Terror in the Norwegian Woods

Lethal political violence in Scandinavia has almost exclusively been perpetrated by far-Right groups or individuals.1 Yet, on 22 July 2011, when a homemade bomb exploded at the office of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, head of the social democratic Labour Party, and a gunman opened fire on the youth camp of the same party, ‘terrorism experts’, the media and politicians instantly blamed Islamic terrorists.

‘Most likely al-Qaeda is behind [the attack],’ Magnus Ranstorp at the Swedish National Defence College stated. ‘It’s only natural to conclude that this is linked to the conflict between the West and radical Islam,’ his Norwegian colleague Helge Lurås commented, adding that ‘it need not be an organised group with an international agenda. It might also be a local group of [Muslim] immigrants hostile to Norwegian society.’

The media, both domestic and international, talked about Norway being singled out as a ‘soft target’ due to its reluctance to impose draconic anti-terrorist measures to supervise the movement of Muslims, thus opening the door for the ‘“Al-Qaeda Massacre”: Norway’s 9/11’.

Politicians joined in. ‘The entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring,’ US President Barack Obama said. ‘And so we have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks.’

‘These attacks are a stark reminder of the threat we all face from terrorism,’ UK Prime Minister David Cameron solemnly added. ‘We will work with Norway to hunt the murderers who did this and prevent any more innocent deaths. We can overcome this evil, and we will.’

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen assured the people of Norway and everyone else that all the ‘NATO countries stand united in the battle against these acts of violence’.

During the first few hours, Muslim people in Norway and Sweden – people who knew no more than any other citizen about the massacre – were attacked or harassed, and Linus Bylund, party secretary of the Sweden Democrats, warned that the ‘Next bastard whining about taking pity with all the good Muslims when Norwegians lay bleeding on the streets will be taken care of.’

When it became clear that the terrorist was not a dark-skinned, dark-eyed, bearded Middle Eastern Muslim who hated the West, but a blond, blue-eyed, clean-shaven Norwegian Christian who hated Muslims, a remarkable shift occurred. No-one urged Christian Scandinavians to take exception from their religion and culture; Cameron stopped talking about hunting down the murderers to overcome evil; NATO rethought the wisdom of responding to the attack by military intervention; and the Sweden Democrats suddenly found the idea of making politics of such a tragedy indecent. The mainstream media also suddenly replaced their terrorism experts with psychiatrists trying to explain the attacks, which were now thought of as the actions of a deranged individual.

However, far from being an isolated exception to political traditions in Scandinavian societies, the murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, was clearly a product of a political milieu that has been growing for decades: a new far Right whose ideology builds on monoculturalism, cultural conservatism, anti-intellectualism and anti-feminism, and which has successfully merged into mainstream politics in western Europe by replacing its outdated anti-Semitism with an anti-Muslim agenda.

Fascism has returned to Europe.

For decades after the end of the Second World War, only Italy had a fascist party in parliament. Today, redesigned brown parties riding the tide of contemporary Islamophobia have marched back into western European parliaments, including Fremskrittspartiet, (Progress Party, Norway), Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party), Sannfinländarna (True Finns), Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom, Netherlands), Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), Front National (Belgium), Front National (France), Mouvement pour la France, British National Party, Lega Nord (Northern League, Italy), Futuro e Libertá (Italy), Schweizerische Volkspartei (Swiss People’s Party), Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Germany), Pro Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany), Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria), Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (Alliance for the Future of Austria) and Laikós Orthódoxos Synagermós (People’s Orthodox Rally, Greece).

