles to be fundamental and foundational values of Norwegian society, they were also united in their condemnation of the use of violence and terror as a means to further political ends. The PP’s chairman, Siv Jensen, paid tribute to the young teenagers massacred at Utøya by declaring that ‘today we are all AUF’ers’. The ‘political family’ of far right parties in western Europe, of which the PP is arguably part, as well as being one of the electorally most sucessful of such parties, by and large share negative and hostile views of Muslims and immigration. Be this as it may, for analytical purposes I find it important to distinguish between extreme right-wingers who endorse and espouse violence and non- and anti-democratic means, and populist right-wingers who are explicit and consistent in their support of democratic means and principles, and who reject violence.
This distinction does not detract from the fact that the PP constituted part of Behring Breivik’s ideological formation, and that rhetorical tropes concerning ‘Eurabia’ or the purported ‘Islamic colonization’ of Europe and Norway which appealed to Behring Breivik have also demonstrably had wide circulation and purchase in PP circles, especially after 11 September 2001. Many of these tropes are demonstrably of extreme right-wing provenance. At a rhetorical and discursive level, then, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between extreme and populist right-wing ideas.
There is an argument advanced by many mainstream right-wing politicians in Norway, as well as some intellectuals, to the effect that the PP has served the function of a ‘safety valve’ for Norwegians negative or hostile towards Muslims, channelling their sentiments and attitudes into a democratic process, and that the PP has thereby prevented the rise of extreme right-wing political formations in Norway. This is an argument I do not subscribe to. First of all, because it is an untestable hypothesis, and secondly, because there have been numerous instances in recent years in which central populist right-wing politicians have acted as mere ‘voice amplifiers’ and conduits for extreme right-wing ideas and views. This is a topic which will be further explored in Chapter 4 of this book.
Comfortable as it may have been for the Norwegian populist right (which does not exactly constitute a fan club for the present writer), it is not possible to disregard the ideological connections between the undemocratic and violent right forces on one hand, and the more democratic populist right on the other. To do so would be intellectually and academically dishonest, and simply would not suffice at an analytical level. Inasmuch as the public debate on the terror attacks in Norway and elsewhere on 22 July 2011 has demonstrated the existence of serious political dividing lines with regard to the interpretation of the background to these attacks, this book will not find a particularly sympathetic audience among supporters of the PP. That is to be expected, and a price I am willing to pay as an author.
Norway is a country in which the PP (22.9 per cent of the votes nationally in the parliamentary elections of 2009, 16.3 per cent in the parliamentary elections of 2013) has adopted an ever more strident Islamophobic discourse in the past decade, to the extent that the party’s leading MPs have spoken publicly about ‘Islamization by stealth’; among other rhetorical pronouncements, they have compared the Islamic headscarf for women (the hijab) to the Ku Klux Klan hood. Political opposition parties of many stripes often engaged in irresponsible rhetoric, and since coming to power for the first time in the party’s now forty-year history after the parliamentary elections of September 2013, PP ministers have been far more restrained than used to be the case in opposition in terms of political rhetoric concerning Muslims and other minorities in Norway. Islamophobic discourse has nevertheless not been restricted to the PP. Far from it. Established and mainstream Norwegian political parties, which long adhered to a ‘cordon sanitaire’ policy with regard to both the discourse of and possible political alliances with the PP, have become concerned over the rising popularity of its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaign. Paradoxically, and in particular from the late 1980s onwards, this concern led the right wing of the Norwegian Labour Party in Oslo to attempt to close the ‘political space’ the PP had established for itself among traditional Labour Party voters in the working class by appealing to similar popular and chauvinist ‘native’ sentiments. That attempt, in a manner reminiscent of the experience of the Labour Party in the UK when it tried to close down the ‘political space’ of far-right political formations in the British working class), largely failed to dent the popularity of the PP. Instead, it arguably contributed to a situation in which the same far-right political formations’ discourse on Islam, Muslims and immigration became ever more strident. Though it would be reductionist to argue that these political formations’ discourse on Islam and Muslims is a causative factor in the emergence of radical Islamist forces in Norway, it is telling in the Norwegian context that these forces first started to coalesce in 2010, after years of polarized public discourse in Norway.
At a European level, Antonis Ellinas has demonstrated that established and mainstream political parties through appeals to nationalist sentiments among the electorate have in fact opened a political space for populist right-wing political parties. Norway is in no way unique among western European countries in having experienced greater levels of popular scepticism concerning immigration in recent years. What unites right-wing populists across western Europe is hostility to immigration. That hostility in Norway, as in large parts of western Europe, has in recent years largely come to be centred upon hostility towards Muslim immigrants. However, national representative survey data from Norway from recent years strongly suggest that negative attitudes and sentiments towards Muslims – which are more ubiquitous than negative attitudes and sentiments towards any other minority group in Norway, with the exception of the Roma – are most commonly found among Norwegians with lower levels of education and income. It so happens that surveys reveal that individuals who express voter preferences for the Progress Party in Norway are also among those who have the most negative views of Muslims in Norway, and are also more likely than other respondents to have lower levels of education and income.
