Norway massacre exposes incendiary immigration issue

OSLO, (Reuters) – Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik  said he killed 93 people to spark a “revolution” against the  multiculturalism he believed was sapping Europe’s heritage, and  experts say a frank debate about immigration may be the best way  to prevent similar explosions of violence.

Anders Behring Breivik

In some Nordic countries, and elsewhere in Europe, political  parties have fed on rising public concern over immigration as  economic conditions worsen and a drip-feed of Islamist attacks  stokes fear and suspicion of new arrivals.

But experts argue overly aggressive political rhetoric and  scare tactics have inflamed passions rather than address the  many complex, underlying problems.

Conflicting messages and political squeamishness in tackling  immigration and multiculturalism have frustrated the public and  given space for hardline ideologues, they say.

“If the twin attacks in Norway fail to trigger an honest  discussion of the issue, exposing often scare-mongering  arguments used by the extreme right, this may marginalise the  radical groups and worsen the situation, which in turn could  bring more similar attacks in the future,” said Lilit Gevorgyan,  Europe analyst at the IHS Global Insight think-tank.

“This is not just an issue in Norway. Across Scandinavia and  also in Western and Eastern Europe, you have a lot of people who  are very frustrated by the lack of open debate,” she added.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, Germany’s Angela  Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy have all declared in recent  months that multiculturalism has failed, in speeches that were  otherwise careful to highlight the contribution of immigrants.

But critics say such statements at best do little to offer  solutions to tackle the economic and societal pressures that  stem from increasing immigration and globalisation, and do even  less to harness the benefits of a multi-ethnic society.

At worst, they say such comments risk victimising often  vulnerable immigrant communities and souring race relations.

“What has clearly emerged from recent speeches and ensuing  public national debates on multiculturalism is a sense of  confusion, malaise and often contradictory messages,” said Sara  Silvestri, lecturer in religion and international politics at  London’s City University, in an article dated June 8.

“So we look for easy answers presented as simple choices  e.g., moderate vs. radical Islam, multiculturalism vs.  assimilation … Yet such simplistic naming and categorising  further divides people and provokes animosities,” she added.

 FUEL ON THE FIRE     

A number of Scandinavian political parties have tackled  immigration head on, but the inflammatory tone used by some  politicians may have fuelled Breivik’s anti-immigrant and  anti-Islamic hatred.

Many far-right European groups have shifted away from  overtly racist rhetoric and have instead focused their argument  on stressing what they see as the incompatibility of Islam and  European values.

In a 1,500-page violent manifesto published by Breivik, the  32-year-old expressed his admiration for Dutch anti-Islam  politician Geert Wilders, and the tome included reported  anti-Islamic comments Wilders made to the Dutch parliament.  However, Wilders at the weekend denounced Breivik’s actions. Anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic parties have gained traction  in Nordic and Scandinavian countries in recent years, tapping  public anxiety over the relatively recent phenomenon of mass  migration, particularly of Muslims, to their region.

The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats were last year elected  to the Swedish parliament for the first time, despite the party  having roots in neo-Nazi movements of the 1980s and 1990s. The  party has criticised Muslims and Islam as being un-Swedish.

Swedish anti-fascism magazine Expo, where the late  best-selling novelist Steig Larsson was highly active, says  while there may be no direct link between violence and comments  by politicians, the rhetoric creates a fertile environment for  ethnically motivated attacks.

“It is very aggressive ideology that the Swedish Democrats  are pushing towards Muslims … it has become a more and more  accepted way to speak about Muslims this way,” said Expo  reporter Johannes Jakobsson.

“Of course if you are in the Swedish parliament and point  fingers at Muslims and say these people are dangerous, of course  this is going to influence people to become more hostile towards  them,” he added.

“ATROCIOUS, BUT
NECESSARY”       

Harald Stanghelle, political editor of Norway’s Aftenposten  conservative newspaper, said it was unfair to accuse Norway’s  anti-immigrant Progress Party of inflaming the passions of  individuals such as Breivik, who was once a member.

Stanghelle says Breivik left the party because it did not go  far enough in representing his views, highlighting a dilemma for  those who say parties that drive away those with fringe views on  immigration risk creating militant underground groups.

“It’s totally wrong to hold the Progress Party responsible  for extremists like this. A few smaller, anti-immigration  groups, anti-multicultural groups, have broken from the party  because they believe it is too polite, too mainstream,”  Stanghelle said.

Stanghelle was careful to paint Breivik as a lone extremist  with little link to the wider discourse on immigration in  Norway. After years on the fringes, Breivik’s views are now  likely to echo loudest at his first court hearing today.

Breivik has described his bombing of an Oslo government  building and his shooting spree at a youth camp run by Norway’s  Labour Party as “atrocious” but “necessary” in his crusade  against liberal immigration policies and the spread of Islam.

“He now wants to meet in court for the first time, and wants  an open court meeting, and why? Most criminals fight for a  closed court meeting, but he sees himself as a crusader,”  Stanghelle said.

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