Fighting words that are not fought
The following essay was originally posted on the blog The Immanent Frame: Secularism, religion and the public sphere back in 2011.
Some debates, it seems, simply do not disappear. The impassioned ongoing debates over freedom of speech and its limits provide a case in point. Rightly or wrongly, these are debates in which many Western ‘secular liberals’ have come to regard themselves as engaged in nothing less than a Kulturkampf against various threats to the freedom of expression, emanating first and foremost from religiously minded Muslims. This framing of the debate began with the Rushdie affair, in 1989, and has become, if anything, more prevalent since the cartoon crisis of 2005-2006. Indeed, it seems ever more evident that we face a future in Europe where the freedom of speech will be in constant tension and conflict with the freedom of religion and belief.
“Under what conditions does freedom of speech become freedom to hate?”Judith Butler recently asked. Here I will explore these issues in light of recent developments concerning the freedom of speech in Norway. I will argue that applying a cosmopolitan liberal approach to freedom of speech (i.e., along U. S. First Amendment lines) in a European context in which anti-Muslim and anti-immigration discourses are becoming ever more poisonous and pervasive risks underestimating the power dynamics inherent to the practice of free speech in contemporary Europe as well as overestimating the “mainstream” political and intellectual will to mobilize against the populist right-wing’s instrumentalized Islamophobia.
In an op-ed for The Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash recently argued that “for reasons both of free speech principle and political prudence,” Dutch politician Geert Wilders “should not be on trial for what he says about Islam.” Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), is being prosecuted under Dutch hate speech regulations for his comparison of the Qur’an to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and for referring to the former as “a fascist book.” In opting to indict Wilders, Dutch prosecutors, according to Garton Ash, are “guilty of blurring the line between attacking the believers and criticizing [their] beliefs.” He argues for instead moving the struggle against contemporary European populist articulations of xenophobia from “the court of law” to “the court of public opinion,” calling upon “mainstream politicians and intellectuals” to mobilize in defense of the liberal rule of law and equal rights of citizenship for all individuals.
Similarly, Andrew March has argued that in a Europe that is often discriminatory and imbalanced in its approach to Muslims citizens, “Muslim minorities in particular have a strong interest in “securing a more fundamentalist and formalist culture of defense of free speech.” Garton Ash’s and March’s motivations for advocating more free speech in response to hate speech are not identical. Whereas Garton Ash invokes the “slippery slope” argument (by which “a purpose to protect individual human beings” turns into a ban on criticizing “any belief”), March makes the valid point that religiously motivated speech has the same innate capacity to injure as non-religiously motivated speech, and that the religious therefore cannot claim any special privileges in regard to protection against injurious speech. The slippery slope argument, most famously articulated by Ronald Dworkin, holds that since free expression is a necessary condition of political legitimacy in any democratic society, we risk unduly interfering with political legitimacy and ultimately undermining democracy if free expression is curtailed. Dworkin is a strong and articulate defender of what may be characterized as contemporary U.S. First Amendment understandings of freedom of speech in their most absolutist incarnations. Yet the available evidence from liberal and democratic countries with hate speech legislation quite simply does not support the contention that such legislation paves the way for more wide-ranging restrictions on speech.
March and Garton Ash do, however, share certain basic assumptions. The first is that the distinction between speech directed against religion or belief of any sort and speech directed at individuals professing a particular religion or belief is easily identifiable. The second is what can be broadly defined as a desire to universalize, or at least to “Europeanize,” an understanding of the freedom of speech rooted in the U.S. First Amendment. Under U.S. First Amendment principles, as elaborated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the course of the twentieth century, the only legitimate restriction of speech pertains to any utterance functioning as an incitement to “immediate” violence against particular individuals, if and when the listening audience is in fact liable to act upon such speech. This interpretation of the constitutional protection of free speech is an outlier in global and comparative terms. But in light of legal, societal, and political developments in the past decade, on the national as well as the supra-national level, European states, and Scandinavian states in particular, seem more and more to be turning toward contemporary U.S. First Amendment understandings of the freedom of speech. For now, formal legal protections against various forms of racist, hateful, or discriminatory speech instituted as a result of international conventions remain in the statutes of numerous countries. Under these conventions, certain restrictions on free speech are permitted under the condition that they are “prescribed by law” and “necessary in a democratic society.” In Denmark, for instance, The Free Press Society’s Lars Hedegaard was recently prosecuted successfully for racist speech. In France, TV personality Éric Zummour was convicted under similar laws. But in Norway, hate speech legislation is more or less a dead letter. For laws that are merely symbolic and seldom, if ever, applied soon lose both their effectiveness and their legitimacy.
The character of racism in Norway shifted significantly in the course of the 1990s, in line with developments elsewhere in Western Europe. The racism of biological markers was replaced by various forms of cultural racism, and overt anti-Semitism became anathema while more or less subtle forms of Islamophobia became palatable. It is noteworthy in this context that the figure of “the Muslim” as an embodied threat to everything from freedom of speech to gender equality and from gay rights to the sustainability of the welfare state means that Islamophobia in contemporary Norway has wide cross-sectional and cross-political purchase. Even overtly xenophobic and racist organizations in Norway now claim on their websites to be opposed to all forms of racism and xenophobia, and merely to be engaged, rather, in a “critique of Islam” and efforts to ‘stop the “Islamization of Norway.” With the tacit support of Norway’s political, legal, and intellectual elites, racism is narrowly construed as relating only to biological markers of difference.
In principle, more free speech and more open access to various media means an increased potential for Muslims to respond to popular stereotypes and stigmatization. And it is, in fact, by no means unusual for young Norwegian Muslims to do so. But to do so under current circumstances requires very thick skin indeed. In interviews with me, young Norwegian Muslims active in the mediated public sphere very often report receiving abusive and threatening letters and emails. At the same time, mainstream liberal editors, who act as gatekeepers to major media outlets, often have their own scripts requiring those who get privileged access to visible positions in the mediascape to play particular roles—specifically the heroic “secular feminist Muslim” and the vilified “conservative Muslim,” or, in other words, the Muslim woman in need of freedom (from “Islam”), and the Muslim man denying her freedom (in the name of “Islam”). “Power speaks only to power,” in J.M. Coetzee’s words, and to be able and permitted to express oneself in public does not entail actually being heard.
Furthermore, many Norwegian mainstream—and supposedly liberal—editors cast themselves as “critics of Islam”—some to the extent of regularly recommending Islamophobic “Eurabia literature” of various kinds to their readers. Their Kulturkampf against the threats to freedom of speech emanating from ‘Islam’ often invoke the 3.0 percent of Norway’s population that is of Muslim background as a stand-in for this generalized other. In these editors’ constant clamor to be at the forefront of the heroic struggle for the freedom of speech, the editorial restraint of mainstream media in the U.S. is often virtually absent. In a reversal of Enlightenment creeds, it is now the powerful rather than the powerless that the freedom of speech is expected to protect. Many of these editors have also expended much energy on attempts to publicly discredit and discourage use of the term Islamophobia in Norway in recent years. It was not entirely coincidental, then, that, in 2009, Norway’s technocratic and influential Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, described the very concept of Islamophobia as “substanceless rant.”