Its popular purchase and legitimacy in one of the world’s richest, most egalitarian and most peaceful countries has been linked to the ways in which the fear of Islam and Muslims has echoed ‘missionary and universalizing impulses’ in Norwegian society and politics relating to women’s and gay rights, the welfare state, democracy and freedom of expression. Its popularization has also been linked to long and concerted efforts by Islamophobic civil society activists working in close collaboration with populist right-wing/neoconservative and Islamophobic activists in numerous other European countries, from France to the Netherlands and Denmark, to mainstream these discourses. Few systematic academic studies of the extent to which such activism has succeeded in mainstreaming Islamophobic discourses have been undertaken in Europe and/or Scandinavia. But for the USA, Bail has demonstrated that organizations which deployed the media framing of ‘Muslims as enemies’ in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda on the USA in the years between 2004 and 2008 moved from the fringe to the mainstream of media coverage, and were thus able to exercise considerable influence on mainstream media, political and public discourse on Islam and Muslims. Similar processes have arguably taken place in European and Scandinavian societies in the same period.
Freedom of expression
This development has occurred at the same time as political, media and intellectual elites in Norway have moved towards much more absolutist – or more correctly what Eric Heinze refers to as ‘viewpoint absolutist’ – conceptions of freedom of speech and its limitations. Recent milestones on the road to such conceptions in Norway have been Norway’s involvement in the Rushdie affair in 1988–94; the government-appointed Freedom of Expression Commission from 1991 to 1996 and its aftermath; and the cartoon crisis in Denmark and Norway from 2005 to 2006. Central to elite imaginaries as they relate to freedom of expression and its limitations in Norway is the contention that Norway’s 3.6 per cent Muslim population embodies a potential threat to freedom of expression as a central – in fact the most central – Norwegian ‘value’ according to national representative surveys from recent years. And this is the case, notwithstanding the fact that Norwegians of immigrant background according to the available polls are almost as likely as other Norwegians to support freedom of expression.
In the legal field, the new hegemonic and much more absolutist conceptions of freedom of expression have been manifested in the fact that since 2007 Norwegian courts have very seldom convicted anyone for racist and discriminatory speech under the Norwegian penal code §135(a), and no one has been convicted in court for qualifiably Islamophobic speech; furthermore, there are few instances of racist and discriminatory speech that ever get reported to the police, and in a verdict criticized by both the United Nation’s CERD (Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) and the European Council’s ECRI (European Council Against Racism and Intolerance), the Norwegian Supreme Court acquitted a Norwegian neo-Nazi leader charged with racist utterances in 2002. In Norway in recent years there has been a tendency for political, media and legal elites to argue that freedom of expression, pace international human rights standards, overrides other concerns and values. This, from a Europe-wide perspective, has made Norway something of an outlier with regard to practice in this field. It has also enabled far-right and populist right-wing activists to argue that they do not engage in racist or discriminatory speech directed against minorities, only that they practise a form of ‘critique of religion’ – something that is legitimate in light of freedom of expression and democratic legitimacy in a secular and liberal society. However, this is a strategy of rhetorical evasion made apparent by the academic literature on ‘neo-racism’ and/or ‘cultural racism’ from the late 1980s onwards, which was first applied to Norwegian empirical data by the late Norwegian social anthropologist Marianne Gullestad.
The shift from biological to cultural markers of racism is one which in its early form emerges in the thought of the Nouvelle Droite (Alain Benoïst and others) in France in the 1970s, but becomes commonplace within European far-right milieus and political formations from 1984, the time of the electoral breakthrough of the French Front National. One should not be misled by the shift of signifiers, however: Phillips argues that the fact that ‘the discourse employs the language of culture rather than race does not ensure its innocence’. Though the ‘rise of culture goes in parallel with the demise of race’, it is, in the words of Lentin and Titley, ‘not accompanied by a decrease in racism’. The dominant conception of racism in Norway, which in terms of academic scholarship and interest in contemporary forms and articulations of racism constitutes a weak trend, is one which limits racism to differentialist thinking based on ‘racial’ or biological markers.
Fighting words, fighting deeds
With reference to the vast academic literature on the relation between ‘fighting words’ and ‘fighting deeds’ I also want to problematize the sharp delineation between ‘words’ and ‘acts’, a distinction that has been made by mainstream Norwegian media editors and politicians since 22/7. For not only does this ignore the academic literature on perlocutionary speech acts, but it is clear from much of this literature that Breivik’s form of mass murder requires long and systematic ideological preparation whereby the perpetrator manages to dehumanize the victims through words.
Given the emergent literature on internet hate speech, as well as the literature on how the structuring of internet search engines may facilitate a filtering of views on politics and society, a filtering that reinforces extreme opinions, rather than enabling pluralizing and democratizing opinions, I also want this book to contribute to the academic debate on how to combat racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in our time. These are analogous phenomena, inasmuch as they are all anchored in differentialist and essentialist social imaginaries.