The Oslo mass murder and the mainstreaming of racism in Europe; Solidarity from Palestine

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The Sun, a flagship daily of the disgraced Murdoch empire, immediately prepared a front page that described the far-right attack as an "Al Qaeda Massacre".

By Miriyam Aouragh and Richard Seymour

July 27, 2011 -- Jadaliyya -- Media coverage of the Norwegian tragedy was led with dangerous and clichéd arguments about "Islamic extremism" and multiculturalism, even after the identity of the killer was confirmed – thus contributing to the mainstreaming of racism that helped make far-right mass murderer Anders Breivik what he is.

An hour before Breivik embarked on his massacre of the innocents in Oslo on July 23, he distributed his manifesto online. In 1500 pages, this urgent message identified “cultural Marxists”, “multiculturalists”, anti-Zionists and leftists as “traitors” who are allowing Christian Europe to be overtaken by Muslims. He subsequently murdered dozens of these "traitors", the majority of them children, at a Labour Party youth camp. His inspiration, according to this manifesto, were those pathfinders of the Islamophobic right who have profited immensely from the framing and prosecution of the “war on terror”, including Melanie Phillips, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer and Bat Ye’or. 

Yet, almost before the attacks were concluded, a "line" was developing in the mass media: the attack was perpetrated by jihadists, and certainly was an "Al Qaeda style" attack. Peter Beaumont of The Guardian was among the first to develop this narrative, but it was rapidly taken up across the media. Glenn Greenwald describes how on the day of the attack “the featured headline on The New York Times online front page strongly suggested that Muslims were responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that led to definitive statements on the BBC and elsewhere that Muslims were the culprits”. Meanwhile, “the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote a whole column based on the assertion that Muslims were responsible”. A hoax claim of "responsibility" for the attack from a previously unknown group, disseminated by a dubious "expert", was used to spin this line well beyond the point of credibility.

Effort to incriminate Muslims

One might ascribe all of this to bad judgement and prejudice were it not for the fact that well after the identity of the terrorist had been established as a white, Christian Norwegian, the conversation continued to be about Islam and multiculturalism. The Wall Street Journal, for example, began its editorial on the subject with three paragraphs about IslamThe Sun, a flagship daily of the disgraced Murdoch empire, prepared a front page that initially described the attack as an "Al Qaeda Massacre"The Guardian’s analysis piece on the day following the attack featured a series of experts – including Will McCant, who had circulated the bogus claim of responsibility – attributing the attacks to "jihadists". In fairness, The Guardian later removed the analysis piece and the Peter Beaumont article, while The Sun changed its front page

Even when the "jihadi" angle was dropped, the effort to incriminate Islam and Muslims continued. The Belgian daily De Morgen, accepting the “white roots” of the perpetrator, nonetheless insisted that “the possibility that ... the perpetrator is a sympathizer of Al Qaeda should not be ignored” (Original: "De kans is klein maar het valt ook niet uit te sluiten dat de dader ondanks zijn blanke wortels een sympathisant is van Al Qaida.”) In The Atlantic, it was asserted that the spirit of jihadism had "mutated" and spread to the far right, as if fascism has no tradition of terrorism to speak of. The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall similarly argued that Breivik adopted the “language of Muslim jihadists”, though his idiom was classically fascist. There was a real fear that the grotesque nature of the attacks, by drawing attention to the dangers of racism, would undermine support for Islamophobic policies. For the Jerusalem Post, it was imperative that this should be avoided, and the attack should serve as an opportunity to “seriously re-evaluate policies for immigration integration in Norway and elsewhere”. Similarly, the widely esteemed "atheist" writer Sam Harris is insistent that this attack should not blind us to the fact that “Islam remains the most retrograde and ill-behaved religion on earth”. This is the same author who has written that those “who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists”. The logic is clear: Breivik is despicable, but his savagery expresses a truth about Islam and multiculturalism; an understanding of which should form the basis of European policy.

Operated alone?

Perhaps the least convincing claim about Breivik has been the idea that he operated alone – a claim that would never have been made had the perpetrator been a Muslim. This was encouraged by Norwegian police and intelligence service as they attempted to downplay his far-right connections. Breivik may have planned and perpetrated this specific atrocity by himself, but it is also clear that, far from being a lone wolf, he comes straight out of a racial-nationalist activist milieu. He had been active in the anti-immigrant Progress Party in Norway, and has been in contact with the far-right English Defence League (EDL). Daryl Hobson, a member of the EDL whose links with EDL leader "Tommy Robinson" have proven a source of embarrassment, acknowledged that Breivik had met him, while a "senior member" told the Independent that Breivik had met several of the group’s leaders. Breivik himself claims to have advised the EDL on tactics, and to have been instrumental in co-founding the Norwegian Defence League. Far from being a lone madman, Breivik seems to have been embedded in the activist networks of the European far right.