In early January, 2011, the secular feminist Hege Storhaug, of Human Rights Service (HRS), in an op-ed in the mainstream liberal-conservative newspaper Aftenposten, by far the most influential newspaper in Norway, compared Muslims in prayer during a demonstration at Oslo’s University Square the previous year to “quislings.” Not to be outdone, Kent Andersen, a board member of the Oslo section of the populist-right wing Progress Party (PP), on a personal blog some weeks later, compared Islam to Nazism, and rhetorically asked his readers whether they thought that there could be “moderate Muslims”—as if there were ever “moderate Nazis.” The implication of such analogies, as Ian Buruma suggested in a 2009 New York Times op-ed, is that those who happen to believe in the Qur’an are like Nazis, and that an “all-out war against them” would therefore be legitimate. This is where Garton Ash’s approach would seem to run into some difficulties, for it is hard to see Storhaug and Andersen’s declamations as anything other than speech that deliberately blurs the line between a legitimate critique of Islam and hateful speech targeting individual Muslims. Andersen works in marketing, and, like Storhaug, has close links to some of the Progress Party’s most influential MPs. Once the Progress Party was on the fringes of Norwegian politics, but since 2003 it has governed the capital, Oslo, in a two-party alliance. In the parliamentary elections of 2009, the PP got a record 22.9 percent of the vote. Established in 1973 as an anti-taxation and anti-bureaucratic party, the PP first discovered the popular appeal of anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric in 1987.
Anti-Muslim and anti-immigration discourse has long been part of the political mainstream in Norway—effectuating what the late Tony Judt described as a “social democracy of fear.” Norway’s governing Labor Party has managed to remain in power, in a tripartite alliance of the center-left, by taking ever more stringent measures on immigration and integration, thus echoing the PP’s policies, if not their rhetoric, in recent years.
As a direct result of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) of 1966, Norway introduced a racism paragraph (135 (a)) into its penal code in 1970. In its current formulation, the racism paragraph may be used to penalize public utterances or symbols of a hateful or discriminatory nature based on attributes such as skin color, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, or homosexual orientation and lifestyle. In spite of numerous racist incidents during the 1970s and ’80s, the paragraph was never much used. As a result of public utterances he made during a march in the small Norwegian town of Askim, in 2000, Terje Sjølie, a Norwegian member of Boot Boys, a neo-Nazi gang, was charged under the racism paragraph. In his speech, Sjølie proclaimed that “every day, immigrants rob, rape and kill Norwegians.” One year later, a gang of Boot Boys brutally stabbed to death Benjamin Hermansen, a fifteen-year old boy of mixed Norwegian-African parentage, in a southeastern suburb of Oslo. Hermansen’s murderer had been present at the march in Askim the previous year. On an extremely cold winter evening 40,000, Norwegians took part in a commemorative anti-racism march dedicated to Hermansen and his family; it was the largest demonstration ever held in the Norwegian capital. Nevertheless, in 2002, a divided Norwegian Supreme Court acquitted Sjølie of the charges brought under the racism paragraph. The Court’s majority argued that the freedom of speech overrode the right to protection from hateful and discriminatory speech. Various Norwegian civil society organizations appealed the Supreme Court’s verdict to the UN’s ICERD Committee. In 2006, the ICERD Committee found the verdict in the Sjølie case to be in violation of ICERD articles 4 and 6. Norwegian state officials have repeatedly asserted to the European Commision against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) that the Sjølie verdict would now be inconceivable. Yet, with the exception of the Norwegian Supreme Court’s 2008 conviction of Norwegian Neo-Nazi Tore Tvedt for having declared in a 2003 tabloid newspaper interview that Jews were “parasites whom we must cleanse,” there have been no successful legal prosecutions under the racism paragraph in Norway in recent years. Charging and prosecuting Norwegian citizens on the basis of hate speech against Muslims—as the Dutch and the Danish have recently done in the Wilders and Hedegaard cases—now seems relatively inconceivable.
Freedom of speech debates are often construed by free speech proponents and opponents as a zero-sum game—that is, it is assumed that one either is, or ought to be, for or against free speech. Here I must make clear that I am inclined neither to support blasphemy laws nor to defend the dubious concept of “defamation of religion.” Exempting the beliefs and practices of people whose beliefs and practices happen to differ from my own is not a way of demonstrating respect or treating others as equals. The public sphere is an impure place, and so it must be. The current “fetishism of law” makes many attribute the most magical of effects to the mere letter of the law. It is an open question, however, whether the law is an appropriate instrument in the regulation of expression. For, in plural and heterogeneous societies, it is doubtful that any Rawlsian “duty of civility” can be instilled through law, and the emergence of various largely unregulated social media on the web makes it even less likely.
When restrictions on racist, discriminatory, and hate speech were introduced in Europe, in the aftermath of World War II, it was because European political and intellectual elites had come to the conclusion that there had to be some such restrictions in place in order to prevent “fighting words” from turning into “fighting actions.” It is hard to see that when Islam is compared to Nazism, and ordinary Muslims to Nazis, it constitutes a mere “critique of religion” rather than hate speech. The last racially motivated murder in Norway took place in 2008, when a Norwegian-Somali Muslim father of six, Mahmed Jamal Shirwac, was killed. There is solid evidence from Germany to India and from Rwanda to Bosnia that fighting actions are usually preceded by fighting words. Even though history does not repeat itself, in the current circumstances, it would be prudent to uphold a modest defense of European restrictions on hate speech.
Norway: terror and Islamophobia in the mirror
The following essay was originally posted on openDemocracy on the 22nd of August, 2011.
Friday 22 July 2011 will forever be etched into the Norwegian collective memory as the day when small Norway was struck by large-scale terrorism for the first time in history. A few weeks of massive rainfalls have now washed away the dust from the bomb at Government Headquarters in downtown Oslo, as well as the blood from the massacre at Utøya, a small island an hour’s drive from Oslo, which killed a total of 77 Norwegians. For the many thousands of Norwegians who are affected by this tragedy, the process of coping with grief has merely begun. As we mourn, the process of analyzing and interpreting the motives of the perpetrator has begun.
However, a process paralleling our mourning is already taking shape. This is a process in which those explanations which situate Norway as a breeding-place for Europe’s first anti-Muslim terrorist, linking it with the direction we as a society have taken in this era of Islamophobia, are deliberately marginalized. A de-politicizing and de-contextualizing narrative about a psychopathological lone individual terrorist who might as well have been a Martian is in the process of being constructed. At the moment, this is a narrative especially prevalent with public intellectuals linked to the right in Norway as well as elsewhere. It is, however, a narrative imposition which is being forcefully resisted, not the least from Norway’s most popular politician in recent years, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party, who has made it clear publicly that the terror in Oslo and at Utøya were political acts. For despite the intense hatred on the part of terrorist and mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, of modern multicultural Norway in general, and especially the three per cent of its population that is of Muslim background, together with their alleged ‘enablers’ among Norwegian social-democrats in the supposed struggle to establish Muslim ‘dominance’ in Norway, there still exist a fair number of Norwegians who might with some reservations regard Breivik as ‘one of us.’
What places him squarely outside their fold are his actions, not his words. In the minds of most Norwegians, after all, peace-loving Norway and its peace-loving inhabitants represent the universal good, now and forever. No matter how many innocent civilians are killed by Norwegian soldiers in Muslim countries, no matter how tainted our public discourse on Islam and Muslims has become – we still manage to turn a blind eye to the hatred in our midst.
Some of us are already having grave doubts about whether this terrorist attack will have changed much for the better in the future. As a case in point, the tabloid newspaper VG, which is the favourite read of supporters of the right-wing populist party the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp, hereafter, PP), had to close down a web commentary field after ten minutes less than two weeks after the terror attacks due to the extent of the Islamophobic and racist posts from readers. On various social media, Islamophobic and racist abuse has continued unabated since 22/7, in spite of mainstream politicians’ calls for respect, dignity and civility in a time of national mourning.
