Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik may have failed to ignite a race war with Muslims, but he succeeded in stoking anxieties about the stability of Europe’s increasingly diverse societies.
Though his talk of an international underground of killers — latter-day Crusaders he called the “Knights Templar” — seemed to be mere fantasy and while his methods place him far beyond the pale of mainstream politics, many of his beliefs are to be found within the fold of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant populists.
“His ideological ‘manifesto’ is a distilled representation of a cultural crisis that pervades the European continent and finds expression in an increasingly xenophobic populism,” Kirsten Simonsen, a professor at Denmark’s Roskilde University, wrote in Bloodlands, a series of essays about Breivik.
Some notions — that Europe and its indigenous cultures are being weakened by immigration and multiculturalism — have been helping reshape the continent’s right-wing politics for years.
These beliefs occasionally find an echo on the margins of center-right parties, among politicians seeking support from communities plagued by rising unemployment.
Mario Borghezio is a case in point.
The Italian politician set off a storm of outrage after Breivik’s gun and bomb massacre by declaring in a radio interview that its perpetrator had some “excellent” ideas.
Borghezio exemplifies a trend among populist anti-immigration groups — the use of the language of Western counter-terrorist efforts against al-Qaeda to pursue what amounts to an anti-Islamic cultural campaign.
Human rights groups are increasingly alarmed, not just at the far right, but at what many see as the pandering to its Islamophobic stereotypes by Europe’s mainstream parties.
“We need our own ‘European Spring’ to overcome old and emerging forms of racism and intolerance,” Nils Muiznieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, a governmental human rights body, wrote in blog last month.
Muslims had become the primary “other” in right-wing populist discourse in Europe and needed to be accepted as an integral part of society, entitled to equality and dignity, he said.
Political parties in Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland had employed anti-Muslim rhetoric for political gain, he said.
Borghezio’s Breivik comment was denounced by his party, the pro-devolution, anti-immigrant Northern League, which apologized to Norway and temporarily suspended Borghezio from their ranks.
The European lawmaker argued the indignant reaction was misplaced, because he strongly condemned Breivik’s violence.
And yet, a year on, he still sees Breivik’s stance on some issues as attractive — particularly a perceived need to prevent Muslim immigration to Europe and combat Islamist extremism.
“Not all the ideas were criminal. It is the man who behaved in a criminal way,” Borghezio said.
CHEAP MUSLIM LABOR
Tough regulation of immigrants, particularly Muslims, was essential, he said. In many mosques in Italy, Muslims in economic difficulty were encouraged by extremist Islamist organizations “to carry out antisocial and illegal acts,” he said.
His comments echo the public position of many in Europe’s far-right networks: A sense that the continent is under threat from Islamic extremists and is being betrayed by a rapacious political elite that values cheap Muslim labor above the economic welfare of its own communities.