What’s Next for Norway?

The tranquil, cultured, and tolerant portrait that many had of Norway was shattered on Friday, when a 32-year-old Norwegian man bombed a government building and killed scores at the ruling party’s youth summer camp. Most of the casualties were young people. Anders Behring Breivik's reason for such an atrocity was, according to his social media pages, laid at the door of Muslims and other immigrants to Norway, whom he accused of eroding Christian Europe.

Until Friday, the wider public would perhaps be forgiven for thinking that violent extremism has only one form and face. The media, politicians, and public commentators have been very clear in their vehement outcry against who and where the threat to our liberty supposedly comes from: Islamist groups and al Qaeda–inspired Muslim cells. But on July 22, all eyes were off the ball. News of the attacks were accompanied by a slew of commentators on television, radio, and print who speculated that this was the act of Islamic terrorists responding to Norway’s role in Afghanistan, and who blamed Muslim presence in Europe more generally.

The real source was home-grown and non-Islamic, with the attacker citing the Dutch far-right, viciously anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders, as one of his heroes. Wilders was recently acquitted of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims in the Netherlands. Despite the unfounded speculations of so-called experts and media commentators on Friday, certain newspapers continue to beat the "Islamic terrorism" drum.

Norway has always struck me as a country in which equality and tolerance constitute admirable features of the landscape. Its humanitarian refugee program has offered a home to 151,000 people, or roughly 3.1 percent of 5 million residents. Together with non-refugees, its immigrant population totals 12.2 percent.

Yet a recent trip to Norway, to undertake mapping on future work on Somalis in Oslo, threw up a disparity between the ideal of a liberal society and the reality of difference and diversity in a largely homogenous society. There was considerable angst expressed about how to integrate certain groups (read Muslims), how the fabric of immigrant families was at times incompatible with traditional Norwegian values and traditions, the feeling that abuse and burdens were being placed on the country's universal welfare system, a perceived inability and unwillingness of immigrants to integrate, and media preoccupation with Muslim integration.

What needs to be watched now is the fallout of this atrocious action in Norway and surrounding countries, especially Denmark. Norwegian integration policies seem to focus largely on economic self-sufficiency, including language acquisition and Norwegian cultural traditions and values, but do not necessarily recognize what Bhikhu Parekh calls the equal validity and legitimacy of difference. There is no distinct policy that looks at Muslim integration in Norway, but its society is very focused on Muslim immigration.

Across Europe, politicians have increasingly adopted far-right rhetoric, and far-right views have entered the mainstream. Norway will now be watched to see how it responds to the twin attacks of July 22, and whether its words, actions, and policies create a more divisive or cohesive society. While most people would and do condemn this action, the Norwegian government should be rigorous in ensuring that there is no appeasement of individuals or views similar to that of Anders Breivik. There is a need for greater vigilance regarding the activity of far-right groups, who have a lot more in common with extreme Islamist terror groups than they or others are willing to admit.

1 Comment

One of the apparently much emphasized motives behind Anders Brievek’s massacre of youth, and inspiration for going to such an extreme was his belief that Norway was being turned into a multicultural society whose values and identity will be run over by the Muslims. Although he might turn out to be a lone lunatic in his actual act of terror, but here did he get such ideas from about the danger of a multicultural society? If we stick to what he himself has written in his 1500 pages of manifesto, there is no doubt that his sources of inspiration are not merely some extremist anti-Islam websites. He exhibits a good deal of admiration for people like Andres F Rasmussen (former liberal Prime Minister of DK, now GS for the NATO): Danish MP Nasar Khadar (The Conservatives) who has publically denounced Islam and has indicated that he was considering to change his religion/leave Islam; and Danish Peoples Party, whose co-chair is on the record to have publically said; “We are in a way anti-Muslims”.
Breivek endorses expulsion of all Palestinians from the Gaza and the West-bank and has a great admiration for RSS – an extreme Hindu movement in India who would like to see India cleansed from the Muslim minorities. He is not a simple lunatic but very well informed on the mainstream politicians in the Western countries who either tacitly support or condone Islamophobia (see for instance, Chris Allen, Islamophobia, Asgate, 2010) or the Neo-Liberals who vehemently reject any idea or notion about a multicultural society to advance new forms of racial differentiation (see for instance, The Crises of Multiculturalism -Racism in a Neoliberal Age by Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley, Zed Book 2011) and even resents that Denmark, with its stern stand on the Cartoons as a matter of free expression is too small a country for the ‘crusade’, referring to Anders F Ramussen. Why Denmark occupies so much imagery for his holy anti-Muslim, anti-Islam mission can perhaps best be understood by yet another ink-wet publication of Peter Hervik, The Annoying Difference, Berghahn Books, 2011, on the rise and spread of anti-Muslim political ideologies and movements in Denmark in the post-1989 world.
Although we live more or less in an individualised society, yet no individual is a self-contained island, cut from the rest of the world. Breivek might have committed the crime on his own but in this globalised world of communications highways, he was not travelling alone.

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