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.