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The Intimate Enemy

The terrorist attacks by Anders Breivik in Norway have exposed the deep violence which has been nurtured in this and other European countries by an emergent Right-wing which has normalised hate speech and extreme politics under the cover of "free speech". Thankfully, this incident has roused people to oppose this insidious use of a core liberal value to propagate extremist Right-wing politics and for the first time in many years, Right-wing attacks on migrants and Muslims are being publicly opposed.

COMMENTARY

The Intimate Enemy

Ravinder Kaur

accounts have now narrated how the Norwegian Muslims had become objects of hatred and intimidation on the streets of Oslo hours before Breivik’s culpability became public knowledge. The outside

The terrorist attacks by Anders Breivik in Norway have exposed the deep violence which has been nurtured in this and other European countries by an emergent Right-wing which has normalised hate speech and extreme politics under the cover of “free speech”. Thankfully, this incident has roused people to oppose this insidious use of a core liberal value to propagate extremist Right-wing politics and for the first time in many years, Right-wing attacks on migrants and Muslims are being publicly opposed.

Ravinder Kaur (rkaur@hum.ku.dk) is associate professor of modern south Asian studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

A
few hours after the bomb blasts in central Oslo and the deadly shootout in Utøya on 22 July 2011, the identity of the Norwegian terror suspect was revealed in the public domain. The double act of terror had not been conducted by “Islamic terrorists” – as was almost r eflexively speculated by terror experts across the Atlantic – but by Anders Behring Breivik, a white Caucasian man of Norwegian descent. As startled security experts and journalists tried hurriedly to revise their opinions, a Danish television journalist asked a young female survivor from Utøya about her reaction to the news that the terrorist was a fellow Norwegian. “Do you feel unsafe?”, asked the journalist. After a thoughtful pause, the girl responded, “I think I feel safe knowing that there will be no more attacks like this”.

The response was telling in many ways. Breivik had posed as a concerned policeman in a country where the police is generally trusted, rounded up unsuspecting school children for a briefing, and then killed them leisurely with chilling precision. Instead of being fearful of further such happenings, the young survivor saw him as a contained threat as soon as he was arrested by the police. And she had somehow presumed that there would be no more attacks. He did not signify anything more than an evil singularity in her eyes. Her response was not unusual as it turned out. The journalist repeated her question to a few others. The response was mostly an expression of shock and disbelief that a fellow citizen could wreak such cold-blooded carnage. Yet most respondents viewed this as an isolated event

  • an anomaly in a largely peaceful society
  • that had erupted from the extreme fringes of the Right on to the national and global stage.
  • These layered, measured and somewhat ambiguous responses were in sharp contrast to fearfulness and stark anger expressed just a few hours earlier when the bomb blasts had been categorised as the handiwork of Islamists. Several eyewitness

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    threat of Islamic terrorism – constant and accumulative – that underlines much of the political debate in Norway had been resurrected instantly. The afternoon’s events had merely reinforced the preconceived notions about the natural linkages between violence, terror and I slam. The dramatic change in discourse to one of shared human suffering and r esilience only took place once the enemy had been located within the innermost recesses of the society rather than outside.

    These rapidly shifting emotions not only disclosed the extent of the wound Breivik’s actions had created in the Norwegian society, but also the difficulty of confronting an enemy who could not easily be externalised, disowned and e ffaced. It also raised questions about the ways in which the category of enemy – the dangerous “Other” – is produced and complicated within the currents of European politics. And more importantly, even as it unravelled the discursive limits that separated the inside realm of society (inherently peaceful and orderly) from its outside (unruly Muslims migrants), the edges of insideoutside dichotomy that have sustained Right-wing politics in Scandinavian societies for more than a decade seemed blurred. How does one confront an enemy who is located in one’s Self and whose actions cannot be attributed to an undisciplined dangerous Other? The past few days in Norway – together with Denmark, Sweden and much of northern Europe where public ceremonies of mourning and commemoration have been held for the victims – have brought to surface this ongoing struggle to recover the unsoiled Self.

    Free Speech and Right Politics

    The emerging narrative of the events in Oslo and Utøya that has gained prominence depicts Breivik as an extra ordinarily deluded loner who mostly lived an “online life” playing games, making d ebate interventions on Right-wing blogs and writing his manifesto – 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. However, the most remarkable aspect of his manifesto is that

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    his views are actually quite unexceptional in a political context where extreme Rightwing discourse has become routine in the past decade. To understand the ordinariness of Breivik’s universe, one needs to trace the developments that have shaped the political sphere in northern Europe broadly and Scandinavia, in particular.

    Since the second world war, the defining identity of Norway, Denmark and Sweden has been that of development aid donors to the third world giving as much as 1% of their gross domestic product (GDP) annually. The three nations invested heavily in the common project of the United Nations in the 1950s and have been key players in international development interventions ever since. The post-war construction boom in the 1960s followed by the political asylum seekers from world’s different conflict zones through the 1980s and 1990s brought a diverse demography t ogether and a new classification in these societies emerged: gæstarbejder (guest worker), indvandrer (alien, migrant), and even andengenerations indvandrer (second generation migrant) for the children of migrants.