In the wake of September 11 2001, Norwegian researchers on international terrorism established themselves as some of the world’s leading terrorism experts. It is telling that among the fine and dedicated scholars of terrorism at the Terrorism Research Group (TERRA) at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI) outside Oslo, not a single researcher has a position dedicated to the study of forms of terrorism other than those of a militant Islamist orientation. Yet available statistics from Europe in recent years have suggested that militant Islamist terror attacks represent only a small fraction of the total number of recorded terrorist attacks on European soil. Norwegian experts on terror have long presented us with the scenario that in the event that Norway would be struck by terrorism, it would be terror perpetrated by radical Islamist movements, or by individuals inspired by such movements. The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) has told us more or less the same thing. In their annual open assessment on terror threats in Norway, issued a few months before Behring Breivik’s attacks, PST noted among its introductory and main conclusions that right-wing extremists would ‘not present a serious threat to Norwegian society in 2011 either.’ One may suspect them of not having properly applied themselves to the lessons of history. Almost all acts of political violence in modern Norwegian history have been perpetrated by the far right.
I was not surprised to be receiving a call from a Norwegian newspaper reporter shortly after hearing the bomb blast from the Government Buildings. The reporter in question wanted me to confirm that, “this was all about Islam.” “I am not an expert on terrorism”, I told him; “But you are an expert on Islam, aren’t you?” he replied, as if the competences were more or less interchangeable. It didn’t seem to matter that downtown Oslo was in chaos, or that neither the police nor the media themselves had any information about the offender or his motives: the reporter desperately needed intellectuals or scholars who could support his story.
He hung up when I made it perfectly clear to him that I knew nothing about who the perpetrators could possibly be, and that for that matter, neither did he. But there were of course many individuals willing to confirm his presuppositions. Walid al-Kubaisi (1958 -), an Iraqi-born atheist, writer, and propagator of Eurabia-views, confirmed to the reporter in question that “Islamists” were behind this attack. To Finansavisen the next day, he solemnly declared that he had for a long time “anticipated this”, and that one should now ask Norwegian Islamists (read: most Muslims, for the lines are extremely blurred in al-Kubaisi’s public fantasies) to “integrate, or get out.” NRK, the national radio and television network, provided much air time after the blast to one Helge Lurås from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), who in spite of not having any publications on terrorism whatsoever to his record, spent a number of hours informing a Norwegian public by then glued to their television sets that the bombings at the Government Buildings bore the imprimatur of “radical Islamists”. The international media and its terrorism commentariat were no better. Charlie Brooker: “It wasn’t experts speculating, it was guessers guessing – and they were terrible.” An obscure radical Islamist movement entitling itself Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, known for some time to assume responsibility for terror attacks with which it has nothing to do, provided welcome assistance for the narrative that was already established by immediately announcing its responsibility for the bombings at Government Headquarters.
Not on the radar
As all of this unfolded in the immediate wake of the bomb blast, many Norwegian Muslim residents in Oslo and elsewhere feared for their lives. Oslo residents of Muslim minority background experienced various forms of verbal abuse, were chased through the streets and physically assaulted by fellow Norwegians acting out personal fantasies of revenge in the streets of the capital that very afternoon. As I went to bed late in the evening on 22/7, news of the shooting spree at Utøya where the Labour Party’s Youth Movement AUF held their annual camp, had started pouring in. It was at this point that many Norwegians were starting to have second thoughts about possible perpetrators and motives. For this island camp seemed an extremely unlikely target for radical Islamists. It suggested instead an intimate knowledge of Norwegian democratic politics and political movements. I recall my wife having told me, “What if this is a madman with links to the PP?” before we kissed goodnight that dreadful evening.
We should not be surprised that the man who has confessed the acts of terror, and who is now in detention in Oslo, was never on the radar of PST intelligence. Anders Behring Breivik (aged 32) was raised among the political and economic elite in Western Oslo. He is the son of a retired senior diplomat at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and a nurse, who split up when Breivik was one year old. The multicultural footprint in the parts of Oslo in which Behring Breivik grew up is extremely light. He is an admirer of Winston Churchill and the Norwegian World War II resistance hero, Max Manus. He was a member of the PP’s youth movement (FpU) from 1997 to 2007. In the hours before he embarked on his murdering spree, he sent a 1,500-page cut-and-paste ‘Manifesto’ to 1003 recipients linked to far-right movements all over Europe and in Israel via e-mail. In this ‘Manifesto’ and on the You Tube-clip which introduces it, he declares himself a “Christian” and a “conservative” nationalist over and over again. Yet his purported Christianity is of an instrumental, not spiritual kind. There are echoes in the final section, which is a diary of sorts, of Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho: Behring Brevik lists his favourite eau de cologne (Chanel Platinum Egoiste), his favourite t-shirt brand (Lacoste), his favourite authors (Kafka and Orwell) and his favourite soccer team (Lyn). He describes his ‘Christian’ ambivalence about sleeping with sex workers during a trip to Budapest and expresses satisfaction with his own physical appearance after plastic surgery. When burying weapons and ammunition in the woods, he is annoyed with himself for having forgotten mosquito repellants.
In The Locked Room in his New York Trilogy from 1987, Paul Auster writes that “no one can cross the boundary into another – for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself.” And Behring Breivik, for all his obsessively narcissistic Foucauldian ‘care of the self’, presents us with the mystery of a man who does not know himself, and for rather obvious reasons does not want others to know him. He describes his best teenage friend as a Muslim who supposedly abandons him in favour of ‘other Pakistanis’ at the end of his teenage years. He appears to take exception to neo-Nazism and racial theories, and endorses Israeli soldiers as ‘frontline soldiers’ in the battle against a supposed Muslim ‘expansion’ in Europe, yet prepares for his acts of terror listening to neo-Nazi and racist music, and spends considerable time on neo-Nazi websites. He expresses a certain level of revulsion at the public and official recognition of gay rights in Europe, yet appears to have been sighted on several occasions in Oslo’s gay community.
What is perhaps most striking in the material posted by Behring Breivik on extreme as well as mainstream right-wing internet sites is how unremarkable they are. In this era of uncensored and unedited freedom of speech and Islamophobia, his opinions and attitudes are hardly distinguishable from utterances in various social media, and sometimes even in mainstream print media in Norway. There are no overt calls for violence in any of his postings. Monitors at more mainstream websites where he has also left electronic traces have reported that his postings were by no means the most radical or extreme ones. On August 5, the identity of Anders Behring Breivik’s ideological source of inspiration, the blogger ‘Fjordman’, was revealed. Behring Breivik refers to ‘Fjordman’ no less than 111 times in his ‘Manifesto’, and the first part of the ‘Manifesto’ contains no less than 39 ‘essays’ by ‘Fjordman’ from the latter’s postings on various far-right Islamophobic European websites. The subtitle of Behring Breivik’s tract (‘A European Declaration of Independence’) seems to have been lifted directly from an essay by ‘Fjordman’ on Brusselsjournal.com in 2007. After weeks of intense media speculation and a police interrogation, his identity was revealed by the Norwegian tabloid newspaper VG in a kid-glove interview on August 5. ‘Fjordman’ turned out to be a 36yr.-old former Norwegian student of Arabic at the University of Bergen and the American University of Cairo, and an MA graduate in Media Studies from the University of Oslo by the name of Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen. A worker at a day-care centre in Oslo, Jensen had experienced some kind of ‘far right epiphany’ as a result of 9/11. Jensen had not been on the radar of PST, and this in spite of the fact that his many blog postings since 2005 include many instances of direct incitement to violence against Muslims in Norway and Europe.
