On July 21, following a devastating bomb attack on government offices in Oslo, a gunman attacked the annual summer camp of the AUF, youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party. After initial police estimates of more than 90 dead, the death toll has been officially reduced to 76.
The media frenzy in the immediate aftermath of the killings reveals a lot. The media immediately started to speculate about the attack being the work of Muslim terrorists. One “expert” even claimed that the attack was the work of a terrorist group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or “Helpers of the Global Jihad.” The problem is that the group doesn’t seem to exist, except in the imagination of the so-called expert. Fox News, CNN and other mass media outlets hosted a parade of terrorism “experts” to talk about the “fact” that this was an example of Islamic terrorism, and when reports began to filter in that the attacker was a blond Norwegian, the experts scoffed.
Media outlets seemed unable to explain that the attack was carried out by a right-wing, anti-immigrant, Islamophobe, Anders Behring Breivik. Many media sources have shifted to referring to Breivik as a lone madman, ignoring the political context of the attacks. Breivik has been revealed to have ties to the semi-fascist English Defense League and is an admirer of the Tea Party and Islamophobic bloggers in the United States, like Pam Gellar and David Horowitz.
Breivik’s attack on the AUF was not a random act. His rampage was aimed at what the far right sees as a “Marxist multiculturalism” that is facilitating the takeover of Europe by Muslims. While many rightists in Europe and the U.S. have been careful to distance themselves from the violence of this attack, many have made excuses for Breivik’s hate. Pat Buchanan, a U.S.-based white nationalist and populist, said that Breivik “may have been right.” Glen Beck likened the AUF summer camp to a “Hitler youth rally”—as if this somehow excused the slaughter.
In the period since 9/11, the mass media and imperialist governments have whipped up a frenzy of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fervor. In Western Europe, where the number of Muslim immigrants has increased in recent years, the far right has taken up the issue of Islam and the notion that Muslims are a threat to Western Civilization.
This racist and Islamophobic scapegoating has spread to the U.S. as well. The official policy of the U.S. government is tolerance of different cultures and religions, but the reality has been preemptive prosecutions and frame-ups of Muslims. The cases of the Albany Two, the Newburgh Four, and the Fort Dix Five are examples of such frame-up prosecutions, which rely on the testimony of paid informants and, in some cases, on “secret” evidence.
In 2010, the anti-Muslim frenzy reached a boiling point in the United States around the issue of Cordoba House, the Islamic cultural center planned for Lower Manhattan. The ultra-right Tea party and right-wing blogger Pamela Geller and her organization Stop Islamization of America went on a campaign to paint the building of Cordoba House as some sort of conspiracy by radical Muslims. Fox News and the right-wing media took up the drum beat. Cordoba House was framed as a “9/11 Victory Mosque” and a “monument to the 9/11 hijackers.” Hate crimes against mosques and Muslims increased.
Some mainstream politicians and media defended the Islamic center, but often in timid terms and very often questioning the “sensitivity” of building the center within several blocks of the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack in Manhattan. Howard Dean—the so-called liberal—called Cordoba House an affront.
Breivik’s right-wing, pro-Israel politics point to an evolution in the European and U.S. far right. The new populist far right tends to be “pro-Israel” and seeks alliances with right-wing Zionists. Islam is seen as the primary opponent of the West. Anti-Semitism, once a central feature of European far-right politics, has not disappeared, but it has faded to the background.
Writing in the Fourth International on-line journal, International Viewpoint, Enzo Traverso has these observations about the new populist far right in Europe: “The decline of the fascist tradition is giving way to the rise of a far right of a new kind, whose ideology takes on board the changes of the twenty-first century … the abandonment of the cult of the state in favor of a vision of the neo-liberal world centered on the criticism of the Welfare State, the tax revolt, economic deregulation and the valorization of individual freedoms, opposed to any official interference…”
What are the lessons we should draw from the Norway attack? The labor movement and all socialist and progressive forces must unequivocally and uncompromisingly oppose Islamophobia and racism, and it must actively defend the democratic rights of Muslims and immigrants. We cannot rely on cops or the capitalist state to defend us from fascist and right-wing attacks. Only mass mobilizations, working-class political independence, and collective self-defense offer real protection against the far right.
The growth of anti-immigrant vigilante groups (Minutemen, etc.) and the ultra-right Tea Party means that this is not just a European danger. Recently, Tea Party supporters broke up a picnic in a public park attended by members of the liberal group, Move-On. These types of goon-squad tactics and the rhetoric by Tea Party politicians about “Second Amendment” solutions point to an increasing impatient and volatile right wing.
> The article above was written by John Leslie, and first appeared in the August 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.