Norway Atrocities Raise Challenges About Europe's Far-Right (7/29)     Print Email
By European Affairs

Last week’s atrocities in Norway were an act of far-right violence on a scale unknown in Western Europe in the post-World War II era, and they have scalded European politics with sudden fear about the possible extreme consequences of anti-Muslim populist rhetoric.

The spread of anti-Islamic attitudes among the European electorate and the entry of small far-right wing movements into national parliaments alongside mainstream political parties have increasingly challenged mainstream leaders’ ability to champion Europe’s social cohesion and traditional values such as toleration and to mobilize strong consensus on difficult decisions shaping the EU to meet its economic and international challenges, according to Garret Martin in European Affairs.

The fall-out of the savage massacres in Norway on the course of European politics will take time to become clear. The left in Europe – which has traditionally seen itself as the rampart against racism – is out of power in major countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy – and is struggling to revitalize its cause, or at least to reframe the passionate debate over immigration. As far as the right is concerned, those mainstream political parties could find it more difficult to accept support from the far-right parties after the events in Norway, the New York Times reports.

Far-right leaders were quick to distance themselves from the Norwegian killer’s acts – a move which undoubtely eased some of mainstream right’s concerns about their current and future political cooperation with far-right parties. Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party said the killer was a "violent and sick character;" France’s Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, said that the Norwegian slaughter “is the work of a lone lunatic who must be ruthlessly punished;" the killings were condemned by the Danish People's Party, the Sweden Democrats and the True Finns, all of them anti-immigrant and nationalist parties represented in the national parliaments of Denmark, Sweden and Finland – all countries considered to be open and progressive Nordic societies like Norway.

Norway’s atrocity is an unfathomable step beyond the anti-immigrant stance of these political movements, but the murderer’s purported views against the "Islamization of Western Europe" echo the core theme of anti-immigration parties gaining ground across the EU. From Sweden to Italy, populist politicians have won votes and influence with the message that Europe is letting in too many people – especially Muslims – who they claim do not accept Western values, who cause crime and unemployment and undue strains on social services. The rise of the populist right is pressuring mainstream political leaders to accommodate extremist views and demands in all these countries. This New York Times article adds some nuance to this statement, portraying how mainstream parties in Sweden have sought to compete with nationalist parties – the Sweden Democrats – in part by co-opting some of their core themes.

Norway is an oil-rich exception to these pressures on jobs or living standards. But even in this small, well-off country, populism has grown alongside recent immigration trends giving Norway a 12 percent population of (largely Muslim) immigrants and their children. Extremists often blame governments in this and other Nordic countries for being too liberal – “too lax,” they would say – in their attitudes toward this influx. A rare counter-attack against extremist movements occurred in Sweden some five years ago when all the countries’ newspapers published the same special issues carrying photographs of the leading Swedish neo-Nazis in hopes that they would be stigmatized and marginalized in their communities.

Now the shock of events may trigger a European backlash against toleration of islamophobic propaganda and racism. But the political fall-out will be complex. It may include sterner penal attitudes: many European justice systems have shunned the harsh punishments meted out in U.S. courts for political violence. In fact, there are some grim similarities between Norway’s “long wolf” mass-killer and home-grown, right-wing American psychopaths who have carried out atrocities in the U.S. in recent decades. The Norwegian terrorist apparently learned some of his violent ideology and even bomb-making techniques from American extremists on the web. For Europeans, part of the shock from Norway comes from a realization that the ideological violence they abhorred in American life has germinated in Europe, too – that “it can happen here.”

Certainly, leaders at all levels in Europe and the U.S. will undergo soul-searching about the rise of the far-right in the EU and the dangers of populism. Current counter-terrorism efforts by European governments have focused on possible Islamic attacks, but now Europe’s police agency, Europol, has announced a 50-man taskforce to look into non-Islamist threats of homegrown terrorism.

Voicing the initial reactions of many Europeans from beyond his own left-leaning group, Norwegian writer Aslak Sira Myhre said that the mayhem must shake Europeans into reacting against anti-Islamic extremism that has often been dismissed as marginal. He notes that the killer was a fellow Norwegian who until 2005 had been an active member of a populist party that was a growing rightwing force in Norwegian democratic politics. He left them and sought his ideology instead among the community of anti-Islamist groups on the internet. Now, the Norwegian writer wrote in an Oslo paper, “all Western leaders have the same problem within their own borders. Will they now wage war on homegrown rightwing extremism? On Islamophobia and racism?”

The author praised Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg for his response to the outrage: Our answer to the attack should be more democracy and more openness, he said, adding that “there is good reason to be proud [of Norway’s leaders]. Contrasting this reaction to America’s bellicose reaction to the 9/11 attacks, he said that Norway should follow the examples of Britain and Spain in their measured responses to attacks they suffered from Muslim extremists. But, he said, “after the most dreadful experience in Norway since the Second World War, we need to go further. We need to use this incident to strike a blow against the intolerance, racism and hatred that is growing, not just in Norway and not just in Scandinavia but throughout Europe.” His words foreshadow lengthy processes to come of political debate and leadership challenges.


       -- By European Affairs