As Norway ends its first month of mourning, media soundbites tell us that there is a desire to draw a line and move on. But there are lessons to be learned about the consequences of institutional ‘hate speech’ and prejudice in high places. Can Norway lead the way in learning these lessons?
Friday 22 July 2011 will forever be etched into the Norwegian collective memory as the day when small Norway was struck by large-scale terrorism for the first time in history. A few weeks of massive rainfalls have now washed away the dust from the bomb at Government Headquarters in downtown Oslo, as well as the blood from the massacre at Utøya, a small island an hour’s drive from Oslo, which killed a total of 77 Norwegians. For the many thousands of Norwegians who are affected by this tragedy, the process of coping with grief has merely begun. As we mourn, the process of analyzing and interpreting the motives of the perpetrator has begun.
However, a process paralleling our mourning is already taking shape. This is a process in which those explanations which situate Norway as a breeding-place for Europe's first anti-Muslim terrorist, linking it with the direction we as a society have taken in this era of Islamophobia, are deliberately marginalized. A de-politicizing and de-contextualizing narrative about a psychopathological lone individual terrorist who might as well have been a Martian is in the process of being constructed. At the moment, this is a narrative especially prevalent with public intellectuals linked to the right in Norway as well as elsewhere. It is, however, a narrative imposition which is being forcefully resisted, not the least from Norway’s most popular politician in recent years, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party, who has made it clear publicly that the terror in Oslo and at Utøya were political acts. For despite the intense hatred on the part of terrorist and mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, of modern multicultural Norway in general, and especially the three per cent of its population that is of Muslim background, together with their alleged ‘enablers’ among Norwegian social-democrats in the supposed struggle to establish Muslim ‘dominance’ in Norway, there still exist a fair number of Norwegians who might with some reservations regard Breivik as ‘one of us.’
What places him squarely outside their fold are his actions, not his words. In the minds of most Norwegians, after all, peace-loving Norway and its peace-loving inhabitants represent the universal good, now and forever. No matter how many innocent civilians are killed by Norwegian soldiers in Muslim countries, no matter how tainted our public discourse on Islam and Muslims has become – we still manage to turn a blind eye to the hatred in our midst.
Some of us are already having grave doubts about whether this terrorist attack will have changed much for the better in the future. As a case in point, the tabloid newspaper VG, which is the favourite read of supporters of the right-wing populist party the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp, hereafter, PP), had to close down a web commentary field after ten minutes less than two weeks after the terror attacks due to the extent of the Islamophobic and racist posts from readers. On various social media, Islamophobic and racist abuse has continued unabated since 22/7, in spite of mainstream politicians’ calls for respect, dignity and civility in a time of national mourning.
In the wake of September 11 2001, Norwegian researchers on international terrorism established themselves as some of the world’s leading terrorism experts. It is telling that among the fine and dedicated scholars of terrorism at the Terrorism Research Group (TERRA) at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI) outside Oslo, not a single researcher has a position dedicated to the study of forms of terrorism other than those of a militant Islamist orientation. Yet available statistics from Europe in recent years have suggested that militant Islamist terror attacks represent only a small fraction of the total number of recorded terrorist attacks on European soil. Norwegian experts on terror have long presented us with the scenario that in the event that Norway would be struck by terrorism, it would be terror perpetrated by radical Islamist movements, or by individuals inspired by such movements. The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) has told us more or less the same thing. In their annual open assessment on terror threats in Norway, issued a few months before Behring Breivik’s attacks, PST noted among its introductory and main conclusions that right-wing extremists would ‘not present a serious threat to Norwegian society in 2011 either.’ One may suspect them of not having properly applied themselves to the lessons of history. Almost all acts of political violence in modern Norwegian history have been perpetrated by the far right.
I was not surprised to be receiving a call from a Norwegian newspaper reporter shortly after hearing the bomb blast from the Government Buildings. The reporter in question wanted me to confirm that, “this was all about Islam.” “I am not an expert on terrorism”, I told him; “But you are an expert on Islam, aren’t you?” he replied, as if the competences were more or less interchangeable. It didn't seem to matter that downtown Oslo was in chaos, or that neither the police nor the media themselves had any information about the offender or his motives: the reporter desperately needed intellectuals or scholars who could support his story.