Some of these have been remarkably successful. Dansk Folkeparti gained nearly 14 per cent of the votes in Denmark’s 2007 election; Fremskrittspartiet – of which Breivik was once a member – received 23 per cent of the vote in Norway’s 2009 election; and Partij voor de Vrijheid – whose leader Geert Wilders seeks to ban the Koran – became the third largest party in parliament, with 17 per cent in the 2010 election. In Sweden, Sverigedemokraterna – whose ideologue Kent Ekeroth believes that Sweden and Europe are cast in an apocalyptic war with Islam and Muslims, and who co-funds the anti-Muslim network out of which Breivik emerged – became the first brown party in the country’s history to enter parliament, with close to 6 per cent in the 2010 election. In Finland, True Finns – whose ideologue Jussi Halla-aho says that Europeans have but two options when confronted with Muslim immigration: war or surrender – gained 19 per cent in the 2011 election, just 1 per cent away from becoming the largest party.

The electoral advance of the new brown parties represents a significant shift in the political geography of western Europe, where the political production of the common has moved away from general welfare concerns to the ‘protection’ of supposedly European or national ‘values’ against the imagined threat of Islam, Muslims and the ‘alien’ values they are held to represent. By reiterating anti-Muslim rhetoric, conservative as well as mainstream liberal politicians, such as Angela Merkel, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Nicolas Sarkozy, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Silvio Berlusconi, Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Lene Espersen, have helped pave the way for the browning of Europe, normalising a discourse in which evil is personified as the Muslim ‘other’. ‘The Muslim threat against our society’, Espersen has said, ‘is far more serious than the climate crisis.’

The tradition of Islamophobia is, like anti-Semitism, rooted in the medieval Christian hostility to the ‘enemies of God’, with these perceptions disseminated, expanded upon, restructured, rearticulated and reactivated in various social and political contexts, from the Turk scare in early modernity, via the colonial expansion, to the War on Terror.

Many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions. Church art portrayed Mohammed as the Antichrist, and Muslims as horned devils, Christ-killers, dogs or a hybrid race of dog-men. Lars Vilks – the Swedish artist who depicted Mohammed as a dog – may claim originality, but the dog motif goes back hundreds of years and is as old as the Judensau (the medieval depiction of Jews in obscene contact with a sow).

The first print produced by Gutenberg was a papal letter of indulgence to those who went to war against the Muslims. Another of his early works was a Turkish calendar in which the verses for every month called on a different Christian prince to war against the Turks, ending with a prayer that God bestow the strength to slay all Turks everywhere. The first world map printed in Sweden (1541) features Muslims at two places: in Africa, the head of Mohammed, the Antichrist, springs forth from the ten-horned beast (symbolising the Roman Empire); in Asia, a herd of armed Muslims hide behind a mountain range, ready to attack Europe and Sweden (which is protected by the Lion that, for certain historical reasons, had come to symbolise a country in which no lions live).

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the horrifying consequences of anti-Semitism became impossible to deny, and a political consensus developed against allowing this part of European history to resurface. Biological racism was also gradually dethroned, both as scientific truth and legitimate reference for the political administration of difference. However, racism as a more or less formal system of exclusion, distribution of opportunities and population control does not depend on the idea of biological ‘race’ but on constructed truth-claims about the innate difference between imagined collective communities. Throughout western Europe, systemic racism survived, supported by revised doctrines of difference that revolve not around ‘race’ but around ‘religion’ and ‘culture’, with these perceived as monolithic, demarcated and separate units that exercise a determining influence on how individuals think, act and are as human beings. While Muslims do not constitute a biological ‘race’, Islamophobia is basically a racist doctrine that sets Muslims apart from universal man, bestowing on this imagined collective certain inherent negative features said to derive from ‘Islam’, features that somehow determine ‘how Muslims are’.2

Anti-Muslim racism manifests in policies of discrimination discernible in the housing and labour markets, migration control, surveillance policies, police profiling and increasing levels of hate crime. In the Weimar Republic of the 1920s, German Jews sought to escape rising anti-Semitism by adopting non-Jewish names. Muslims in today’s western Europe can do the same to improve their living conditions: studies from Sweden show that individuals who changed their names from Muslim to non-Muslim ones escaped harassment, were treated more respectfully, got better jobs and increased their annual income.3