In the days after the terrorist attacks, many Norwegian editors resorted to the well-used metaphor that Norway had now ‘lost its innocence.’ This reflects a highly selective if not downright amnesic view of reality. For many Norwegian Muslims, who now comprise 3 per cent of Norway’s population of 4.9 million, Norway lost its innocence prior to the local elections in 1987. For it was during a campaign meeting that year that Carl Ivar Hagen, the then leader of the PP (established in 1973 as an anti-taxation and anti-bureacratic party), presented a false letter allegedly written by ‘Mohamed Mustafa’, a Norwegian Muslim living in Oslo. The false letter stated that Norway was to become a Muslim country; that the cross in Norway’s flag would be replaced by a crescent; that churches would be turned into mosques – all of this because of the supposedly high fertility of Muslim women in Norway.
A lawsuit from Mr. Mustafa against Mr. Hagen and the PP followed; it was settled out of court. But the pattern had been established. The PP had discovered the electoral appeal of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant views; the electorate had discovered the PP. It gained many new voters, particularly from disgruntled working-class turned service-class voters from the Labour Party. The year 1987 represents PP’s electoral break-through in Norway, and the party’s anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric has changed little since then. However, what has changed is Frp’s voter turnout (22.9 per cent in 2009), the intensity of the Islamophobia expressed by its MPs and party leaders, and the degree of influence exerted by PP on other mainstream parties’ policies of immigration and integration.
But, as the late Norwegian social anthropologist Marianne Gullestad cautioned in Plausible Prejudice (2006), it would be wrong to focus exclusively on the Islamophobia and racism within this party’s ranks. The most prominent Eurabia author in Norway is in fact the former Conservative Party MP, Hallgrim Berg. His book Letter to Lady Liberty: Europe in Danger was published in a Norwegian as well as English personal imprint in 2007. Funded by the prestigious Fritt Ord Foundation, it was extensively covered by the Norwegian mainstream media. Berg even presents the Islamophobic Eurabia-ideologue ‘Fjordman’ as an authoritative source in his book. Whilst clearly uncomfortable with a respected party members’ venture into the darker recesses of Islamophobic literature, Berg’s Conservative Party refused to publicly criticize him. And earlier this year, the chairman of the Socialist Left Party (SV) at Nordstrand in Oslo, Morten Schau, was forced to rescind his party membership in SV due to his involvement with the organization Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN). SIAN describes itself as a “resistance movement” against the “Islamization of Norway”, declares Islam to be, “a totalitarian system [or “political ideology”] akin to Nazism and Communism” on its web pages, and in 2009 in a televised debate called upon ‘ethnic’ Norwegians to “arm themselves” against the impending “Islamization”. It responded to the terror attacks in Oslo by issuing a statement to the effect that, “without Islam – there would be no terror in Oslo.”
Freedom of speech
Changing perceptions of freedom of speech among the elites, and the mainstreaming of Islamophobia in Norway, have gone hand in hand in the ten years between 9/11 2001 and 22/7 2011. As a result, respectable Norwegian newspapers have printed more and more extreme utterances from Islamophobes of the populist right-wing, and the section 135 (a) in the Norwegian Penal Code, introduced in 1970, banning racism, has since 2006 become utterly dormant. It is not as if Norwegian authorities have not been warned about the extent of Islamophobia in Norway. The first warning, from the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), was issued in its country report on Norway for 2008.
On January 6, 2011, the liberal-conservative daily newspaper Aftenposten, Norway’s leading and most influential newspaper, published an op-ed entitled, ‘A growing disquiet’. Written by Hege Storhaug, feminist head of the organization Human Rights Service (HRS), which has over the past decade forged close links to the PP, the image caption characterized peaceful Muslim demonstrators at Oslo’s University Square in 2010 as “quislings.” Anyone who is slightly familiar with Norwegian history knows that Norway’s prime minister during the Nazi occupation (1940–45), Vidkun Quisling, was one of very few Nazi collaborators to be executed at the end of the war. It takes excessive literalism not to notice that incitement to violence – or ‘fighting words’ – directed against Norwegian Muslims hover below the surface in Storhaug’s op-ed. What is disturbing then, is not so much that Ms. Storhaug should hold such views. For her advisor since 2009 has been none other than the Eurabia author cited with recognition no less than 22 times in Behring Breivik’s manifesto, Bruce Bawer, who has been living in Norway since 1999. Storhaug and the HRS have had rather extensive contact with ‘Fjordman’, and have on several occasions recommended as well as re-published his Islamophobic Eurabia propaganda on the HRS website. After 22/7, Storhaug admitted in an interview with liberal daily newspaper Dagbladet, a newspaper for which she once worked herself as a reporter, that she had met ‘Fjordman’ only once in 2003, but found him ‘too extreme’, and could not recall either his name or his physical appearance. This seems to be another case of amnesia, for as the Norwegian freelance reporter Øyvind Strømmen demonstrated shortly thereafter, Storhaug and HRS had in fact recommended ‘Fjordman’s essays for years after this, and even partaken in a special ‘internet symposium’ with him in 2006. But more disturbing than Storhaug’s views is the fact that Aftenposten’s cultural and op-ed editor has abrogated his editorial responsibilities by not censoring the caption of her submitted text, and in a situation in which he receives any number of draft op-eds every day, chooses to lend legitimacy to such views by publishing them in the most prestigious op-ed space available in Norway.
The editor in question, Mr Knut Olav Åmås, is not only a gatekeeper for what gets to be printed at Aftenposten, he is also a person with the privilege of shaping public opinion through his editorial choices and editorial columns. “The printed word’, as Åmås so eloquently puts it in his book, “is an edited word.” An ardent fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Alan Dershowitz, and a personal friend of the Danish editor Flemming Rose (who commissioned the cartoons which provoked the global cartoon crisis in 2005-06), Åmås has on no less than two occasions recommended Bruce Bawer’s Eurabia-books to his readers in editorial columns. In a 2008 book, Åmås describes himself as a, “freedom of expression fundamentalist”, and quite mistakenly argues that freedom of expression is an overriding value in international human rights conventions. For Åmås, a guiding principle is that most – if not all – opinions should be aired, so that they may be ‘debated.’
This is a mistaken view, inasmuch as it is based on the contention that most, if not all, opinions will be challenged and contested in the public square. Norwegians who have become used to more and more vile public expressions of Islamophobia and racism in recent years would recognise the futility of debating publicly with Ms Storhaug and others who have pushed the limits of acceptable speech to extremes. For what you then invite, is vile and repeated entries from Storhaug and her collaborators at the HRS website – not to mention anonymous hate mail of the less eloquent and compassionate sort. I speak from experience myself. More Islamophobic hate speech leads to ever more Islamophobic hate speech, not less.
Professor Timothy Garton Ash suggests that if only Anders Behring Brevik had read some mainstream newspaper, his worldviews may have been, “punctured by fact, reason, and common sense.” If only. Individuals growing up in privileged circumstances in Oslo West usually grow up with no small amount of newspapers in their homes, and it is a de-politicizing and decontextualizing myth that Behring Breivik could not have found the same ‘fighting words’ echoing the profoundly disturbing and conspiratorial voices of his mind in Norwegian mainstream media and in publications issued by respectable publishing houses in Norway in recent years. Behring Breivik is if anything an obsessively meticulous man, and in his ‘Manifesto’ refers to extensive reading of newspapers, listening to the radio and watching television. He refers to it as ‘studies’, listing the number of hours spent on them.