He hung up when I made it perfectly clear to him that I knew nothing about who the perpetrators could possibly be, and that for that matter, neither did he. But there were of course many individuals willing to confirm his presuppositions. Walid al-Kubaisi (1958 -), an Iraqi-born atheist, writer, and propagator of Eurabia-views, confirmed to the reporter in question that “Islamists” were behind this attack. To Finansavisen the next day, he solemnly declared that he had for a long time “anticipated this”, and that one should now ask Norwegian Islamists (read: most Muslims, for the lines are extremely blurred in al-Kubaisi’s public fantasies) to “integrate, or get out.” NRK, the national radio and television network, provided much air time after the blast to one Helge Lurås from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), who in spite of not having any publications on terrorism whatsoever to his record, spent a number of hours informing a Norwegian public by then glued to their television sets that the bombings at the Government Buildings bore the imprimatur of “radical Islamists”. The international media and its terrorism commentariat were no better. Charlie Brooker: “It wasn’t experts speculating, it was guessers guessing – and they were terrible.” An obscure radical Islamist movement entitling itself Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, known for some time to assume responsibility for terror attacks with which it has nothing to do, provided welcome assistance for the narrative that was already established by immediately announcing its responsibility for the bombings at Government Headquarters.
Not on the radar
As all of this unfolded in the immediate wake of the bomb blast, many Norwegian Muslim residents in Oslo and elsewhere feared for their lives. Oslo residents of Muslim minority background experienced various forms of verbal abuse, were chased through the streets and physically assaulted by fellow Norwegians acting out personal fantasies of revenge in the streets of the capital that very afternoon. As I went to bed late in the evening on 22/7, news of the shooting spree at Utøya where the Labour Party’s Youth Movement AUF held their annual camp, had started pouring in. It was at this point that many Norwegians were starting to have second thoughts about possible perpetrators and motives. For this island camp seemed an extremely unlikely target for radical Islamists. It suggested instead an intimate knowledge of Norwegian democratic politics and political movements. I recall my wife having told me, “What if this is a madman with links to the PP?” before we kissed goodnight that dreadful evening.
We should not be surprised that the man who has confessed the acts of terror, and who is now in detention in Oslo, was never on the radar of PST intelligence. Anders Behring Breivik (aged 32) was raised among the political and economic elite in Western Oslo. He is the son of a retired senior diplomat at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and a nurse, who split up when Breivik was one year old. The multicultural footprint in the parts of Oslo in which Behring Breivik grew up is extremely light. He is an admirer of Winston Churchill and the Norwegian World War II resistance hero, Max Manus. He was a member of the PP’s youth movement (FpU) from 1997 to 2007. In the hours before he embarked on his murdering spree, he sent a 1,500-page cut-and-paste ‘Manifesto’ to 1003 recipients linked to far-right movements all over Europe and in Israel via e-mail. In this ‘Manifesto’ and on the You Tube-clip which introduces it, he declares himself a “Christian” and a “conservative” nationalist over and over again. Yet his purported Christianity is of an instrumental, not spiritual kind. There are echoes in the final section, which is a diary of sorts, of Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho: Behring Brevik lists his favourite eau de cologne (Chanel Platinum Egoiste), his favourite t-shirt brand (Lacoste), his favourite authors (Kafka and Orwell) and his favourite soccer team (Lyn). He describes his ‘Christian’ ambivalence about sleeping with sex workers during a trip to Budapest and expresses satisfaction with his own physical appearance after plastic surgery. When burying weapons and ammunition in the woods, he is annoyed with himself for having forgotten mosquito repellants.