Equally important, the racism that motivated Breivik comes straight from the "mainstream". His ideological inspirations are prominent European politicians such as Geert Wilders, as well as media reports, columns and books written by various Islamophobic intellectuals. This connection is not incidental. A 2010 report on Islamophobia in the UK, conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter, established an important correlation between both political rhetoric and media coverage concerning Islam and subsequent upsurges in racist violence toward Muslims. In fact, the ideas that Breivik articulates stand in a tradition of European reaction. In "Londonistan" and "Eurabia", we hear echoes of "Jew York", just as in Breivik’s "Marxist-Islamist alliance", we hear Hitler’s evocation of the "Bolshevik-Jewish threat". That Islam has now taken the place of Judaism in the paranoid weltanschauung of some of the far right is a result of a transformed global situation.

The "war on terror" licensed a period of intense imperial revivalism. It was suddenly the fashionable thing for intellectuals, former enragés among them, to eulogise about the benefits of empire, especially if led by the US. But the negative obverse of this supposedly humane dominion was Islam: the reputedly inhumane, irrational and barbaric nemesis of empire. While this dehumanisation of Muslims fuelled the bloodshed on the frontiers of Iraq and Afghanistan, it could not but flow back to the metropole, so that every European Muslim became a potentially menacing alien. The outward attributes of Islam, from dress to architecture, became the subjects of reactionary campaigns, street violence and state repression. The far right has learned and benefited from this. The organisations esteemed by Breivik – the English Defence League and the Dutch Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders – are among those that have translated the ascriptive hierarchy of the new imperialism into a new language for domestic reaction.

The complicity between the Islamophobic right and the far right is partly manifested in the latter’s growth translated into parliamentary seats. No longer marginal, they now occupy positions of state power. This has intensified both the racism of the streets and institutional racism at the level of the state, manifested in the ban on minarets, the niqab, hijab and halal meat in Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively. Further, they act as a gravitational force pulling mainstream parties further to the right. The sources of their support are challenged neither by the centre right nor the centre left, both of which instead seek to emulate the far right. This trend has contributed significantly to the mainstreaming of racist ideas that form the basis for such violent outrages.

That the media’s response to the attacks very often conformed to the same "clash of civilisations" motif that undergirded Breivik’s own would-be chef d'oeuvre is an irony that has largely been lost in the deluge of opinion. What has also been lost, and what is as important, is the sheer idiotic irrelevance of such ideas in an era of Arab revolutions. The "clash of civilisations" is more vacant than ever. Meanwhile, transnational jihadism has had its day. For as long as the vast majority of people in the Middle East suffered under the thumb of US-sponsored despots with little prospect of a reprieve, the solution of "terror" had some limited purchase. But, while there may still be attacks, the base of support for such actions is being eroded every day. Astonishingly, none of the media’s queue of experts referred to this outstanding fact.

Many of the Muslims – including European Muslims – whom many Europeans have spent a decade vilifying, are now demonstrating that they have a more expansive and humane conception of democracy than most of their European oblocutors, and that their commitment to it is more enduring. Pundits might wish to reflect on that heroism and its meaning, as well as the diabolical horror in Norway and its meaning, before they reflexively verbalise the stale clichés of the "war on terror".

[This article first appreared at Jadaliyya. Jadaliyya is an independent ezine produced by Arab Studies Institute, a network of writers associated with the Arab Studies Journal ( Richard Seymour publishes Lenin's Tomb.]

Palestinian civil society expresses solidarity with people of Norway

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Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF), the Norwegian labour youth party, declared their support for the boycott of Israel during a visit by Norwegian foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in the days before the massacre at its summer camp.[1]

By Palestinian BDS National Committee

July 27, 2011 -- Palestinian civil society, as broadly represented within the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), wishes to express its sincere condolences to and deep solidarity with the people of Norway and to Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF), the Norwegian labour youth party, in particular after the massacre of last Friday committed by a far-right fanatic.

Palestinians stand with the people of Norway as they mourn the victims, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have died.