In 2010, the largest private TV channel in Norway, TV2, screened a ‘documentary’ by filmmaker and author Walid al-Kubaisi arguing that the Muslim Brothers of Egypt were plotting to turn Europe and Norway into an Islamic state or caliphate through the use of ’baby trolleys, the hijab, democracy, freedom of speech’, and using ordinary Norwegian and European Muslims as ‘willing instruments’. The echoes of Eurabia-literature were more than evident in the ‘documentary’. The ‘documentary’ was co-financed by the prestigious Fritt Ord Foundation and TV2, and earned public plaudits and recommendations from several Norwegian professors, among them Prof. Terje Tvedt at the University of Bergen and Prof Unni Wikan at the University of Oslo.
The late Italian secular feminist Islamophobe Oriana Fallaci’s (1929-2006) Eurabian tract The Rage and the Pride was published in a Norwegian translation by Gyldendal in 2003. Gyldendal is one of Norway’s oldest and most respectable publishing houses. Among sources cited in Breivik’s manifesto is that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Her latest book, Nomad, is a bestseller in Norway, and published by another respectable publishing house, Cappelen Damm. When Hirsi Ali last was in Norway in the spring of 2011, it was to promote her book. Hirsi Ali was fêted by her publisher to a lavish dinner at Oslo’s Grand Hotel (where Nobel Prize Laureates are accommodated), with a small and exclusive group of prominent academics and media editors in attendance. Anders Behring Breivik has nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize [sic]. And it is not too hard to see why. In Nomad, Hirsi Ali refers to Muslims in Europe as, “almost a fifth column”. The last chapter of her book bears the sentimental title Letter to My Unborn Daughter – a title which paraphrases the late Fallaci’s autobiographical novel Letter to a Child Never Born (1975).
Hirsi Ali’s partner, the British historian Niall Ferguson, is another prominent contemporary enthusiast for colonialism, military interventionism as well as Eurabia literature. Ali, who like many other secular feminist enthusiasts for military interventionism in the ‘Muslim world’ and for the domestic repression of Muslims’ religious rights in Europe, is “on a mission to improve the lives of millions of women I have never met” – dedicates the concluding chapter to Fallaci. She was, according to Hirsi Ali, a “remarkable and brave woman.” Some may disagree: in her late years, Fallaci made it to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for having referred to Muslims as “breeding rats” in her book The Rage and The Pride. Behring Breivik has read Fallaci too. In fact so much so that he cautioned fellow members of the PP’s youth wing against being seen publicly promoting Fallaci’s books, as this would be akin to committing political suicide, on a party internet forum in 2002. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s works have proven invaluable to Islamophobic neo-conservatives as well as secular western feminists, because her message of Islam’s supposed ‘barbarity’ is delivered in an ‘authentic Muslim women’s voice’ – a point made by scholars from Saba Mahmood to Leila Ahmed and Hamid Dabashi.
All right-wing extremist movements in Norway – with an immodesty befitting those engaging in sacred causes – have in recent years solemnly proclaimed that they are opposed to all forms of xenophobia and racism, and insisted that they are merely committed to ‘criticizing religion.’ Not just any ‘religion’ of course, but Islam, a side-long manoeuver which appeals to the instincts of Norway’s liberal media and intellectual elites.
From his 1,500 page-long online manifesto we have learned that Anders Behring Breivik has planned his vile acts for nine years, and that he has read a range of racist and Islamophobic literature, from Bat Ye’or (Gisèle Littmann), via Bruce Bawer and ‘Fjordman’, to Melanie Phillips and Sigurd Skirbekk. He clearly sees himself as a Nietzschean übermensch that no ordinary legal system can punish with any legitimacy. In police interrogations, he has expressed pride, and no remorse whatsoever, over his actions. He will do his utmost to turn his trial, which he has planned for in detail, into a public platform for spreading his vile message far and wide. The aim, after all, is to create the momentum for unleashing a continent-wide war aimed at effacing the presence of Muslims and Islam in Europe. That will not happen. But we should not think that such a call to arms does not have its supporters beyond Behring Breivik’s sympathizers on the far right in Norway and in Europe. Multicultural Norway is here to stay
In recent years, I have often been approached by young, well-educated and upwardly mobile Norwegian Muslims after public lectures, with the question as to why a society which from government level to that of the media and civil society opposes anti-Semitism in all its forms with all its might, can still deem Islamophobic speech and utterances quite acceptable. I have not been able to provide any plausible answer – let alone comfort for them in their despair. One of the last things Behring Breivik did before he embarked on his murdering spree was to send his manifesto by e-mail to 1003 contacts across Europe and in Israel who he deemed to be suitably qualified ‘cultural conservatives’. This suggests the workings of a mind and a man who may have been alone, but who certainly did not conceive of himself as being alone in the ideas and views he held. That is not to say that those who have provided the echo chambers for Anders Behring Breivik’s thoughts and ideas in Norway and elsewhere share any direct responsibility for his deeds. But mass murder, as Norway’s most prominent political philosopher, Arne Johan Vetlesen has argued in Evil and Human Agency (2005), requires ideological preparation. And that ideological preparation involves de-humanizing the ‘other’ – whether she be a social democrat, a Muslim or both.
Through the darkness and despair that has descended on Norway, we may nonetheless catch a ray of hope. From now on, it will be much harder for Norwegian media editors, politicians and intellectuals to downplay the existence of Islamophobia in Norway, and even more difficult to argue that the words of racists and Islamophobes are merely words, and that words and actions can be neatly delineated. Those who continue to argue despite all available evidence from language theory and philosophy from Ferdinand de Saussure through Victor Klemperer to John Austin, that speaking is not to act in and upon the world, will now face serious challenges in convincing many Norwegians thereof. It is – pace Ronald Dworkin and other ultra-liberalist champions of free speech – hard to see why public expressions of Islamophobia, similarly to anti-Semitic expressions, should be a necessary evil to accept in order for ‘democratic legitimacy’ to obtain in a secular and liberal society like Norway’s.
Anders Behring Breivik is trying to fight the course of history, but to no avail. Multicultural Norway is here to stay. Period. Several of the young people who survived the Utøya massacre have reported that they were saved by young party comrades with a Muslim minority background. Among the dead, Muslims and non-Muslims were united in their sacrifice. The testimonials of the survivors might very well contribute to the creation of a Norway in which the conspiratorial fantasies of Anders Behring Breivik and other Norwegian racists and Islamophobes will become marginalized in time. Anders Behring Breivik wanted to instigate war. His ideas will be crushed by our humanity and solidarity and our unflinching commitment not to forget the sacrifice of the many murdered in cold blood on a rainy day in Oslo and at Utøya on 22/7/2011. In Memoriam – E Pluribus Unum.
Norway – one year after: an open wound
This essay was originally published on openDemocracy on the 20th of July 2012
One year has passed since Anders Behring Breivik, a white thirty-two year old Norwegian from Oslo West, set off a bomb at Government Headquarters in Oslo, Norway, killing eight people, and proceeded to the annual summer camp of the governing Labour Party Youth Organization AUF at Utøya where he massacred sixty-nine party youth activists, mostly in their teens.