In The Locked Room in his New York Trilogy from 1987, Paul Auster writes that “no one can cross the boundary into another – for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself.” And Behring Breivik, for all his obsessively narcissistic Foucauldian ‘care of the self’, presents us with the mystery of a man who does not know himself, and for rather obvious reasons does not want others to know him. He describes his best teenage friend as a Muslim who supposedly abandons him in favour of ‘other Pakistanis’ at the end of his teenage years. He appears to take exception to neo-Nazism and racial theories, and endorses Israeli soldiers as ‘frontline soldiers’ in the battle against a supposed Muslim ‘expansion’ in Europe, yet prepares for his acts of terror listening to neo-Nazi and racist music, and spends considerable time on neo-Nazi websites. He expresses a certain level of revulsion at the public and official recognition of gay rights in Europe, yet appears to have been sighted on several occasions in Oslo’s gay community.
What is perhaps most striking in the material posted by Behring Breivik on extreme as well as mainstream right-wing internet sites is how unremarkable they are. In this era of uncensored and unedited freedom of speech and Islamophobia, his opinions and attitudes are hardly distinguishable from utterances in various social media, and sometimes even in mainstream print media in Norway. There are no overt calls for violence in any of his postings. Monitors at more mainstream websites where he has also left electronic traces have reported that his postings were by no means the most radical or extreme ones. On August 5, the identity of Anders Behring Breivik’s ideological source of inspiration, the blogger ‘Fjordman’, was revealed. Behring Breivik refers to ‘Fjordman’ no less than 111 times in his ‘Manifesto’, and the first part of the ‘Manifesto’ contains no less than 39 ‘essays’ by ‘Fjordman’ from the latter’s postings on various far-right Islamophobic European websites. The subtitle of Behring Breivik’s tract (‘A European Declaration of Independence’) seems to have been lifted directly from an essay by ‘Fjordman’ on Brusselsjournal.com in 2007. After weeks of intense media speculation and a police interrogation, his identity was revealed by the Norwegian tabloid newspaper VG in a kid-glove interview on August 5. ‘Fjordman’ turned out to be a 36yr.-old former Norwegian student of Arabic at the University of Bergen and the American University of Cairo, and an MA graduate in Media Studies from the University of Oslo by the name of Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen. A worker at a day-care centre in Oslo, Jensen had experienced some kind of ‘far right epiphany’ as a result of 9/11. Jensen had not been on the radar of PST, and this in spite of the fact that his many blog postings since 2005 include many instances of direct incitement to violence against Muslims in Norway and Europe.
In the days after the terrorist attacks, many Norwegian editors resorted to the well-used metaphor that Norway had now ‘lost its innocence.’ This reflects a highly selective if not downright amnesic view of reality. For many Norwegian Muslims, who now comprise 3 per cent of Norway’s population of 4.9 million, Norway lost its innocence prior to the local elections in 1987. For it was during a campaign meeting that year that Carl Ivar Hagen, the then leader of the PP (established in 1973 as an anti-taxation and anti-bureacratic party), presented a false letter allegedly written by ‘Mohamed Mustafa’, a Norwegian Muslim living in Oslo. The false letter stated that Norway was to become a Muslim country; that the cross in Norway's flag would be replaced by a crescent; that churches would be turned into mosques – all of this because of the supposedly high fertility of Muslim women in Norway.
A lawsuit from Mr. Mustafa against Mr. Hagen and the PP followed; it was settled out of court. But the pattern had been established. The PP had discovered the electoral appeal of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant views; the electorate had discovered the PP. It gained many new voters, particularly from disgruntled working-class turned service-class voters from the Labour Party. The year 1987 represents PP’s electoral break-through in Norway, and the party's anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric has changed little since then. However, what has changed is Frp's voter turnout (22.9 per cent in 2009), the intensity of the Islamophobia expressed by its MPs and party leaders, and the degree of influence exerted by PP on other mainstream parties’ policies of immigration and integration.
