Opinion

New extremism in Norway

THOMAS SAJAN TITTO IDICULA | Updated on August 04, 2011

THOMAS SAJAN

TITTO IDICULA

The shootings are the warning symptom of a far-right political paranoia, rather than mere horrific acts of a deranged mind.

No other day after the German invasion of the Second World War has been as shocking and horrible for Norwegians as Friday, the 22 July. The bomb blast at Central Oslo shattered the heart and soul of the very city that bestows the Nobel peace prize. The shooting spree that followed at the nearby Utoya Island culminated in 76 civilian casualties, an alarming figure when one puts it against the country's small population of 49 lakh.

The impact these deaths have on the popular minds can only be fathomed by comparing it to Norway's annual murder rate, which is almost half that of the Friday's death. A peaceful country that stands upon the pinnacle of open society values, concurrently at the both national and international levels, is now under attack.

multicultural Norway

The discovery of oil in the northern sea during the 1970s transformed Norway from a relatively poor European country to one of the most prosperous countries in the world. It stands very high in most indexes of human development.

For many years in a row, it has been in the United Nations' list of “the best place to live”. The state-society relation that exists in this country is remarkably distinct. It is all too common to see the top politicians mingling freely with people on their way to office, usually by foot. It was just a few years ago that the Prime Minister, Mr Jan Stoltenberg, applied for permission to go to work by bicycle. Despite the looming threat of global terrorism, Norwegian police do not carry guns. Perhaps, it is the only country that celebrates its national day without a weapon parade.

The booming oil revenues created an influx of immigrants, both skilled workers and political refugees. Unlike many other oil-rich nations, the Norwegian government tries to maintain a social welfare system that is ‘generous' to immigrants. The influx of ‘others' transformed the country from its original identity as a single race, a single religion and a single language into a multicultural and multiracial society.

This triggered the emergence of a few right-wing parties with an open anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policy. They managed to gain power in many Norwegian counties. However, an extreme right-wing was not apparent until the horrific event of July 22. The Internet postings by Anders Behring Breivik, perpetrator of the Oslo carnage, clearly indicates that he is a fundamental anti-Islamist preoccupied with phobias about a ‘Eurabia', a term denoting the political possibility of a demographic take-over of Europe by the prolific immigrant Muslims. Anders Behring Breivik transcended set ways of unleashing right-wing violence at two crucial levels. Firstly, he adopted the terrorists' modus operandi and changed the usual pattern of racial violence.

Like the acts of Jihadi terrorists, his ‘mission' involved meticulous planning, evoking terror, and inflicting irreplaceable human casualties. Secondly, he made a drastic redefinition of the target, that is “who is to be killed?” He did not target the immigrants or Muslims in particular.

While pursuing his goal, Breivik sought to bypass the old-fashioned mode of racial violence — killing or intimidating the “other”. What he preferred instead was terrorising and killing his own ethnic peers.

By sparing the immigrants and targeting the natives, what Breivik provided to the far-right is a novel starting premise to the already existing multicultural debates. The very presence of immigrants might remind the natives of what they had to pay for bearing the “burden of multiculturalism”. A rigorous sentence would dissipate the hate towards the culprit, but the constant presence of immigrants might keep on reminding the natives of what they lost one black Friday.

The statement that Breivik made after the arrest reveals that far-right extremists are in search of radically-novel starting premises and operational possibilities. For him, what needs to be checked immediately is the voyaging of the Norwegian state towards a multicultural identity. But unlike his neo-Nazi precursors, Breivik found it worth only when set out to “get some natives”.

There was no ‘direct place' for the immigrant foreigners in his scheme of things, as they are not the dearest of the State. He chose the youth leaders of the ruling Labour party, which, as he said before the court, is “deconstructing Norwegian culture by mass-importing Muslims”. His comment while admitting the guilt “the killings are gruesome but necessary”, the request he made for an open court hearing, and his claim about “two more cells” outside Norway — all points towards the birth pangs of a new far-right breed in Europe.

Strengthening THE far-right movements

The horror events that played out on July 22 cannot be contained to the Norwegian local politics. It has certain subtle socio-political undertones of global relevance, particularly that of Europe. The Norwegian premier has insisted that the country would respond with more openness and greater political participation. However, once relieved of the shock from the dire event, some of the far-right leaders in Europe have started sympathising with Breivik's underlying motivation.

Seeing the Oslo carnage as the fault of a multi-racial society, far-right extremists from Italy, Sweden and France blame the very idea of multiculturalism. “In a Norwegian Norway this tragedy would never have happened”, was the comment by a local Swedish politician. These responses clearly indicate that the ‘‘Norway shootings” is the warning symptom of a new far-right political paranoia, rather than mere horrific acts of a deranged mind.

Will history repeat itself?

The question that remains is, whether European democracies have the vigour to prevent such a new and sophisticated nationalist politics. Can Europe hinder the ever bold far-right from repeating some of its dark history of the last century?

(The authors are researchers at University of Bergen, Norway.

Published on August 02, 2011

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