New Statesman - 1 August 2011
False claims about Muslims are fuelling Islamophobia in Europe, says Andreas Malm
There is nothing particularly Norwegian about Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto, 2083: a European Declaration of Independence. It is a bulky précis of all the standard tropes in Islamophobic ideology that have evolved in Europe over the past decade. Its plagiarism — the enormous excerpts from authors such as Melanie Phillips, Roger Scruton, Daniel Pipes, Bruce Bawer, Robert Spencer, Bat Ye’or, Mark Steyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and, above all, the Norwegian blogger Fjordman — show how standardised right-wing thought has become. It also points to a disconcerting conclusion: these events could have happened anywhere in Europe.
Breivik’s concerns about “Islamisation” are typical of those expressed by European tabloids and politicians. He has familiar worries about Muslims establishing no-go areas in cities, sharia courts, swimming pools with Muslim- only sessions, the contradiction between Islam and freedom of speech, the all- Muslim duty to perform jihad and the anti-Semitic inclinations of Muslim communities. And he wants to draw a line. “The veil should be banned in all public institutions, thus also contributing to breaking the traditional subjugation of women,” he writes in 2083. “Companies and public buildings should not be forced to build prayer rooms for Muslims. Enact laws to eliminate the abuse of family reunification laws.”
What strikes the reader of Breivik’s work is its terrible normality. At least the first 6o pages, up to the initial musings on military tactics, could be found in your average European book-shop, or in articles written by well-regarded politicians and intellectuals. Despite this, the denial of the Nordic media has not ceased. Norwegian and Swedish readers are now being told that Breivik has merely copied the “Unabomber” (the loner Ted Kaczynski, who sent a series of mail bombs in the US between 1978 and 1995). Does anyone in the Nordic countries even remember the Unabomber? How far are we willing to go to avoid looking in the mirror?
While much of what Breivik has to say is the staple of mainstream right-of- centre discourse, some of it is distinctly fascist. But this is a coherent and successful brand of fascism whose core tenet is the belief in “Eurabia”. The thesis of Eurabia is that Muslim countries, using the oil embargo of the early 1970s to blackmail the European Community, forced our treacherous politicians to hand over power. Ever since, it claims, we have been ruled by a secret Muslim conspiracy intent on transforming Europe into a colony— Eurabia —where we, the native Europeans, are subjugated. The Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or is the author of the Eurabia doctrine, but the far-right Sweden Democrats and the Danish People’s Party echo her ideas.
Neither the denial of global warming nor the virulent anti-feminism is an invention of Breivik’s. And his hatred of Marxism, real and imaginary — the strand of thought that eventually led him to Utøya — places him in an almost century-long tradition.
Yet didn’t Breivik leave all other Islamophobes far behind him when he contemplated murder? We hear, even from experts on the Nordic extreme right, that violence and terrorism are inherent to neo-Nazi groups, but alien to well- dressed Islamophobic populists. Once more, the disclaimers are almost as revelatory as the 22 July atrocity. In recognising the non-violent, parliamentary, well-mannered nature of modern European Islamophobia, we have — even if disagreeing with it— failed to trace its roots and keep track of its development.
The world of Islamophobic ideas is permeated with military imagery and language. Muslims are conquerors, colonisers, occupiers. Mosques and minarets are their victory monuments. The history of Islam is a long series of onslaughts on Christian civilisation, which defended itself at Poitiers in the 8th century and Vienna in the 16th and now has to rise to the occasion again; we are the descendants of Charlemagne. Our nations are being betrayed, a war is being fought against us — and the time has come to fight back. From the Danish commentator Lars Hedegaard to the Italian Lega Nord, from the Swedish politician Jimmie Akesson to the German politician Thilo Sarrazin, this is the mantra. Breivik’s originality is merely in acting it out.
At the end of 2083, Breivik answers a series of questions he imagines a reporter would want to ask him. “What tipped the scales for you? What single event made you decide you wanted to continue planning and moving on with the assault?” Answer: “For me, personally, it was my government’s involvement in the attacks on Serbia [Nato bombings in 1999] several years back. It was completely unacceptable how the US and western European regimes bombed our Serbian brothers. All they wanted was to drive Islam out by deporting the Albanian Muslims back to Albania.”
Breivik’s obsession with the Serbs’ struggle against Muslim intruders, his praise for the Serbian politician Radovan Karadzic as an “honourable crusader” and a “war hero”, his vision of Arkan’s paramilitary brigade as a model for his “resistance” are all symptomatic. The ideas of today’s Islamophobic right were put into practice in the Balkans in the 1990s, in the most recent genocide on European soil. There is a straight line running from Srebrenica to Utøya. The military leader Ratko Mladic burned with the same fire as Anders Behring Breivik. The only difference is that Breivik targeted the “traitors” rather than the “conquerors”.
Andreas Malm is a journalist and the author of books in Swedish on European Islamophobia