But, as the late Norwegian social anthropologist Marianne Gullestad cautioned in Plausible Prejudice (2006), it would be wrong to focus exclusively on the Islamophobia and racism within this party’s ranks. The most prominent Eurabia author in Norway is in fact the former Conservative Party MP, Hallgrim Berg. His book Letter to Lady Liberty: Europe in Danger was published in a Norwegian as well as English personal imprint in 2007. Funded by the prestigious Fritt Ord Foundation, it was extensively covered by the Norwegian mainstream media. Berg even presents the Islamophobic Eurabia-ideologue ‘Fjordman’ as an authoritative source in his book. Whilst clearly uncomfortable with a respected party members’ venture into the darker recesses of Islamophobic literature, Berg’s Conservative Party refused to publicly criticize him. And earlier this year, the chairman of the Socialist Left Party (SV) at Nordstrand in Oslo, Morten Schau, was forced to rescind his party membership in SV due to his involvement with the organization Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN). SIAN describes itself as a “resistance movement” against the “Islamization of Norway”, declares Islam to be, “a totalitarian system [or “political ideology”] akin to Nazism and Communism” on its web pages, and in 2009 in a televised debate called upon ‘ethnic’ Norwegians to “arm themselves” against the impending “Islamization”. It responded to the terror attacks in Oslo by issuing a statement to the effect that, “without Islam – there would be no terror in Oslo.”
Freedom of speech
Changing perceptions of freedom of speech among the elites, and the mainstreaming of Islamophobia in Norway, have gone hand in hand in the ten years between 9/11 2001 and 22/7 2011. As a result, respectable Norwegian newspapers have printed more and more extreme utterances from Islamophobes of the populist right-wing, and the section 135 (a) in the Norwegian Penal Code, introduced in 1970, banning racism, has since 2006 become utterly dormant. It is not as if Norwegian authorities have not been warned about the extent of Islamophobia in Norway. The first warning, from the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), was issued in its country report on Norway for 2008.
On January 6, 2011, the liberal-conservative daily newspaper Aftenposten, Norway’s leading and most influential newspaper, published an op-ed entitled, ‘A growing disquiet’. Written by Hege Storhaug, feminist head of the organization Human Rights Service (HRS), which has over the past decade forged close links to the PP, the image caption characterized peaceful Muslim demonstrators at Oslo’s University Square in 2010 as “quislings.” Anyone who is slightly familiar with Norwegian history knows that Norway's prime minister during the Nazi occupation (1940–45), Vidkun Quisling, was one of very few Nazi collaborators to be executed at the end of the war. It takes excessive literalism not to notice that incitement to violence - or ‘fighting words’ - directed against Norwegian Muslims hover below the surface in Storhaug’s op-ed. What is disturbing then, is not so much that Ms. Storhaug should hold such views. For her advisor since 2009 has been none other than the Eurabia author cited with recognition no less than 22 times in Behring Breivik’s manifesto, Bruce Bawer, who has been living in Norway since 1999. Storhaug and the HRS have had rather extensive contact with ‘Fjordman’, and have on several occasions recommended as well as re-published his Islamophobic Eurabia propaganda on the HRS website. After 22/7, Storhaug admitted in an interview with liberal daily newspaper Dagbladet, a newspaper for which she once worked herself as a reporter, that she had met ‘Fjordman’ only once in 2003, but found him ‘too extreme’, and could not recall either his name or his physical appearance. This seems to be another case of amnesia, for as the Norwegian freelance reporter Øyvind Strømmen demonstrated shortly thereafter, Storhaug and HRS had in fact recommended ‘Fjordman’s essays for years after this, and even partaken in a special ‘internet symposium’ with him in 2006. But more disturbing than Storhaug’s views is the fact that Aftenposten's cultural and op-ed editor has abrogated his editorial responsibilities by not censoring the caption of her submitted text, and in a situation in which he receives any number of draft op-eds every day, chooses to lend legitimacy to such views by publishing them in the most prestigious op-ed space available in Norway.
The editor in question, Mr Knut Olav Åmås, is not only a gatekeeper for what gets to be printed at Aftenposten, he is also a person with the privilege of shaping public opinion through his editorial choices and editorial columns. “The printed word’, as Åmås so eloquently puts it in his book, “is an edited word.” An ardent fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Alan Dershowitz, and a personal friend of the Danish editor Flemming Rose (who commissioned the cartoons which provoked the global cartoon crisis in 2005-06), Åmås has on no less than two occasions recommended Bruce Bawer’s Eurabia-books to his readers in editorial columns. In a 2008 book, Åmås describes himself as a, “freedom of expression fundamentalist”, and quite mistakenly argues that freedom of expression is an overriding value in international human rights conventions. For Åmås, a guiding principle is that most - if not all - opinions should be aired, so that they may be ‘debated.’