In the course of the 22/7 trial at Oslo Magistrate’s Court’s Hall no. 250, which opened on April 16 2012 and ended on June 22, we have heard much more about the perpetrator’s mental state than about his victims, and more about various forms of psychopathology than about extreme right-wing ideology. This was, as it happens, unavoidable given that the two appointed teams of psychiatric assessors came to widely divergent conclusions regarding the mass murderer’s mental state on and after 22/7 2011. But ahead of the verdict in by far the most expensive trial in Norwegian history, this raises the question as to whether the trial can offer any form of closure for the survivors and the bereaved. Surveys indicate that an overwhelming number of people think that the perpetrator should be declared mentally sane, and sentenced to imprisonment rather than mental hospitalisation.
Sane or insane?
When the 22/7 trial started in a rebuilt Oslo Magistrate’s Court on April 16 this year, Norway had already seen months of intense debate over the first psychiatric assessment by Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim, which in November 2011 concluded that the mass murderer of 22/7, Anders Behring Breivik was not criminally liable for his actions under the General Penal Code § 44 (introduced 1929, last revised in 2001) due to psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia. Unlike every other country in the western world, in Norway psychiatric assessors can pre-empt the conclusion of any trial in which such assessments are requested by the police through a finding of psychosis and hence criminal insanity. Their work and their conclusions are very rarely contested by the courts, the prosecutors or the defense lawyers.
Another peculiarity of the Norwegian legal system is that a state of psychosis in the course of the perpetration of criminal acts need not be proven beyond any reasonable doubt by the psychiatric assessors. Husby and Sørheim, a close professional team known before the 22/7 case for arriving at a larger percentage of paranoid schizophrenia court assessments than their colleagues, would in their testimonies to the court in June 2012 declare that they had only worked together on fifteen psychiatric assessments for Norwegian courts. The real figure – as revealed by Norwegian media the day after their testimony – was fifty. The 22/7 police investigation was, in fact, marred by media leaks from the very word go. We know that the office of Sigurd Klomsæt, a lawyer representing one survivor from Utøya was behind a number of these leaks, but suspicions still abound about media leaks stemming from the Oslo Police Headquarters itself. It is doubtful whether Oslo Magistrate’s Court would in January 2012 have made Norwegian legal history by demanding a second psychiatric assessment of the 22/7 mass murderer were it not for these media leaks.
Once the first psychiatric assessment entered the public domain through publication in the Norwegian media, an unprecedented barrage of professional criticisms from very senior Norwegian and Scandinavian psychiatrists emerged in response. The first psychiatric team had concluded that the mass murderer was a paranoid schizophrenic who had suffered a ‘complete breakdown’ of social and psychological functioning in 2006, the year in which he moved in with his elderly mother into her small apartment at Skøyen in Oslo West. Yet this ‘complete breakdown’, which according to functional tests performed by Husby and Sørheim left him in a state in which most mental patients are barely able to tie their shoelaces, let alone get out of bed in the morning, had apparently not prevented him from planning and executing what he himself would describe to the court as ‘the most spectacular terrorist attack in Norwegian history.’
Husby and Sørheim’s 234 page report had disregarded the 1516 pages cut-and-paste tract that the mass murderer sent to close to a thousand contacts in the hours before he initiated the terror attacks. They described the peculiar terminology of the extreme right-wing and Islamophobic websites Anders Behring Breivik had related intensively to in the years and months leading up to 22/7 as the product of the mass murderer’s own disturbed mind (‘neologisms’), and they characterized his quite plausible fear of being discovered by Norwegian police intelligence agencies in the years and months preceding the 22/7 attacks as expressions of ‘paranoia’.
The medical doctor who had first examined Behring Breivik after his transfer to a high-security section of Ila Prison in Oslo in late July 2011 found no evidence whatsoever of psychosis; nor did a team of external psychiatric experts tasked with following the mass murderer in the following months. But by far the most damaging report came from Randi Rosenqvist, the most senior of Norwegian court psychiatrists, responsible for Norway’s standard text book in the field. As the psychiatrist in residence at Ila Prison, she had several consultations with the mass murderer in the course of the autumn of 2011, but was unable to find any evidence of psychosis or schizophrenia.
A second psychiatric assessment
In the Norwegian legal context, it actually takes considerable courage to do what Wenche Arntzen of the Oslo Magistrate’s Court did in January 2012 in ordering the appointment of a a second team of psychiatric assessors, namely to ignore the strongly voiced opinions of both Attorney-General Tor-Aksel Busch as well as the state attorneys in charge of the 22/7 trial, Inga Bejer Engh and Svein Holden, to the effect that there was no need for any further assessments of the mass murderer’s mental health after the first psychiatric assessment. In the closing arguments of the two state attorneys, it would become clear that this opinion was still strongly held on the part of the state; it remains to be seen during sentencing on 24/8 2012 whether the court shares that opinion.
The second psychiatric assessment, headed by Agnar Aspaas and Terje Tørrisen concluded after a team of 18 mental health experts had followed the mass murderer’s routine in prison day out and day in for three weeks, and the psychiatrists themselves had interviewed the mass murderer in prison, that though he had serious mental problems, he was not psychotic, and hence he was criminally liable for his actions on 22/7. In court, Husby and Sørheim lashed out at their critics among Norwegian psychiatrists, and stuck adamantly to their diagnostic conclusions. The crux of the matter, they argued, was that Behring Breivik was delusional in feeling entitled to decide upon life and death, and believing himself to be a ‘commander’ of an organization (the Knights Templar) proof of whose existence the Norwegian police had been unable to find during their investigations into 22/7. It is not exactly unusual for mass murderers to feel that they have the right to decide upon their victims’ lives or deaths, but then again, as Husby and Sørheim’s critics would be told over and over again, they had in most cases not observed or conversed with the mass murderer.
An unprecedented trial
The first few weeks of the trial was a public spectacle the like of which Norway has never seen, and will hopefully never have to see again. The mass murderer, who according to sections of his cut-and-paste tract conceived of his trial as another extreme right-wing marketing opportunity, was permitted by the court to present a rambling ideological statement concerning the motives of his attacks on the second day of the trial. UK legal experts noted that such theatrics would very likely not be accepted in British courts. His narcissistic inclinations were no secret to those of us who have read his tract. He must have taken a certain pleasure in the fact that it was in this first week of the trial, when he himself was at the centre of the court’s attention, that international media attention was at its most intense.
Norwegian academics with some competence on certain aspects of the trial would get any number of calls from Norwegian newspaper reporters in search of on the spot analyses of every nod and wink from the mass murderer in court. Once the initial media feeding frenzy had abated, however, Norwegian media consumers were left with the Norwegian media’s own ‘talking heads’ in the form of prominent media editors and experienced court reporters interviewing each other incessantly on various media platforms. Most of all, these experts were concerned with detailed analyses of the mass murderer’s facial expressions, and sharing their expectations as to whether the mass murderer would express any sense of remorse in court. And of course, he did not. For racist and fascist murderers who conceive of themselves as ‘saviours’ of the ‘Nordic races’ and ‘the nation’ have through history not been known for showing any remorse. The expression thereof that the mass murderer was able to offer, was limited to a meaningless apology to the relatives of casual passers-by killed in the bomb attack on Government Headquarters. In general, though, Norwegian media, prevented from transmitting his testimony by a court order ahead of the trial (to the usual cries of ‘censorship’ and ‘gagging’ from Norwegian liberal free speech absolutists), were far more responsible in their coverage of the trial than many international media outlets with no requirement to spare their audiences from the most brutal details of the trial.