This horrendous massacre serves as a grave reminder of the dangers posed by racism, hatred and intolerance. We are confident that Norway’s long tradition of peace loving, respecting diversity and upholding human rights anywhere in the world will stand up to this ugly test of fundamentalism and hate; we trust that the Norwegian people’s determination to fight xenophobia and its resultant disregard for equal human rights will be further strengthened.

These violent and horrific attacks cannot be viewed in isolation. There is a growing wave of officially sanctioned Islamophobia in several Western countries, driven by misinformation, intolerance and right-wing Zionism, with strong links to Israel. Tragically, this racist and extreme rhetoric has been put into action with many Norwegians paying the price with their lives. The murderer, by his own admission, drew his motivation for this heinous crime from the by now widespread anti-Arab/Muslim discourse that dwells on a perceived “clash of civilisations” and a blind support for Israel and its crimes against the Palestinian people.

Palestinians deeply empathise and stand with Norwegians as fellow humans and as a people that has its own long experience of pain and grief. In Israel’s Gaza massacre alone, more than 1400 people, mostly civilians, lost their lives.[2] Homes, schools, UN shelters, university buildings, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, ambulances, sewage systems, power stations and more were ruthlessly decimated by Israel’s state terrorism in its assault on Gaza 2008-09. The noble humanitarian work and moving testimonies of the prominent Norwegian physician, Dr Mads Gilbert, attest to the scale of the crime Israel has committed in Gaza and continues to commit on a daily basis with its illegal and immoral siege of 1.5 million Palestinians. It is often in times of great suffering, however, that human compassion and solidarity shine brightest.

We believe that these despicable crimes in Norway will only strengthen the resolve of all people of conscience around the world to pursue freedom, justice and equality and to join hands in combating racism in all forms.

We appreciate greatly the support for Palestinian rights and, specifically, for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, as shown by members of the AUF summer camp. We deeply appreciate the support for a boycott of Israel from LO,[3] the Norwegian labour federation, and from close to half the people of Norway, as shown in polls following Israel’s bloody flotilla attack last summer.[4] We salute the Norwegian pension fund for divesting from three Israeli companies implicated in Israel’s occupation and colonisation.[5] We are proud of the brave decision taken by Norway to ban testing submarines destined to Israel and to support a military embargo on Israel.[6] We stand by the friends and families of all victims at this difficult time.

We hope to honour their memory by working more closely together with the AUF and other partners in Norwegian civil society towards a more just world where there is no place for racism and hatred.


Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 14:41


From (by Alan Maass)

Breivik's diatribes against Muslims and multiculturalism are very much a part of political debate in Europe, as in America--a direct result of the rightward shift in mainstream politics and the frightening successes of the far right that have only accelerated during a period of economic crisis.

Thus, while Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that Breivik's assault went against "freedom, respect and the belief in peaceful coexistence," she herself recently joined fellow right-wing heads of state Nicolas Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of Britain in campaigning against "multiculturalism" so hated by Breivik.

"Multiculturalism" has become a favorite target for conventional conservatives and far-right sympathizers alike--they use this shorthand phrase to refer to liberal immigration policies and tolerance for the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Last year, for example, Sarkozy attempted to rebound from dropping support in opinion polls by carrying out a mass deportation of Roma immigrants and championing legislation to ban full facial veils worn by some Muslim women in public spaces. Merkel, too, is attempting to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment to shore up support for her Christian Democratic Union.

This rhetoric is characteristic of the last 20 years since the end of the Cold War--and the creation of new scapegoats to replace Communism: Islam and immigration.

But it is also further evidence of how ideas once confined to the far right have permeated mainstream politics--thanks not only to attempts by mainstream conservatives to co-opt the support of far-right groups, but of the capitulation of one-time social-democratic parties like Britain's Labour on immigration and other questions.

Europe's far right has enjoyed more than ideological success. Its parties have made electoral gains that would have seemed unimaginable a few decades ago, including in northern European countries like Norway once known as havens of social democracy.

Norway's right-wing populist Progress Party, for example, is the second-largest party in parliament, with 23 percent of the vote in September 2009 elections. In Finland, a similar populist formation, True Finns, is third among the country's political parties. In Sweden, the far-right Sweden Democrats won seats in parliament for the first time after winning 5.7 percent of the vote in elections last year.

Also nearby is the Netherlands, where the Party of Freedom won 15.5 percent of the national vote last year on a virulently anti-immigrant platform--the party's founder Geert Wilders is notorious for having compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.