This is a mistaken view, inasmuch as it is based on the contention that most, if not all, opinions will be challenged and contested in the public square. Norwegians who have become used to more and more vile public expressions of Islamophobia and racism in recent years would recognise the futility of debating publicly with Ms Storhaug and others who have pushed the limits of acceptable speech to extremes. For what you then invite, is vile and repeated entries from Storhaug and her collaborators at the HRS website – not to mention anonymous hate mail of the less eloquent and compassionate sort. I speak from experience myself. More Islamophobic hate speech leads to ever more Islamophobic hate speech, not less.
Professor Timothy Garton Ash suggests that if only Anders Behring Brevik had read some mainstream newspaper, his worldviews may have been, “punctured by fact, reason, and common sense.” If only. Individuals growing up in privileged circumstances in Oslo West usually grow up with no small amount of newspapers in their homes, and it is a de-politicizing and decontextualizing myth that Behring Breivik could not have found the same ‘fighting words’ echoing the profoundly disturbing and conspiratorial voices of his mind in Norwegian mainstream media and in publications issued by respectable publishing houses in Norway in recent years. Behring Breivik is if anything an obsessively meticulous man, and in his ‘Manifesto’ refers to extensive reading of newspapers, listening to the radio and watching television. He refers to it as ‘studies’, listing the number of hours spent on them.
In 2010, the largest private TV channel in Norway, TV2, screened a ‘documentary’ by filmmaker and author Walid al-Kubaisi arguing that the Muslim Brothers of Egypt were plotting to turn Europe and Norway into an Islamic state or caliphate through the use of ’baby trolleys, the hijab, democracy, freedom of speech’, and using ordinary Norwegian and European Muslims as ‘willing instruments’. The echoes of Eurabia-literature were more than evident in the ‘documentary’. The ‘documentary’ was co-financed by the prestigious Fritt Ord Foundation and TV2, and earned public plaudits and recommendations from several Norwegian professors, among them Prof. Terje Tvedt at the University of Bergen and Prof Unni Wikan at the University of Oslo.
The late Italian secular feminist Islamophobe Oriana Fallaci’s (1929-2006) Eurabian tract The Rage and the Pride was published in a Norwegian translation by Gyldendal in 2003. Gyldendal is one of Norway’s oldest and most respectable publishing houses. Among sources cited in Breivik’s manifesto is that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Her latest book, Nomad, is a bestseller in Norway, and published by another respectable publishing house, Cappelen Damm. When Hirsi Ali last was in Norway in the spring of 2011, it was to promote her book. Hirsi Ali was fêted by her publisher to a lavish dinner at Oslo’s Grand Hotel (where Nobel Prize Laureates are accommodated), with a small and exclusive group of prominent academics and media editors in attendance. Anders Behring Breivik has nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize [sic]. And it is not too hard to see why. In Nomad, Hirsi Ali refers to Muslims in Europe as, “almost a fifth column”. The last chapter of her book bears the sentimental title Letter to My Unborn Daughter - a title which paraphrases the late Fallaci’s autobiographical novel Letter to a Child Never Born (1975). Hirsi Ali’s partner, the British historian Niall Ferguson, is another prominent contemporary enthusiast for colonialism, military interventionism as well as Eurabia literature. Ali, who like many other secular feminist enthusiasts for military interventionism in the ‘Muslim world’ and for the domestic repression of Muslims’ religious rights in Europe, is “on a mission to improve the lives of millions of women I have never met” - dedicates the concluding chapter to Fallaci. She was, according to Hirsi Ali, a “remarkable and brave woman.” Some may disagree: in her late years, Fallaci made it to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for having referred to Muslims as “breeding rats” in her book The Rage and The Pride. Behring Breivik has read Fallaci too. In fact so much so that he cautioned fellow members of the PP’s youth wing against being seen publicly promoting Fallaci’s books, as this would be akin to committing political suicide, on a party internet forum in 2002. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s works have proven invaluable to Islamophobic neo-conservatives as well as secular western feminists, because her message of Islam's supposed 'barbarity' is delivered in an ‘authentic Muslim women's voice’ – a point made by scholars from Saba Mahmood to Leila Ahmed and Hamid Dabashi.