For those who had familiarised themselves with the mass murderer’s life world through reading his tract and various web postings, the trial itself would not offer much in the way of startling revelations. We learned that Behring Breivik considers Muslims to be ‘animals’ and that he found the actions of Serb genocidaires in Bosnia in the 1990s ‘inspiring’. Where the mass murderer had feigned disapproval of Norwegian and European neo-Nazis in his tract, the trial provided a clearer endorsement of a long line of European neo-Nazis; from the accused Swedish serial killer of immigrants in Malmoe, Peter Mangs, to the German cell of neo-Nazis who killed eight Turks, a Greek and a police officer in Germany from 2000 to 2008.
In court, the mass murderer reminisced about violent fantasies involving beheading Labour Party politicians at Utøya and posting their executions on YouTube, fantasies that arguably resemble al-Qaida rather than the Crusades. The most chilling part of the trial was the mass murderer’s recounting of his killing spree at Utøya, in which he shot teenagers, frozen stiff from fear, in the head at close range; teenagers covering their faces from bullets with their bare hands; and children begging for their lives. Anders Behring Breivik is and will forever remain a child murderer; yet his court testimony revealed that he considered that term so stigmatizing that he had to continue to insist that the children he had killed were ‘indoctrinated’ party cadres comparable to ‘Hitler Youth.’ This was a line he seems to have picked up from the ever-so-charming Glenn Beck (formerly of Fox News), who like Behring Breivik seems to conceive of anyone left of the Tea Party as, well, ‘left-wing fascists.’ Among those who distanced themselves from the mass killing of innocent children for purportedly political purposes a la Behring Breivik was – interestingly enough – al-Qaida.
In court, Behring Breivik expressed opprobrium at being referred to as a racist and a fascist, which are by no means misnomers in this case, as the expert witnesses for the defense, the Norwegian historian Dr Terje Emberland and the Swedish professor of religious science Prof Mattias Gardell would all attest to in court. His boundless capacity for narcissistic self-pity was on show too: had he not, he earnestly asked the court, sacrificed family and friends on 22/7?
In the course of the trial, Norwegians would learn relatively little about the mass murderer’s personal background. Anders Behring Breivik made it perfectly clear that he considered this out of bounds and of little relevance ( though he reveals the most sordid and troublesome details about the personal lives of his close relatives and friends in his tract ); but the court was in fact prevented from taking valuable information on this into account. The child psychologist who observed and assessed him as a child (and recommended that he be transferred to foster care), was refused permission to testify in court by his mother. This was regrettable, as the testimony of the mother to the effect that her son had become ‘mad’ was absolutely central to the report of the first team of psychiatric assessors, Husby and Sørheim.
Day in day out, survivors and the bereaved would sit silent and dignified in court, watching the proceedings and breaking down in quiet sobs from time to time. It was as if by sheer willpower they succeeded in demonstrating to the mass murderer, the court, and to the Norwegian public in general, who possessed the sovereign claim to humanity in this case. There was only one eruption of the hatred which many survivors and bereaved, as well as Norwegians in general must and will continue to feel for Anders Behring Breivik on account of his vile and monstrous acts. That would come in the form of a shoe-throwing elderly brother of a 16-year old boy murdered at Utøya, an Iraqi Kurd by the name of Hayder Mustafa Qasim (20) who had travelled from Iraq to Oslo and Norway to express his hatred and contempt for the mass murderer. “You killed my brother! Go to hell! Go to hell!” he shouted to Behring Breivik. As the man was led out of the court by security officers, his shoe having missed the mass murderer but hit one of his defense lawyers, he was applauded by people on the public stand.
A lack of reckoning
Anders Behring Breivik’s defense team, prior to the trial, had made it clear that they wanted to call a number of bloggers and activists who happened to share parts of Behring Breivik’s worldview, and the ‘Eurabia’- ideology in particular, to the witness stand.
Most central among these witnesses would have been perhaps Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen. Known as ‘Fjordman’, he was Behring Breivik’s main ideological inspiration, whose essays are cited in extenso no less than thirty-nine times in the mass murderer’s tract. And there was Bruce Bawer, a popular author in the ‘Eurabia’-genre, cited twenty-two times in the tract who in a pamphlet titled The New Quislings published at a small US imprint in early 2012 would directly incite people to violence against any number of Norwegian academics and politicians on account of their supposed ‘treason’ by referring to these as ‘quislings’. Also called by the defence was Hans Rustad of the mass-murderer’s favourite Norwegian right-wing website, and Walid al-Kubaisi, author and documentary film-maker in the ‘Eurabia’-genre cited three times in the tract. In Bawer’s case, it surely takes a contorted logic to identify Norwegian social democrats – exactly those who along with Norwegian Communists opposed Vidkun Quisling’s regime under the German Nazi Occupation of Norway from 1940 to 1945, and often paid with their lives for doing so – with the name of Quisling. Bawer’s venting of fury over the fact that a mass murderer cites him and his book as a significant source of inspiration is perhaps understandable. Less understandable is the fact that in his pamphlet, he lifts two completely fabricated claims straight off the pages of the same mass murderer’s tract, namely the claim that ‘hundreds of Norwegian teenagers’ had been killed by Muslims over the years and the equally bizarre and undocumented claim that the radical left and anarchist organisation Blitz are the ‘storm troops’ of the Norwegian Labour Party. Bawer, who before 22/7, and by virtue of his close association with the think-thank Human Right’s Service (HRS), was on the reading lists of some of the most prominent MPs from the PP, has now officially fallen from the PP’s graces.
But those who had hoped that the trial would also provide some sort of reckoning with the Norwegian and Norwegian-based Islamophobic ideologues who had inspired the mass murderer would be disappointed. From his base outside Norway, ‘Fjordman’, otherwise in the year after 22/7 much given to defending his repeated incitement to violence against Muslims and ‘multiculturalists’ in Norway and Europe on the usual extreme right-wing blogs that he has published on since 2005 as well as in mainstream Norwegian news media which have now provided him with unprecedented access, made it clear that he refused to testify. As did longstanding friends Bawer and al-Kubaisi. One of the many sideshows of the 22/7 case in mainstream Norwegian media has been the extraordinary amount of attention extreme right-wing outfits such as the Norwegian Defence League (NDL) and the Stop the Islamisation of Norway (SIAN) have been accorded. Consisting mainly of poorly educated and marginalised angry white men of varying ages whose main pre-occupation is a viscerally uncivil dislike of Muslims, these groups have never been able to muster more than thirty odd demonstrators on the streets of any Norwegian city. But they provide a very useful foil for the far more influential and strategically-minded Islamophobes in expensive suits with university degrees.
Shifting public conceptions
Norwegian surveys indicate that the Norwegian mass murderer and those who share his existential fear of Muslims have had a harder time of it after 22/7. The percentage of people expressing positive views of immigrants and minorities in Norway has risen modestly, but significantly in the aftermath. An IPSO-MMI survey from 2012 indicates that those who have regular contact with immigrants and people of minority background also have more positive views of them. Populist right-wing politicians expressing extreme views on immigration, Islam and Muslims, have in general been confronted in the mediated public spheres to a much greater extent than before 22/7, as have extreme-right wingers. Adopting a well-tested strategy of victimhood, many of these now declare themselves as suffering from no less than ‘political persecution’ by the ‘politically correct elite’ as a result of their views now no longer passing uncontested. Echoes here, of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ludicrous claim upon receiving the Axel Springer Prize in Berlin earlier this year, to the effect that ‘censorship’ was the ‘real’ impetus for 22/7.