    The debates about integration versus assimilation and multiculturalism versus diversity became prominent in the 1990s. This period coincided with the rise of Right-wing politics in an otherwise largely Left-oriented social democratic political structure. What began as innocuous fringe groupings on the extreme Right – the Danish People’s Party, Sweden’s Democrats and the Progress Party in Norway – have now become mainstream political forces with a substantial number of mandates that hold sway over state policies. The turning point for the Right in northern E urope (this includes Netherland, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and now United Kingdom) has been the “war on terror” (WOT) set in motion after 11 September 2001 (9/11). The dividing lines – us versus them

    – that were contested before became hardened in this period.

    The past decade is notable for its realisation of the “clash of civilisations” idea in public life in northern Europe. The question is no longer just about sharing of resources between migrants and natives (that still remains), but about the impossibility of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians. The key battleground is that

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    of “freedoms” – the language and practice of a range of freedoms that the western world has inherited as the legacy of the Enlightenment, and which is perceived as endangered from Muslim migrants who do not share, and therefore naturally do not understand, such cultural-historical pasts. The modern liberal western world is, then, pitted against a less evolved “medieval” world mired in barbaric traditions. It is in this battleground that we witnessed the Danish cartoons in 2005 and that which has turned “free speech” into a testing ground for the erosion of western values.

    Testing the Limits to Free Speech

    Ironically free speech, a core liberal value, has become a prominent theme around which the Right-wing discourse is rallied in Scandinavia. While the account of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten’s publication of Prophet Mohammad’s cartoon is well known, it has spawned a series of events that seek to either replicate or outdo the original cartoons in a bid to test the limits to free speech. The Swedish artist Lars Wilkes drew Prophet M ohammad as a dog for an exhibition in Värmland in 2007; the youth wing of the Danish People’s Party organised a draw-your-own-cartoon contest at its 2006 summer camp inviting parti cipants to submit their versions of Prophet Mohammad’s cartoon; several Norwegian newspapers including Aftenposten reprinted the cartoons in 2008 and 2010 to show their support for free speech.

    In Denmark, the Syrian born conservative politician Nasser Khader has called for the country to become the world’s capital of free speech. Toward this purpose a group of Left-activists-turned-Right formed Trykkefrihedsselskabet (Association for Free Press) to defend the right to free speech. The fact that its homepage is available in multiple languages including English suggests its ambitions to reach an audience across the world. The Association routinely invites international guest speakers whose writings and speech are bound by a common Islamophobic theme. Lars Wilkes, the Swedish artist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch author of Infidel, Geert Wilders, the Dutch Right-wing politician who is known for his film Fitna where the Quran is equated with Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a manifesto of intolerance

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    and a host of other such speakers are routinely invited to exercise free speech by the Association.

    The common theme running through these initiatives is Islamophobia that has been firmly conjoined with free speech. This has often meant that the consensus over what constitutes dignified dialogue in public life has sunk to even lower levels. The most stunning example recently has been a statement by Lars Hedegaard, the president of the Association of Free Press where he suggested that “Muslim girls are routinely raped by their fathers, cousins and uncles…the wombs of Muslim women produce future terrorists”. While he was roundly condemned for his views, he defended it as a feminist cause to show the inherently misogynist nature of Islamic societies.

    The linkages between the Right-wing organisations in Scandinavia have been well entrenched and they often cooperate with each other in a show of solidarity. A recent example of such shared understanding is the decision of a Norwegian publishing house to publish Flemming Rose’s (the cultural editor of Jyllands Posten who commissioned the original cartoons) account of the cartoon controversy together with the cartoons when Danish and American publishers had refused to do so. Once again the overarching rationale cited was the defence of free speech that was seemingly under threat from Islamists. In Norway, the Right-wing Progress Party (now the second largest party in Parliament) is inspired by its Danish counterpart known for its “toughness” when it comes to immigrants. Siv Jensen, the leader of the Progress Party is known for her rabid speeches about the “subtle takeover of E urope by Islam”. This party not only supports a ban on the hijab but also calls for the deportation of migrants whose daughters and wives wear the hijab. It is not surprising therefore that the post-Utøya debate in Scandinavia is split along the right to free speech. After an initial silence of several days, the Right-wing politicians and commentators have begun to emerge – once again to defend their right to speech though with a difference. The enemy is no longer Islam alone but the liberal advocates of multiculturalism who have raised their voices aloud to question

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    the place and legitimacy of hatred-filled d ebate in liberal societies.

    The Hindutva Allies

    Even a cursory reading of Breivik’s manifesto reveals the design of his universe which is based upon a conspiratorial idea of Islam taking over the world bit by bit since its birth – through war, force, conversion, deceit, migration and even cunningly planned population growth. The foes and allies in this universe are also clearly marked: naïve liberals as unwitting collaborators in this pan-Islamic project countered by a broad alliance of Christians, Jews and Hindus who in different temporalities and historical contexts have been subjugated and persecuted by Muslims.