All right-wing extremist movements in Norway - with an immodesty befitting those engaging in sacred causes - have in recent years solemnly proclaimed that they are opposed to all forms of xenophobia and racism, and insisted that they are merely committed to ‘criticizing religion.’ Not just any ‘religion’ of course, but Islam, a side-long manoeuver which appeals to the instincts of Norway’s liberal media and intellectual elites.
From his 1,500 page-long online manifesto we have learned that Anders Behring Breivik has planned his vile acts for nine years, and that he has read a range of racist and Islamophobic literature, from Bat Ye'or (Gisèle Littmann), via Bruce Bawer and ‘Fjordman’, to Melanie Phillips and Sigurd Skirbekk. He clearly sees himself as a Nietzschean übermensch that no ordinary legal system can punish with any legitimacy. In police interrogations, he has expressed pride, and no remorse whatsoever, over his actions. He will do his utmost to turn his trial, which he has planned for in detail, into a public platform for spreading his vile message far and wide. The aim, after all, is to create the momentum for unleashing a continent-wide war aimed at effacing the presence of Muslims and Islam in Europe. That will not happen. But we should not think that such a call to arms does not have its supporters beyond Behring Breivik’s sympathizers on the far right in Norway and in Europe.
Multicultural Norway is here to stay
In recent years, I have often been approached by young, well-educated and upwardly mobile Norwegian Muslims after public lectures, with the question as to why a society which from government level to that of the media and civil society opposes anti-Semitism in all its forms with all its might, can still deem Islamophobic speech and utterances quite acceptable. I have not been able to provide any plausible answer – let alone comfort for them in their despair.
One of the last things Behring Breivik did before he embarked on his murdering spree was to send his manifesto by e-mail to 1003 contacts across Europe and in Israel who he deemed to be suitably qualified ‘cultural conservatives’. This suggests the workings of a mind and a man who may have been alone, but who certainly did not conceive of himself as being alone in the ideas and views he held. That is not to say that those who have provided the echo chambers for Anders Behring Breivik’s thoughts and ideas in Norway and elsewhere share any direct responsibility for his deeds. But mass murder, as Norway’s most prominent political philosopher, Arne Johan Vetlesen has argued in Evil and Human Agency (2005), requires ideological preparation. And that ideological preparation involves de-humanizing the ‘other’ – whether she be a social democrat, a Muslim or both.
Through the darkness and despair that has descended on Norway, we may nonetheless catch a ray of hope. From now on, it will be much harder for Norwegian media editors, politicians and intellectuals to downplay the existence of Islamophobia in Norway, and even more difficult to argue that the words of racists and Islamophobes are merely words, and that words and actions can be neatly delineated. Those who continue to argue despite all available evidence from language theory and philosophy from Ferdinand de Saussure through Victor Klemperer to John Austin, that speaking is not to act in and upon the world, will now face serious challenges in convincing many Norwegians thereof. It is - pace Ronald Dworkin and other ultra-liberalist champions of free speech - hard to see why public expressions of Islamophobia, similarly to anti-Semitic expressions, should be a necessary evil to accept in order for ‘democratic legitimacy’ to obtain in a secular and liberal society like Norway’s.
Anders Behring Breivik is trying to fight the course of history, but to no avail. Multicultural Norway is here to stay. Period. Several of the young people who survived the Utøya massacre have reported that they were saved by young party comrades with a Muslim minority background. Among the dead, Muslims and non-Muslims were united in their sacrifice. The testimonials of the survivors might very well contribute to the creation of a Norway in which the conspiratorial fantasies of Anders Behring Breivik and other Norwegian racists and Islamophobes will become marginalized in time. Anders Behring Breivik wanted to instigate war. His ideas will be crushed by our humanity and solidarity and our unflinching commitment not to forget the sacrifice of the many murdered in cold blood on a rainy day in Oslo and at Utøya on 22/7/2011. In Memoriam – E Pluribus Unum.