He’s Not Alone: Anders Behring Breivik is only the tip of the iceberg in a rising sea of radical Islamophobia in Europe.
April 22, 2012
The biggest mistake that Europeans could make while watching the ongoing trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway is to discount his rambling tirades against Islam and multiculturism as the ravings of a crackpot. Whether clinically sane or not — the Norwegian psychiatrists at the pretrial flip-flopped on this — Breivik’s thousand-page manifesto and his convictions in general are not the bizarre product of a “delusional thought universe,” as the first psychiatric report concluded. On the contrary, Breivik’s “thought universe” bears all the staples of a political ideology that accurately reflects a potent Islamophobic discourse that has taken hold across the continent and beyond since the 9/11 attacks. Breivik’s monstrous crimes must serve as a shrill wake-up call for Europeans — and not just Europeans — to acknowledge the very real potential for violence inherent in this movement and take action to stem it, at its source.
Breivik is not a Norwegian novelty but, rather, symptomatic of a growing culture of politically motivated violence across the continent (just check out the London-based Islamophobia Watch, which chronicles anti-Muslim violence). Muslims have been assaulted and killed, their mosques and institutions smeared with graffiti and bombed. Rampages that copycat Breivik’s, say experts, aren’t out of the question. Indeed, security services have been far too lax about the threat of the far right, especially its most radical, Islam-obsessed currents.
Yet the source of the discrimination, hate speech, and violence increasingly directed at Europe’s Muslim communities lies much closer to home: Islamophobia has won an accepted presence in mainstream discourses and politics from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. Political parties that espouse a somewhat milder version of Breivik’s thoughts sit in parliaments across Northern Europe, including in the European Parliament, and even participate in ruling coalitions. In some countries, like once proudly multikulti Denmark, these politicos have had a pronounced impact on migration, asylum, and cultural, social, and anti-terrorism policies, as well as on the entrenchment of a growing popular animus against Muslims.
Even proper democrats have capitulated to Islamophobia, unable to field the complex issues of Islam and Europe’s Muslims constructively. Last year, Denmark’s opposition Social Democrats, for example, though fiercely split, backed a landmark tightening of immigration requirements for non-Westerners, a bill the anti-Islam Danish People’s Party co-wrote and pushed. The burqa bans in France and Belgium had similar support. Acts like these stigmatize Muslims further and play straight into the hands of this new generation of Europe’s right, which includes extremists like Breivik who are inspired by its arguments. An international network of “counter-jihad” groups are expanding in reach and influence, according to a report released by the British group Hope Not Hate on the eve of Breivik’s trial. Far-right organizations are forging new alliances throughout Europe and the United States, according to the group, which documented 190 groups promoting an Islamophobic agenda.
“Anti-Muslim racism” — a cultural hierarchy that instead of using skin color imputes immutable characteristics to cultures (Western civilization at the top, retrograde Islam its nemesis) — defines these groups’ ideology of hate. Muslims are not biologically inferior, it is argued, but rather culturally incompatible. Yet this clash of civilizations perversely functions just as racism does and serves the purposes of those who have long sought to stem immigration, keep Turkey out of the European Union, or secure a white Christian Europe. Unlike overt racism, there is no politically correct taboo against it — yet. On the contrary, as opposed to the old-school right with its pungent anti-Semitism, this new counter-jihad movement is pro-Israel and ostensibly liberal, and is thus capable of attracting a far broader constituency.
Breivik’s writings, Internet postings, and statements — as well as the dozens of anti-Islamist intellectuals, authors, and bloggers in Europe and North America whom he references — are shot through with textbook anti-Muslim racism. In a nutshell, this worldview poses the last 2,000 years of history as the battle of Western civilization to stem the advance of a violent, monolithic Islam that strives to destroy traditionally Christian Europe. (One of the Internet sites Breivik regularly quotes is called Gates of Vienna, referring to the Ottomans’ unsuccessful siege of the city in 1683, which halted their military advance into Central Europe.) In the name of the Enlightenment, so says Breivik and his ilk, the counter-jihad is defending the achievements of the West from the imposition of sharia law everywhere.
The twin policies of “the left,” the European Union, and “cultural Marxists” — as they’re called by the anti-Muslim campaigners — that gave the jihad a new foothold in the West were immigration and multiculturism. (Breivik’s targets, the Norwegian government buildings and the Labor Party-affiliated youth camp, were supposedly representatives of this establishment.) It was state-sponsored multiculturalism that put Islam on a par with Christianity, they say, enabling it to flourish in Europe, or “Eurabia,” at the expense of a dwindling white populace. These modern-day crusaders see themselves as the protectors of liberal tolerance, even of women’s and gay rights, against a totalitarian Islam. The counter-jihad makes no distinction between long-integrated Muslim migrant communities and al Qaeda.
Moreover, their doctrine is not a mere description of the way things are. It is eminently activist, just as Breivik understood it. In their eyes, only radical forms of action — violence, war, and a fight to the bitter end — can remove Islam’s threat, explains Matthew Goodwin, a British analyst of the right wingat the University of Nottingham. The movement, he wrote in the Guardian, cultivates the belief that “they are engaged in a battle for racial or cultural survival; that their racial, religious or cultural group is threatened by imminent extinction; that existing political options are incapable of responding to this threat; that urgent and radical action is required to [respond] to these threats in society; and that they must fulfil this duty in order to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren.”…