In Germany, the practice of name-changing fed speculation that Jews concealed their true identity, and during the 1930s it became painfully clear to Jewish people that changing one’s name and religion, speaking perfect German and identifying as a German offered little protection. Similarly, Islamophobic logic does not differentiate between secular or practising Muslims, nor between Muslim citizens or foreigners, with anti-Muslim ideologues repeatedly warning that well-integrated, law-abiding and likeable Muslims are the most dangerous of all, as they conceal their true evil behind a mask of cordiality. According to this mindset, there is an inborn essence of eerie Muslimness that prevents Muslims from being Westerners, no matter if they were born and raised in the West by parents born and raised in the West, and irrespective of what they do and how they behave; at best they can ‘be like us’, where that ‘like’ separates ‘them’ from being ‘us’.

Islam returned to the fore as the arch-enemy of the West in the 1990s after having been temporarily overshadowed by communism during the Cold War. In Scandinavia, the rising tide of anti-Muslim fever arose concurrently with, firstly, the introduction of neoliberal policies that gradually undermined the Scandinavian model and, secondly, the anxieties produced when national independence gave way to the construction of Europe as a new political community. Of course, migration from countries in which Islam is an important discursive tradition had been going on for decades, but during the Cold War such immigrants were not referred to as Muslims but as Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Iranians, Yugoslavs, Albanians and so on. If they were lumped together, they were called ‘blackheads’ (svartskallar) or ‘blots’ (blattar), epithets they shared with nominally Catholic immigrants from Latin America and southern Europe. At the time, xenophobic opinion knew no religious borders.

This changed as public discourse became increasingly preoccupied with the threat of Islam, an obsession that reached hysterical proportions with 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror. The Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Iranians, Bosnians and Albanians became discursively linked to each other and to Islam as ‘the Muslim’ emerged as a visible threat. Adapting to these developments, the far Right blossomed. Feeding into the uncertainties about the future, anti-Muslim populism pointed at the presence of the newly discovered Muslim minority as evidence of the state’s failure to protect the interest of the majority population, and offered the prospect of restoring the good-old days by returning the aliens to their home countries (again, irrespective of whether they were native citizens).

The uncanny essence that makes Muslims eternal strangers to the West (despite the fact that Islam has been one of Europe’s many religions for 1300 years) enables Islamophobic discourses to link Muslims ‘here’ with the perceived threat from Muslims ‘there’ which, as Arjun Appadurai notes, simultaneously feeds an aversion of small numbers – the hatred of minorities – and the fear of the masses. The racist logic underlying the figure of the Eternal Muslim is integral to the theories of a global Islamic conspiracy promoted by anti-Muslim far-Right cadres. Taking over from anti-Semitic tales of a Jewish world conspiracy, the anti-Muslim conspiracy theory comes complete with its own version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Evoking a Manichean vision of a struggle between the forces of light and darkness, it tell us that for 1300 years the Western world has been locked in an apocalyptic conflict with ‘Islam’, which is depicted as an animated being with a sinister agency, which tirelessly seeks the eradication of Christian Europe, the last outpost of freedom.

Previously, two massive attempts by the Muslim hordes to overrun Europe were halted in the last minute: at Poitiers in 732 and at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Now, the third and final effort is well underway. This time, the evil Muslims have cunningly enlisted traitors among Western politicians, scholars, plutocrats, feminists and leftists, all of whom have sold out Europe and allowed the enemy to establish breeding colonies on European soil. Muslim reproduction in Europe constitutes a demographic warfare that will be militarised as soon as Muslims become sufficiently numerous. Fortunately, the sinister scheme has been exposed by dedicated anti-Muslim investigators who have found the masterminds’ secret minutes.

