Norway Attacks Stoke Fears Of Growing Extremism

The attacks in Norway have focused attention on the rise of right-wing extremism in many parts of Europe, where there is growing animosity to the arrival of large numbers of non-European immigrants.

The continent's recent economic crisis has exacerbated longstanding unease with immigrants, which has its roots in the founding of modern European nation-states as mono-ethnic entities.

Steve Inskeep speaks with correspondent Sylvia Poggioli in Oslo about how what had been described as an ultra-right debate has become mainstream in Europe.

Inskeep: The suspect in these killings [Anders Behring Breivik] wrote a 1,500-page manifesto calling for a Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Islamization. How widespread is that fear that he had?

Poggioli: It's growing and growing, and Breivik clearly knows this. In his long manifesto — which took three years to complete, it's in English, it's called "A European Declaration of Independence" — he's appealing to what he calls "we, the free indigenous peoples of Europe" to rise up and join the resistance against multiculturalism. The tipping point was 1999, he says, when NATO bombed Serbia, which he saw as a betrayal of a fellow Christian nation on behalf of the Muslims of Kosovo.

Breivik also produced a video, in which he accuses left-wing European politicians of allowing Muslims to overrun the continent, and the video features symbolic imagery of the Knights of Templar, a medieval order created to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land after the first Crusade in the 11th century.

Now this may all sound lunatic and very much on the fringe, but Breivik's language and the images echo some of the new discourse of right-wing politicians in many European countries, from Scandinavia to Hungary and from Italy to Greece.

And what is pushing this into the mainstream of debate?

There are several causes. The most recent, of course, is the economic crisis. But the basic cause is the arrival of millions of immigrants over the last two or three decades in a continent whose nation-states were founded on the concept of mono-ethnicity. A German analyst once told me the modern European state was founded on the notion of exclusion, not inclusion. Immigration has placed Europeans in front of the dilemma of questioning their national identity: What does it mean to be British, French, Norwegian? In northern Europe — in Scandinavia and the Netherlands — there was a climate of political correctness that stifled the debate and allowed a lot of animosity to fester under the surface.

So that has led to a more mainstream backlash. You see politicians you would think of as being more in the center as well as people far on the right making these kinds of statements.

Recently, in fact, yes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron all declared that multiculturalism had failed.

But there's a confusion about what multiculturalism means and how different governments applied immigration policies, if they had any at all. In Germany, immigrants were never expected to remain; that's why they were called "guest workers." German authorities often show a condescending attitude: There are judges who rule in favor of the Muslim husband beating his wife because the judge says it's part of their culture and religion. The result, two or three generations later, is mostly separate, parallel societies — German and immigrant — that never meet.

[There is] a similar result in Britain, where many [South] Asians live in closed communities, alienated from British society. In the Netherlands, political correctness even led to the government subsidizing separate Muslim soccer leagues.

These policies have in no way helped the process of integration. On the contrary, they created more alienation, more mutual suspicion, and increasing polarization on both sides.

You mention a number of mainstream leaders, of mainstream conservative parties, that have actually gotten into power in various governments. But are there also more extreme right-wing parties that are gaining traction in this atmosphere?

First of all, many taboos that emerged after the devastations of World War II are being broken. There's more and more brazenness in flaunting fascist and neo-Nazi symbols. In the office of the leader of the Belgian ultra right-wing party Vlaams Belang, I saw a framed poster celebrating all the neo-Nazi and militant ultra right-wing groups of the '70s. And in Berlin I saw an apparel shop selling coded Nazi items — no swastikas, but Nordic symbols dear to the Nazis.

Far-right parties are winning votes from people who used to vote for the left. In the former communist East Germany, the neo-Nazi party has elected representatives in two regional parliaments and in several municipalities. The Sweden Democrats, whose roots are in the neo-Nazi movements of the 1980s and '90s, were elected to the Swedish parliament for the first time last year. The ultra-right Danish People's Party has 25 deputies out of 179. In the Netherlands, the anti-Islam Party [for] Freedom won more than 15 percent of the vote. And here in Norway, the far-right Progress Party is the second-largest in Parliament.

What's interesting is that while Norwegian police officials seem to have underestimated the right-wing threat, there are several leading Scandinavian crime writers — the best-known is the late Stieg Larsson of the Millennium trilogy — who focus on the threat of domestic right-wing extremism. It's crime literature, this time, that's ahead of the curve.

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