As British socialist Richard Seymour wrote at his Lenin's Tomb blog:

[T]he ideas that led Breivik to fascism are not at all marginal. The Islamophobia that has been energetically disseminated by the belligerents of the "war on terror," the view seriously entertained by many that Europe's Muslim minority constitutes a threat meriting legal supervision and restriction at the very least, has provided the intellectual and moral basis for the mass murder of Norwegian children.

No one who is not prepared to countenance this can have anything morally serious or even creditable to say about this slaughter. And anyone who starts from the idea of blaming Islam is placing themselves in a contemptible affinity with the perpetrator.

No part of the political mainstream--neither conservative nor liberal parties--is blameless in the crusade against immigrants and Muslims that shaped Anders Behring Breivik.

But this has also produced revulsion among millions of people horrified by the return of the far right and its ideology--whether in the form of openly fascist parties in Europe or the Islamophobic fanatics who gravitate to the Tea Party movement in the U.S. or the "respectable" politicians on both continents who seek to exploit anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Turning that revulsion into active opposition is the best way to present an alternative to the hatred and violence of the far right.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 15:06


Published on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 by Agence France Presse

As many as 150,000 Norwegians poured onto Oslo's streets on Monday, raising a sea of flower-bearing hands into the air in memory of the 76 victims of last week's twin bombing and shooting attacks.

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"We're here to show that we're an open-spirited and respectful society," said Roy Kvatningen, 37, who came with his six-year-old daughter. (photo: Reuters)
Norwegian television showed images of similar gatherings taking place in other cities across the country after a call for people to show solidarity with those killed in Friday's bombing and mass shooting.

"Tonight the streets are filled with love," Crown Prince Haakon told the vast crowd massed on the banks of the Norwegian capital's fjord after the car bombing of ministries and mass shooting of Labour Party youths on Utoeya island.

"Those who were in the government district and on Utoya were targets for terror. But it has affected us all," he said to applause.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg then addressed the crowd, in a city of 600,000 people, saying: "Evil can kill a person but it cannot kill a people."

The mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, said: "We will punish the guilty. The punishment will be more generosity, more tolerance, more democracy."

Central Oslo streets were closed to traffic because of the vigil, which had originally been planned as a "flower march" but it was decided that people should stay in one place because of the large numbers turning up.

"We came out of solidarity, to all be together and share our pain," said Tone Mari Steinmoen, 36. "This is a time of important communion for our country."

"We're here to show that we're an open-spirited and respectful society," said Roy Kvatningen, 37, who came with his six-year-old daughter.

"And to support the victims," added his friend, Ger.

The crowd is united in grief, but there is no visible sign of anger towards the self-confessed perpetrator of the worst massacre in Norway since World War II, Anders Behring Breivik.

"We have no feelings about him. He's not our concern, we're here for our country, for the victims, for their families, not for him," said Benedicte Larodd, 26.

A police spokeswoman said there was no official estimate for the turnout but described the gathering as "gigantic".

A policeman on the scene said there were about 100,000 people present, while Norwegian media put the figure at 150,000.

In any event, the gathering is the largest in Oslo in living memory.

The largely youthful crowd repeatedly raised their flower-bearing hands in the air, while a singer sang the Norwegian anti-Nazi hymn "For Youth" at the end of a short commemorative concert.

As the crowd dispersed before dark, they left a sea of bouquets on the ground, with dozens more flowers being laid on monuments around the grief-stricken city.

© 2011 AFP

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 16:46


Media Advisory by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

July 25, 2011 (

Right-wing terror suspect Anders Behring Breivik reportedly killed 76 people in Norway on Friday, by all accounts driven by far-right anti-immigrant politics and fervent Islamophobia. But many early media accounts assumed that the perpetrator of the attacks was Muslim.

On news of the first round of attacks--the bombs in Oslo--CNN's Tom Lister (7/22/11) didn't know who did it, but knew they were Muslims: "It could be a whole range of groups. But the point is that Al-Qaeda is not so much an organization now. It's more a spirit for these people. It's a mobilizing factor." And he speculated confidently about their motives:

You've only got to look at the target--prime minister's office, the headquarters of the major newspaper group next door. Why would that be relevant? Because the Norwegian newspapers republished the cartoons of Prophet Mohammad that caused such offense in the Muslim world.... That is an issue that still rankles amongst Islamist militants the world over.

CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank (7/22/11) took to the airwaves to declare that "Norway has been in Al-Qaeda's crosshairs for quite some time." He added that the bombing "bears all the hallmarks of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization at the moment," before adding, almost as an afterthought, that "we don't know at this point who was responsible."

On Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor (7/22/11), guest host Laura Ingraham declared, "Deadly terror attacks in Norway, in what appears to be the work, once again, of Muslim extremists." Even after Norwegian authorities arrested Breivik, former Bush administration U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was in disbelief. "There is a kind of political correctness that comes up when these tragic events occur," he explained on Fox's On the Record (7/22/11). "This kind of behavior is very un-Norwegian. The speculation that it is part of right-wing extremism, I think that has less of a foundation at this point than the concern that there's a broader political threat here."

Earlier in the day on Fox (7/22/11), Bolton had explained that "the odds of it coming from someone other than a native Norwegian are extremely high." While he admitted there was no evidence, Bolton concluded that "it sure looks like Islamic terrorism," adding that "there is a substantial immigrant population from the Middle East in particular in Norway."

An early Wall Street Journal editorial (7/22/11) dwelled on the "explanations furnished by jihadist groups to justify their periodic slaughters," before concluding that because of Norway's commitment to tolerance and freedom, "Norwegians have now been made to pay a terrible price."

Once the alleged perpetrator's identity did not conform to the Journal's prejudice, the editorial was modified, but it continued to argue that Al-Qaeda was an inspiration: "Coordinated terrorist attacks are an Al-Qaeda signature. But copycats with different agendas are surely capable of duplicating its methods."

Many pundits and outlets had to scramble to justify their ideological presumptions in the wake of the unexpected suspect. Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin (7/22/11) had called the Norwegian violence "a sobering reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists," citing Thomas Joscelyn of the Weekly Standard's assertion that "in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra." In a follow-up post (7/23/11), Rubin insisted that even though she was wrong, she was right, because "there are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West."

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (7/25/11) likewise argued that we should respond to the horror in Norway by paying more attention to the alleged perpetrator's point of view:

On the big picture, Europe's cultural conservatives are right: Mass immigration really has left the Continent more divided than enriched, Islam and liberal democracy have not yet proven natural bedfellows and the dream of a postnational, postpatriotic European Union governed by a benevolent ruling elite looks more like a folly every day.... Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have an obligation to acknowledge that Anders Behring Breivik is a distinctively right-wing kind of monster. But they also have an obligation to the realities that this monster’s terrible atrocity threatens to obscure.

The New York Times' July 23 report explained that while early speculation about Muslim terrorists was incorrect,

there was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Of course, anyone who kills scores of civilians for political motives is a "terrorist"; the language of the Times, though, suggested that a "terrorist" would have to be Islamic.

The Times went on:

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al-Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks.

"If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al-Qaeda," said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington.

It is unclear why any of Breivik's actions would be considered connected in any way to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, which certainly did not invent the idea of brutal mass murder. But the Times was able to turn up another expert the following day who saw an Islamist inspiration for Islamophobic terrorism (7/24/11):

Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism specialist at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said the manifesto bears an eerie resemblance to those of Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders, though from a Christian rather than a Muslim point of view. Like Mr. Breivik’s manuscript, the major Qaeda declarations have detailed accounts of the Crusades, a pronounced sense of historical grievance and calls for apocalyptic warfare to defeat the religious and cultural enemy.

"It seems to be an attempt to mirror Al-Qaeda, exactly in reverse," Mr. Hegghammer said.

To the paper's credit, the Times' Scott Shane wrote a strong second-day piece (7/25/11) documenting the influence of Islamophobic bloggers on Breivik's manifesto:

His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch website, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.... Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among websites.

(Spencer was one of the anti-Muslim pundits profiled in FAIR's 2008 report, "Meet the Smearcasters: Islamophobia's Dirty Dozen.")

Shane's piece noted that the document, rather than being an Al-Qaeda "mirror," actually copied large sections of Ted Kaczynski's 1995 Unabomber manifesto, "in which the Norwegian substituted 'multiculturalists' or 'cultural Marxists' for Mr. Kaczynski’s 'leftists' and made other small wording changes."

It is not new for media to jump to the conclusion that Muslims are responsible for any given terrorist attack; the same thing was widespread after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (Extra!, 7-8/95). "It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East," syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95) asserted. "Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working," wrote New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95). "Knowing that the car bomb indicates Middle Eastern terrorists at work, it's safe to assume that their goal is to promote free-floating fear," editorialized the New York Post (4/20/95). It is unfortunate that so many outlets have failed to learn any practical lessons from such mistakes--or question the beliefs that drive them.