There is, however, a competition between different conspiracy theorists as to exactly what the plan involves. For the British anti-Muslim writer Bat Ye’or (Gisèle Littman) and her protégé, the Norwegian blogger Fjordman (Peder Nøstvold Jensen) – who greatly influenced Breivik – the conspiracy uses vehicles such as the Euro-Arab Dialogue and the Barcelona Process to further the goal of establishing ‘Eurabia’, a new dictatorial superpower in which all decent Europeans will be reduced to servitude. For the Swiss-French journalist Sylvain Besson and his disciples, the evil master plan is codenamed ‘The Project’ and refers to the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged scheme to infiltrate and defeat the West to establish a global caliphate, a plot exposed when an untitled protocol was found in a Swiss mansion belonging to Youssef Moustafa Nada, an Egyptian-born businessman. In yet another version, al-Qaeda is the omnipotent conspiratorial centre whose plan for world control was revealed (fortunately for those erecting barricades to stop the Islamisation of Europe) when a letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was found in a counterterrorism operation in Iraq.

The machinations of the Islamic world conspiracy are disseminated, along with other anti-Muslim tirades, through digital networks of inter-referential bloggers, far-Right political parties, non-parliamentarian political campaigns, radio shows and books, and then echoed by cultural conservative news outlets in columns, op-eds and editorials.

In 2007, efforts were made to synchronise the efforts of the increasingly vocal anti-Muslim milieu’s militant wing. On the initiative of Baron Bodissey (Edward S May)4 – founder of the US-based 910 Group (the ‘citizens’ network’ of the Center for Vigilant Freedom) and editor of the influential anti-Muslim blogs Gates of Vienna and Brussels Journal – a small group of specially invited individuals met at a secret location in Copenhagen. Among the participants, most of whom remained anonymous in the meeting’s reports, were Fjordman, Anders Graver Pedersen (founder of Stop the Islamisation of Denmark) and Ted Ekeroth (Sweden Democrats).

Following that constituting conference, yearly ‘Counterjihad Summits’ have been organised in Brussels (2007), Vienna (2008), Copenhagen (2009), Zurich (2010) and Strasbourg (2011). These events have attracted a rising number of anti-Muslim celebrities, such as Bat Ye’or, Robert Spencer, Andrew Bostom and Pamela Geller, as well as right-wing parliamentarians from across Europe. Summit agendas are typically a mixture of country reports, inspirational lectures and workshops discussing visions, aims and strategies. According to these discussions, the battle to ‘de-Islamise’ Europe and rid the West of the Muslim presence will be fought through the law (by banning veils, minarets, mosques, Islamic associations, Muslim immigration), parliaments (by supporting various anti-Muslim parties and their agendas), social media (where the Islamophobes are already quite successful), direct action (stopping mosque constructions) and street violence (on the model of the English Defence League).

Founded by multi-millionaire Alan Lake in 2009, the English Defence League (EDL) has brought together far-Right football hooligans, skinheads, fighters from the Ulster Defence Force and self-proclaimed ‘patriots’ in violent rallies through Muslim communities in England, their actions reminiscent of the ceremonial power displays the classical Ku Klux Klan once staged in African-American neighbourhoods. Confronting Muslims is, however, not enough, Lake has explained, adding that it would be ‘great’ to see traitors such as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Nick Clegg ‘executed or tortured to death’.

The EDL is inspired by the Jewish Defence League, the armed anti-Arab force established by far-Right hardliner Meir Kahane. Various defence leagues linked with Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) have been established in Denmark, Russia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Australia. Typically, the anti-Muslim far-Right milieu seeks alliances with Israeli right-wingers, and Israeli far-Right members of the Knesset, such as Aryeh Eldad, have been invited to the Counterjihad Summits.

Philo-Semitism may, however, easily turn into anti-Semitism, as demonstrated by the smooth transition from the pro-Jewish British Israelites to the virulently anti-Semitic Christian Identity scene. In his manifesto, Breivik states that anti-Muslim fighters should assist Israel in deporting all Muslims, demolishing the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and rebuilding the Temple of Solomon. While Jerusalem will be shared by Jews and Christians, Jews belong in Israel, not Europe. When the Muslim enemy is defeated, Europe should be cleansed, and there is no room for Jews in the monocultural Christian Europe of the future.