Facing an increasingly multicultural future, Norway still has a long way to go. In a recent report from the research institute NOVA, 50 per cent of young people in Oslo of minority background, but born and raised in Norway, report that they do not feel ‘Norwegian’ on account of their background. In recent weeks, a significant number of Norwegians have geared up to the 22/7 commemorations by spouting the vilest abuse and issuing various death threats against the Roma in Norway on various social media.
Furthermore, what Prof Teuns van Dijk in 1992 referred to as ‘denials of racism’ in its various forms remain widespread in Norwegian society – not the least among liberal and intellectual elites who live lives for the most part shielded from what many minority individuals experience in Norway. Those following newspaper discussion threads in mainstream Norwegian newspapers in the course of the 22/7 trial will at times have had reason to think that extreme right-wing Islamophobes are omnipresent in Norway, even if this is seldom more than the optical illusion that such people try to create by treating the web as a ‘battlefield’.
It was perhaps not entirely co-incidental that the only witness among the AUF survivors from Utøya who received death threats ahead of his testimony at Oslo’s Magistrate’s Court was a 20-year old Norwegian of Muslim background. But the survey data from after 22/7 seems to indicate that Norwegians are slowly, but surely moving towards more pragmatic and inclusive attitudes toward immigrants and minorities. More Norwegians than before 22/7 seem to accept as a given that Norway as a multicultural society with a permanent presence of a Muslim minority is here to stay, and more Norwegians seem to be favourably disposed towards pragmatic measures of incorporation, like the ones described by Jonathan Laurence in his seminal Emancipating Europe’s Muslims.
The fact that the Norwegian right-wing (whether populist or conservative) has risen in the polls since the municipal elections of September 2011, appears to have more to do with popular exhaustion with the governing technocratic centre-left alliance than with any other issue. Yet it remains a fact that the nascent alliance between the Conservative Party (CP) and the Progress Party (PP) which according to the polls look set to gain power in the next parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2013, will have the mandate of voters who according to a number of surveys stand out for their negative views of immigrants and minorities. According to a 2012 survey by the Holocaust Centre in Oslo, the PP and the CP have the voters with the most negative views of Muslims, Jews and Roma in Norway. So much for the right-wing canard that it is among Norwegian social democrats critical of the Israeli occupation of and settlement expansion in Palestinian territories that anti-Semitism is the main problem. It is unlikely that the PP, whose electoral platform has had stronger restrictions on immigration in general, and Muslim immigration in particular as a central theme for a number of years, will agree to form part of a government in which its views on immigration and integration are simply set aside.
The internal evaluations of both the Norwegian Police and the Police Intelligence Services (PST) have by and large absolved Norwegian police and intelligence services for any failings before and on 22/7 2011. Norwegians will have to wait for the report of the 22/7 Commission for an independent assessment of this issue. The Norwegian government has already indicated that it will appoint a commission tasked with assessing all aspects of court psychiatry in Norway after the conclusion of the 22/7 trial.
The challenge of popular legitimacy
On the last day in court, a national representative survey indicated that 74 per cent of Norwegians surveyed considered that the mass murderer should be sentenced to imprisonment, and only 10 per cent to mental hospitalization. No society concerned with the rule of law should consider letting popular will decide the outcome of criminal trials, and certainly not in cases of this order and magnitude. Yet the experience of societies which have in the recent past seen violence on a far greater scale than Norway ever has, or ever will, offers us some instructive lessons with regard to the problems entailed in legal processes lacking in popular legitimacy.
In his ethnographic account of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa from 1994 to 1998 – The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa from 2001, the legal anthropologist Richard A. Wilson, demonstrates how the concepts of restorative justice on which the TRC based its reckoning with the violence under apartheid in South Africa stood at odds with popular conceptions of retributive justice far more common and legitimate in the eyes of ordinary South Africans. Wilson’s account of this discrepancy between conceptions of justice in its time provided me, as a young social anthropologist embarking on research on the everyday lives of ‘coloured’ Muslims in townships and informal settlements in Cape Town in post-apartheid South Africa, with important clues as to why the people I happened to live and work with were generally so scathing about the TRC. They were not alone in this: the TRC was eventually much more highly regarded by people outside South Africa than by South Africans themselves.
In the Norwegian context, the discrepancy is not, as it happens, one between restorative and retributive justice. In the context of the 22/7 trial, neither option is seriously entertained by anyone – at least publicly. The discrepancy with which Norwegians will have to live in the years to come, is simply one between those who regard Anders Behring Breivik as a criminal fit to be held responsible for his actions on 22/7 2011, and those who regard him as a mentally ill person. Though not identical with this, the discrepancy also maps on to a moral-philosophical conception in which human evil exists, and one in which acts of evil are simply articulations of mental illness. In the latter case, especially so, if these acts are perpetrated by white Norwegians. Rendering 22/7 as mere articulations of mental illness will provide those who happen to share parts of Behring Breivik’s world-view with an all too-facile means of distancing. It has become part of the rhetorical repertoire of extreme as well as populist right-wingers in Norway to declare the Norwegian mass murderer to be ‘mad.’ In the court testimony of Husby and Sørheim, perhaps the most troubling part related to Husby’s reference to ‘Fjordman’ having declared Behring Breivik to be ‘mad’, as if web postings from an extreme right-wing and Islamophobic ideologue were in themselves supporting evidence for their own diagnostic conclusions. Meanwhile, work by distinguished academic scholars on political paranoia, such as Profs Robert S. Robins and Jerrold M. Post’s Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred from 1997 suggests that paranoia is the most politically inflected of psychopathologies.
Anders Behring Breivik’s ideas are by and large not his own, and there have so far not been any indications that he is mentally or intellectually unable to distinguish between what other people consider right and wrong, good and evil. During his trial he would describe 22/7 as ‘barbaric acts’ designed to prevent greater evil in the future (i. e. in the form of Islamic rule in Norway), and outlined in detail how he had undertaken mental training in order to ‘desentisize’ himself, so as to be able to carry them out.
What the future holds
Should Anders Behring Breivik be declared to have been psychotic and not criminally liable for his actions on 22/7 by the Oslo Magistrate’s Court on August 24 2012, Norwegians will face the certain prospect of an immediate appeal and a re-trial lasting months, which will provide the Norwegian mass murderer with ample new propaganda opportunities. Should the court’s verdict of criminal insanity be upheld by higher courts, the Norwegian mass murderer will formally have the opportunity to demand his immediate release every year for the foreseeable future, and to correspond much more freely with his small, but not insignificant international fan-club among extreme right-wingers in Europe and the USA.
Faced with another self-righteous extreme tirade from the man who had murdered their children and their friends on the last day in court, survivors and the bereaved walked out of court in a demonstration of their contempt for Behring Breivik. Many of them will – like me – surely hope that Norway and Norwegians will never again have to listen to him and his monstrous ideas. There is and can be no other way forward for Norway and Norwegians than the rule of law, so forcefully defended by the survivors and the bereaved in the course of the trial. But for some of the survivors and the bereaved, who have been to hell and back, and continue to live in the shadow of excruciating daily physical and mental pain as a result of what a man did on 22/7 2011 who still considers himself a ‘saviour’ and a ‘hero’, that may in the end prove to be a very high price to pay for the rule of law.
But regardless of the outcome of the trial – this much is clear: the now thirty-three year old Anders Behring Breivik has already lost the battle to shape the future of multicultural Norway. And we will say this again and again: history does not – and never will – absolve anyone for human evil of the kind perpetrated against innocent children, women and men in Norway on 22/7 2011.