During those hours when we all thought this was a jihadist attack, one thought that crossed my mind was that this would change the political map of Norway. For years, the Progress Party, which is the second largest of Norway’s seven or eight major parties, has led the way in calling for more responsible policies on the immigration and integration of people from Muslim countries — and has been demonized as a bunch of right-wing extremist xenophobes who hate Muslims. I assumed that after this attack, Norwegians would vote in a Progress Party-led government in the next elections. Now it appears that the man who committed all these murders is a former member of the Progress Party and is, indeed, a right-wing extremist xenophobe who harbors (according to Dagbladet) a “violent hatred for Muslims” and multiculturalism, and who targeted the Labor Party youth camp because he blames the ruling Labor Party for the Islamization of Norway. Norway’s political future looks very different now, in short, than it did 24 hours ago.
It is deeply depressing to see this evil, twisted creature become the face of Islam criticism in Norway. Norwegian television journalists who in the first hours of the crisis were palpably uncomfortable about the prospect of having to talk about Islamic terrorism are now eagerly discussing the dangers of “Islamophobia” and “conservative ideology” and are drawing connections between the madness and fanaticism of Breivik and the platform of the Progress Party. Yesterday’s events, then, represent a double tragedy for Norway. Not only has it lost almost one hundred people, including dozens of young people, in a senseless rampage of violence. But legitimate criticism of Islam, which remains a very real threat to freedom in Norway and the West, has been profoundly discredited by association with this murderous lunatic.
This was evident in an article in the New York Times today by Nicholas Kulish titled Norway attacks shine light on right-wing extremism in Europe. Extremism of any type is dangerous, of course, but the events in Norway are being linked to political issues of great importance in an attempt to stifle perfectly legitimate criticism from conservatives. Kulish writes:
The attacks in Oslo on Friday have riveted new attention on right-wing extremists not just in Norway but across Europe, where opposition to Muslim immigrants, globalization, the power of the European Union and the drive toward multiculturalism has proven a potent political force and, in a few cases, a spur to violence.Mike McNally points out in a post titled Can the Left Resist the Temptation to Exploit the Norway Attacks? that the events in Norway will inevitably be used to de-legitimize conservatives and stifle legitimate political discourse:
The success of populist parties appealing to a sense of lost national identity has brought criticism of minorities, immigrants and in particular Muslims out of the beer halls and Internet chat rooms and into mainstream politics. While the parties themselves generally do not condone violence, some experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.
The rush to get Breivik’s profile out there suggests an eagerness to exonerate Muslims by the authorities, and the regularity with which the “right-wing” connection is being repeated by the media suggests both relief and relish: not only do we not have to report bad things about Muslims, we get open season on right-wingers.
Right-wing fundamentalist Christian. It’s a slam-dunk for the liberal-left; the ultimate caricature of conservative extremism; the bogeyman that had until now existed largely in their imaginations made real.
As we learn more about Breivik (some scraps of biography are emerging), people on both the left and right will scrutinize his ideology as they did Jared Loughner’s after the Tucson, Arizona shootings. But there’s very little to scrutinize. Breivik and others who think like him are racists, pure and simple, and racism isn’t an ideology; it’s an irrational attitude that manifests itself as anything from unease to hatred, and one that isn’t exclusive to the left or the right.