The visions of Europe’s new fascists are far-reaching. In a plan presented at a Counterjihad Summit and posted at Gates of Vienna, author ‘El Inglés’ suggests there are three ‘basic ways in which the number of Muslims in any given European country could, in principle, be reduced: through pressuring them, in whatever fashion, to decide to relocate (Option 1); through deporting them (Option 2); and through large-scale violence which, taken to an extreme, would constitute genocide (Option 3)’. El Inglés notes that some countries, notably the Netherlands, already have begun to get serious with the Muslim problem. Should Geert Wilders get the voters’ support to implement his anti-Muslim policies, ‘the Netherlands would have heartily adopted Option 1, supplemented with Option 2’.

He continues: ‘One of the European countries worst afflicted by the cancer of Islam is already at a point where the debate on what would constitute a genuinely effective response to Islam is moving into the political mainstream … Within the next few years the Netherlands could be attempting to implement at least some elements of the first de-Islamisation program in modern European history.’ El Inglés suggests that the de-Islamisation program may be hastened by incorporating elements of Option 3. ‘It is hard to envisage de-Islamisation taking place without … eruptions of more systematic and lethal violence aimed at entire communities … Such violence, directed at Muslim populations throughout a given country, would also constitute a fairly obvious squeeze factor … If two thousand unfortunate Muslims were to be killed in Birmingham, would that not induce many others to consider booking flights back to Islamabad, Dhaka, or Mogadishu?’

In the light of Europe’s historical experience, the current situation should be of concern. Yet parliamentarians such as Kent Ekeroth, international secretary of the Sweden Democrats, have actively been part of (and financed) summits where detailed plans for anti-Muslim pogroms and genocide were outlined, without this causing scandal. Would such a response be conceivable if the targets had been Jews not Muslims? When Breivik achieved the first anti-Muslim massacre outside the Balkans in post-Holocaust Europe, representatives of the parliamentary wing of the anti-Muslim far-Right milieu found it wise to officially take exception. But Alan Lake of the EDL was up-front: Breivik, he said, ‘did this attack to protest against the way that Islam is taking over large parts of Europe. By attacking the leftist politicians that are enabling this, the chickens have actually come home to roost’.

1. The one exception in Norway is the 1973 murder of a Moroccan immigrant whom an Israeli death squad mistook for a Palestinian militant.
2. Islamophobia may be defined as ‘socially reproduced prejudice about and aversion against Muslims, and practices that aggress, exclude or discriminate humans on the basis that they are or assumed to be Muslims, and associated with Islam’. See Mattias Gardell, Islamfobi, Leopard, Stockholm, 2010, p. 17.
3. See on this point Shahram Khosravi, ‘White Masks/Muslim Names: Name Changes among Immigrants with Islamic Names in Sweden’, Race & Class [forthcoming]; Mahmood Arai & Peter Skogman Thoursie, ‘Renouncing Personal Names: An Empirical Examination of Surname Changes and Earnings’, Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 27, no. 1, 2009, pp. 127–147; Mahmood Arai & Peter Skogman Thoursie, ‘Giving up Foreign Names: An Empirical Examination of Surname Change and Earnings’, Research Papers in Economics, Stockholm University, Department of Economics, 2006, p. 13.
4. Baron Bodissey is a character in the works of fantasy novelist Jack Vance, including Demon Prince and The Killing Machine.

Mattias Gardell

Mattias Gardell is Professor of Comparative Religion at Uppsala University, Sweden. His publications include The Return of Torture (Leopard, 2008), Islamophobia (Leopard, 2010) and Revolution in Egypt (Leopard, 2011, co-authored with Jan Hjärpe, Per Björklund and Bitte Hammargren). Gardell is currently engaged in two major projects, one on the militant anti-Muslim milieu and a comparative study of religion, secularism and democracy.

More by Mattias Gardell ›

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