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Four years after Utøya, what has Europe learned? Open in fullscreen

Hilary Aked

Four years after Utøya, what has Europe learned?

Breivik's victims were targeted due to their belief in multiculturalism [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 July, 2015

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Comment: Extremist ideologies are flourishing as Europe's leaders rail against multiculturalism, writes Hilary Aked.

July 22 marks four years exactly since the worst terrorist attack on European soil in a decade.

It was committed not by a Muslim, as the dominant narratives would have us expect, but by a man who hated Muslims passionately.

Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people whom he held responsible for what he saw as the "Islamisation" of Norway. He believed the country's Labour government had paved the way for such a "takeover" by espousing multiculturalism.

Most of his victims were teenagers at a summer camp associated with the Norwegian leftist party on the island of Utøya.

As well as remembering the victims, we should use today to ask what Europe has learned from Breivik's horrific crimes.

Sadly, the evidence suggests that the answer to that question may be very little.

Breivik was not a "lone wolf". He was a product of the so-called counterjihad movement, a specific strand of the far-right which - as its self-given name announces - sees itself as engaged in a war with Muslims who are painted as intent on destroying "Western civilisation".

In his grim manifesto, 2083: A Declaration of Independence, Breivik explicitly laid out what he believed and why he had carried out the attacks. He chose not to target Muslims - for fear of generating sympathy for them - but instead attacked those who defended their right to thrive in the West like any other group.

     The anti-Muslim ideologues from whom he picked up these ideas continue to ply their trade, particularly online.


In his mind, civil war was inevitable and necessary.

The anti-Muslim ideologues from whom he picked up these ideas continue to ply their trade, particularly online.

The mass following of bloggers such as Pamela Geller - one of many cited in Breivik's manifesto - is growing steadily, and while we hear much about how and why governments are moving towards criminalising certain ideas as dangerous and "extremist", in practice even virulent Islamophobia such as hers is rarely seen in the same light.

Instead, in today's political climate, hate speech is able to hide behind the discourse of anti-extremism.

Why is organised Islamophobia doing so well? Part of the answer lies in the fact that it is highly networked and well-funded.

Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, a European and global figurehead for the counterjihad movement, is a good example. In April he appeared at one of many rallies held by PEGIDA - Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West - a group which emerged in Germany last year.

In September, he is scheduled to speak at an exhibition of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in London.

Many of the financial backers of the counterjihad movement are in the US. Wilders is known to have received money from David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes, for example.

The latter's Middle East Forum think tank is also thought to channel money into Europe to fund court costs for anti-Muslim activists facing legal prosecution, such as Christine Tasin in France, and to enable groups like Germany's Gustav Stresemann Foundation to politely lobby for Islamophobia in Europe while wearing suits.

But we should not paint Islamophobia as an external problem.

Another part of the explanation for its growth is its close links to the mainstream. In Norway, respectable foundations such as Fritt Ord have come under fire for funding - in the name of "freedom of speech" - Islamophobes including Peder "Fjordman" Jensen, the blogger whose writing was most cited by Breivik.

     More alarming still are the signs of overlap and convergence between the new breed of fascists and the centres of political power.


More alarming still are the signs of overlap and convergence between the new breed of fascists and the centres of political power.

With election surges for the anti-immigrant right in April in Finland (Finns Party) and in June in Denmark (Danish People's Party), racism and xenophobia are polling better than they have done in years.

Though UKIP failed to win a significant number of seats in the British parliament, it won millions of votes and its leader Nigel Farage brought counterjihad ideas crashing into the mainstream - implying that British Muslims were a "fifth column living within the country who hate us and want to kill us".

What the recent footage of Britain's royal family giving Nazi salutes reminds us is that - far from being a fringe ideology seen as extreme - fascism in the 1930s had powerful elite sympathisers at the heart of the establishment.

Today, as the mainstream moves to the right and increasingly embraces Islamophobia, its ability and willingness to stand up to the counterjihad movement is severely inhibited.

In fact, counterjihad ideas have been fostered by the rhetoric and policies of the war on terror which have normalised the concept of - in Tony Blair's words - "a problem within Islam".

Meanwhile, David Cameron and Angela Merkel have both made statements rejecting multiculturalism, thereby in large part legitimising the ideas - even though they simultaneously condemn the tactics - of counterjihad actors like the English Defence League and PEGIDA in their respective countries.

Doing justice to the memory of Utøya means remembering that racism, too, whether wielded by a solitary gunman or a nation state, is an ideology which ends in violence.

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