Breivik giving a Nazi salute in court.
Friday 24 August 2012
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) welcomes the guilty verdict handed down to racist mass murderer Anders Breivik by a Norwegian court. The verdict that Breivik was “not insane” means that the far-right cannot dodge its responsibility by claiming that its virulent anti-Muslim racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric played no part in Breivik actions.
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of UAF, said:
Our thoughts at this moment are with the families of Breivik’s victims. We hope that the guilty verdict will help ease the deep pain they are feeling. Too many of our young people — black, white, Asian — have fallen victim to the hatred spouted by the fascists and the far-right parties.
We believe that all those who are deeply repulsed by Breivik’s actions, and the politics of hate that he represents, should stand together to say ‘Never Again’. We are united in our condemnation of racism and fascism, and condemn those in the mainstream parties who are attempting to make political capital by echoing the far right’s dangerous anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
UAF’s Unity Magazine spoke to Norwegian anti-racism campaigners before the guilty verdict was known. They spelt out the significance of the trial, and why Breivik actions were politically motivated.
On 22 July 2011, Breivik set off a car bomb in central Oslo, the capital of Norway, killing eight people and injuring at least 209, many of them seriously.
As authorities struggled to cope with the devastation, Breivik headed off to a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp on the tiny island of Utoeya where he gunned down 69 young people in a rampage that has left a deep scar on the country.
This was a political massacre. These young people Breivik gunned down were killed for their ideas.
Breivik used his trial as a platform to spout his hatred of immigrants, Muslims and multiculturalism. While his defence team has attempted to write off his actions as that of a “madman”.
His case has come to symbolise growing fears over the influence of far-right groups, Islamophobia and a new breed of fascism in Europe.
This was not the first racist murder in Norway, but the scale of the killings revealed the depth to which debate about immigration has plummeted.
In 2001 a group of neo-Nazis called the “Boot Boys” murdered black teenager Benjamin Labaran Hermansen. Some 40,000 people protested in one of the biggest demonstrations in Norway’s history. That popular protest killed off the chances for the neo-Nazis groups to grow at the time.
But over the following decade far-right parties gradually began to dominate the debate over immigration and the harsh tones of anti-immigrant as well as anti-Muslim rhetoric became more acceptable.
Kari Helene Partapooli and Shoaib Sultan are from the Antirasistisk Senter (anti-racism centre) in Oslo.
Kari said: “The way we see it, the Breivik trial is not the breakthrough we were hoping for. Among ordinary people attitudes are changing, but not for those in power.
“The temperature in the debate over immigration has gone down, and people are more careful in what they say. In the upcoming elections they will be more nuanced in how they frame their message so as to distance themselves from Breivik.”
Shoaib said: “The influence of the far-right is now widespread, but they have softened their language, especially among some of the better-known figures.
“But they are testing the waters, and there has been a return to some of the unpleasant pre-22 July language — that multiculturalism and immigration is a problem, and that the government is to blame.“
Norway is a big country with a tiny population. It has vast oil reserves and unemployment hovers at 3 percent. On the surface it has few of the problems facing other countries.
Yet, Islamophobia has been gaining ground. Norway has become an “echo chamber” for the far-right ideas sweeping Europe.
In his “manifesto”, Breivik praised the English Defence League (EDL) and other anti-Muslim groups. He drew inspiration from Islamophobic rhetoric, as well as the standard fascist imagery and myths.
Although Breivik’s ideas are from the fringes of the extreme right, the racism that he preaches has become acceptable in Norway.
Kari believes that the insanity plea will allow the right wing to dissociate themselves from his actions.
“In 2008 there was an attack on a Somali centre, the perpetrators said they were influenced by articles on immigration in the local media. But the man who murdered a Somali migrant was simply declared ‘insane’.”
“The right wing will be very pleased if the court finds Breivik insane. They can say it is not his ‘ideas’ that lead him to his actions. But what is clear is that he is not confused, and he is clear in his politics.”
Islamophobia constantly seeps into the mainstream, and 2009 was one of the worst years. A survey of the media in the national elections found that the word “Muslim” received more mentions than “prime minister”. All of it was negative.
The biggest group of immigrants to Norway are from Sweden, followed by those from Poland and other eastern European countries. But the debate about migration focuses mainly on those from Muslim or African countries.
“We must remember that there are only 100,000 Muslims in Norway out of half a million immigrants, in a country of five million people,” Kari said.
The trial exposed the breadth of these racist ideas, but it also created a backlash, with more people questioning the anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Shoaib said, “A small campaign called Tea Time, where immigrant communities invited their Norwegian neighbours for tea, suddenly became very popular and very significant.
“What the far-right need is the illusion that they are bigger than they are. Let us not miss the big picture that the majority of people in Norway do not agree with these groups.”
Two incidents during the trial dramatically illustrated the scale of this backlash. During the trial one of the victim’s relatives threw a shoe at Breivik. The act was full of symbolism.
This “Arab insult” (made famous when an Iraqi threw his shoe at US President George Bush) has become a popular expression of disgust at acts of tyranny.
One relative said after the incident, “I am pleased that we can express our love for each other. But when and where can we express our anger?”
The second incident was when it emerged that Breivik hated the popular 1970s pop hit Children of the Rainbow. Tens of thousands of people descended on central Oslo to sing the song. It was an emotional act of mass rejection of Breivik and all he stood for. This popular sentiment fed a growing anti-racist movement.
In June the Norwegian branch of the EDL attempted to hold a demonstration in a small town of Stavanger. Only 30 turned up, to be met by a counter-demonstration of 800 people.
As the trial draws to its conclusion, many Norwegians are determined that the ideas Breivik represents are pushed back into the gutter.
The 22 July massacre serves as a warning of right-wing terrorism feeding off the toxic mix of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism.
‘We need to ask more questions’
ROY Pederson is head of Oslo’s Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). He spoke to Unity Magazine on the trade union response to the massacre.
‘The events of 22 July were a shock to all of us. No-one expected such things to happen. Now we are asking what can be done to prevent this happening again.
Breivik is a neo-fascist. Many people dismiss his actions as “insane” and refuse to challenge his political views.
But it is important that we challenge Islamophobia, that the “immigrants are taking over”, as well as other such myths.
We have to tackle the inequality and low wages, and we need to work harder to organise immigrant workers. We need to raise questions over the impact of the “soft neo-liberal” policies on our country, especially as we are rich in resources and our country is growing fast.
Instead we should be helping immigrants get access to learning Norwegian and work on integration in our schools.
At the heart of this is the attempts to divide people. So our fight against racism is also one for a better solution for us all.’