When established politicians use inflaming rhetoric in order to win their share of the populist vote, they contribute to an intolerant climate that can indirectly trigger the most terrifying events.
As news broke on Friday that the government headquarters in Oslo had been rocked by a massive bomb blast, experts agreed that it was likely the work of Islamist terrorists. Some commentators, like the Washington Post's blogger Jennifer Rubin, went so far as to call it "a sobering reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists."
At first glance, I and other Scandinavians monitoring the European far right scene bought into the same scenario. After all, car bomb rings of Iraq rather than the extreme rightists mainly make headlines for beating up foreigners. Or do they? The fact is that the threat of Europe's far right has been under the radar for too long. This despite the fact that, during the past few years, we've seen British neo-Nazis convicted of terror plans, and paramilitary guards attacking Roma in Eastern and Central Europe. Not to mention the emergence of the English Defence League (EDL), the largest far right street movement since the days of the National Front and with branches across Europe (interestingly, the suspected Norwegian terrorist claims to have been in contact with the EDL).
The threat is not just coming from militant far right groups and lone-wolf type extremists. Through a throng of right-wing populist parties, including radical ones such as France's National Front (same despicable ideas, now with a feminine face), a new racist ideology for the 2010's has entered mainstream society. 32-year old Anders Behring Breivik fits the bill perfectly. He is not a right-wing extremist in the established sense of the word. Rather, his Islamophobic beliefs are in line with those of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People's Party and Norway's Progress Party (the second largest group in parliament), where he was an active member for 10 years. This changes the situation radically. Instead of being a notorious neo-Nazi, the previously unknown Behring Breivik adheres to an ideology represented in parliaments, even governments.
Norway's extreme right scene is tiny and marginalised. But xenophobia is ripe within the influential Progress Party, whose party leader Siv Jensen has actively propagated for the conspiracy theory of Islamization. The Sweden Democrats frequently air the same views as those expressed online by the Oslo suspect. Behring Breivik's massive manifesto, 2083: A Declaration of European Independence, includes the following views:
Supporters of multiculturalism are supporters of the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe.
Muslims, facilitated by politicians, are conducting demographic warfare against Europeans.
Western Europe is dominated by a damaging belief system of political correctness that must be crushed.
He could have copied the above almost word for word from any blog post or Tweet written by Europe's Islamophobic politicians - and not a few mainstream ones.
Since 9/11 and the subsequent terror attacks in Europe, terrorism experts and security services have been too narrowly focused on the threat of Islamic extremism. When organised racism has been mentioned, it has almost exclusively been the ideology of the 1990's white-power movement. Today, Europe faces a new threat. The pan-European anti-Muslim movement includes leading individuals who embrace "Judeo-Christian values" and express their undying support for Israel instead of the anti-Semitism that is so central to the neo-Nazi movement.
It is easy to paint the picture of terrorists in black and white; a crazed Jihadist with an inexplicable urge to blow himself up, or a fanatic neo-Nazi Sieg Heil-ing to a portrait of Hitler. But if we truly want to combat terrorism, we need to analyse the political ideology of the terrorists as well as their psyche and personal background. Even if the ideology in question bears uncomfortable similarities to ideas that are not just becoming acceptable, but are actively encouraged by irresponsible political leaders. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) writes in its latest annual report, published in June, that mainstream politicians are "increasingly using xenophobic and anti-Muslim arguments and calling referenda targeting non-citizens and religious minorities". If European governments do not act, racism is here to stay, the leading anti-racism body warns.
Europe has moved backwards since the days of universal condemnation of Jörg Haider. To turn the tide, we must face the monster in our own backyard. In broad daylight, it might look surprisingly like ourselves.