It has already been said many times in the international media that right-wing extremism is a marginal phenomenon in Norway. On the face of it, this is true. However, if one looks slightly more closely, it soon becomes evident that virulent anti-Islamism and deep hatred of the political elite and cultural establishment of the country, who have “sold out” to foreign invaders (immigrants, especially Muslims), is very widespread. Indeed, not only dedicated websites, but also the mainstream media, often present views to this effect. As the situation in Norway went from shocking (the bomb in central Oslo) to horrific (the shootings at Utøya) to catastrophic (the number of deaths exceeding 90), we need to begin to understand what happened.
Before the massacre at the summer camp of the youth wing of the Labour Party, virtually everybody associated the terrorist act with Islamic fundamentalists. However, the attack at Utøya – an extremely peaceful place – was out of character with international terrorism, and suggested a domestic perpetrator. It therefore came as no surprise that the terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, was an ethnic Norwegian with strong right-wing views.
It has already been said many times in the international media that right-wing extremism is a marginal phenomenon in Norway. On the face of it, this is true. However, if one looks slightly more closely, it soon becomes evident that virulent anti-Islamism and deep hatred of the political elite and cultural establishment of the country, who have “sold out” to foreign invaders (immigrants, especially Muslims), is very widespread. Indeed, not only dedicated websites, but also the mainstream media, often present views to this effect.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of hate speech against immigrants, and Muslims in particular, on certain websites, some defenders of cultural diversity (myself included) being routinely attacked in vaguely threatening ways for betraying Norwegian culture and Western values by taking an inclusive and liberal stance towards minorities and immigration. Mr Breivik was an active contributor to at least one such website, www.document.no, which is itself strongly influenced by the so-called Eurabia literature, the cluster of publications based on the assumption that Islam is incompatible with Western values and sometimes intimates that Muslims are plotting to achieve political dominance in Western Europe. Persons, who hold such views, have until now been treated respectfully by the mainstream media, and have often been given ample space to present their views. Attempts to rehabilitate racist pseudoscience have been made (and publicized by the mainstream media), and crude generalizations about Muslims, as well as aggressive denunciations of politicians and other defenders of the new Norway are common, especially on the Web.
Norway has changed rapidly in terms of population. Immigration to the country has grown fast, and some tensions are bound to result from this. People with a minority background (first or second generation) now make up about ten per cent of the population, slightly over half of non-European origin. However, in order to prevent refugees, family members of immigrants settled in the country and labour migrants from Central and Eastern Europe from coming to Norway, this society would have to change almost beyond recognition. Norway is a liberal, open society, which is integrated with the outside world in a million ways, from cheap Chinese imports and Hollywood films to studies abroad and oil exports. Immigration policies in Norway are not unusually liberal, compared with other Western European countries, but because of the wealth and stability of this oil-rich country, it has become something of an immigrant magnet in recent years. This is why it would be inaccurate to speak of Mr. Breivik and his co-believers as cultural conservatives. Cultural reactionaries would be more precise; they envision a society that no longer exists.
The tragedy in Oslo and at Utøya was not a dramatic version of the well-rehearsed story of the ‘clash of civilizations’, the West versus Islam. The attacks were not like the recent terrorist acts in Madrid or London, but quite the opposite. Yet there are similarities. Norway has, as some commentators say, lost its innocence. The trusting, secure, easygoing society to which we have been accustomed, is under threat. It will return and in some ways re-emerge strengthened out of this tragedy, but we did wake up on Saturday morning to a slightly more paranoid, slightly less pleasant society. A society where we have become aware of our fundamental vulnerability in the face of evil.