    Breivik devotes a special chapter – more than hundred pages – to India and to what he calls the “Hindu Holocaust”. He painstakingly builds his case around the Hindu Kush which, in his world view, appears as a mountain of death for Hindus since the I slamisation of the subcontinent. And then he asks “If the name Hindu Kush r elates such a horrible genocide of Hindus, why are Hindus ignorant about it? And why the Government of India does not teach them about Hindu Kush? The history and geography curriculums in Indian schools barely even mention Hindu Kush.” He ventures to find reasons for these omissions in the official policy of the Indian government which

    in 1982, (through) the National Council of Educational Research and Training issued a directive for the rewriting of school texts. Among other things it stipulated that: “Characterisation of the medieval period as a time of conflict between Hindus and Moslems is forbidden”. The victimisation of Hindus, thus, not only took place historically at the hands of Muslim aggressors, but now they are doubly victimised by “cultural-Marxists” as well who control the government institutions.

    The constantly shared persecution at the hands of Muslims makes Hindus natural a llies in his journey. It is noteworthy that towards the end of his manifesto, he helpfully provides a list of “relevant organisations” to his cause and the only ones of any significance to him outside the western world are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). His admiration for the work of Hindu nationalists is clear in the way he sees them as a source of inspiration for the E uropean Right, which, in his view, has b ecome too soft in its approach towards minorities. He states almost enviously,

    the only positive thing about the Hindu right wing is that they dominate the streets. They do not tolerate the current injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control, usually after the Muslims disrespect and degrade Hinduism too much.

    The reference to the recurring phenomenon of anti-minority violence, labelled as communal riots in India, is cited as a clear recipe of disciplining unruly Muslims. The deadly anti-Muslim violence of 1993 in Mumbai and then 2002 in Gujarat is probably what he has in mind when he talks of “Hindu resistance against injustice”.

    This fascination for “Hindu civilisation” in Europe is nothing new and can be traced to the Orientalist tradition at the advent of colonialism in India. The Hindus were located as authentic bearers of Indian culture and the Sanskrit language and Vedic scriptures as original sources of I ndian civilisation. An entire body of knowledge – Indology – was created in the service of the empire and corporations in Europe whose earliest contributors often included missionaries. In this picture, Muslims were depicted as outsiders transgressing the history and culture of the land. This fetish for purity reappeared in Nazi Germany seeking a pristine race and the resurrection of its dominant position – a project that was much admired and emulated by the RSS, as is well known. These historical connections have been inherited by the contemporary European Right – and more notably the neo-Nazi groups – which looks admiringly upon the Hindu nationalist parties in India as natural allies. In this ideological circulation, the fascist i deas of the European Right extracted and imbibed by the nascent Hindu nationalist groups in the early 20th century have now run a full circle. The Hindu nationalists have clearly taken the common project of racial and communal supremacy to new levels that serves as an inspiration to the E uropean Right.

    The Hindutva allies are crucial for the European Right in constructing a universal case for Islam as an inherently dominating religion. And it is a cause that Hindutva

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    a ctivists and commentators in Europe willingly participate in. In northern E urope, Norway and Denmark, together with G ermany and Holland, have emerged as significant centres of Hindu nationalist mobilisation. In Denmark, as early as 1985, the second international conference of the VHP was held to rally Hindus in E urope. Each year Scandinavian style summer camps are organised by the VHP in Denmark and Norway where entire families are engaged in activities. The cross-continental Right entanglements are also evident in the ways in which Islamophobic commentators of Indian origin are catapulted to public stage in defence of free speech. It is not uncommon to read and hear distorted and uninformed accounts of Indian history and the “Muslim period” on the blogs of the Association of Free Press and the conservative newspaper Jyllands Posten. The warped world view of the European Right, then, appears as a broadly shared universal phenomenon in resistance to Islam’s dominating tendencies which only woolly eyed liberals remain oblivious to.

    Post-Utøya Politics

    Two related political developments have taken place post-Utøya in the Scandinavian region. First is the Right-wing attempts to disown and isolate Breivik as a “loner”, “madman”, “sick mind” whose views have little bearing or entanglement with their broader politics. In this narrative, Norway/ Scandinavia is depicted as peaceful and tolerant where Breivik’s violent and xenophobic world view appears as an exception that can be contained. Yet the highly xenophobic political debate of the past decade merely testifies to the unexceptional nature of Breivik’s views. The second development is the vocal condemnation and the increasing public aversion to the xenophobic anti-Muslim politics that one has witnessed in the past years. For the first time, leaders like Siv Jensen in Norway and Pia Kjærsgåard in Denmark have been on the defensive about their politics. Newspapers and commentators across the region have asked the Rightwing to account for its rabid hate speech directed at minorities. The film director Lars von Trier pointedly asked the leader of the Danish People’s Party to take res ponsibility for its speech and policies,

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    and so did Ikram Sarwar, a Danish Member of Parliament in a newspaper article. The usually media savvy politician remained silent in response.

    Cracks have also begun to appear in the Right-wing consensus. Siv Jensen, together with other party leaders in Norway, has publicly regretted the statements made by her party. The newspapers in Scandinavia which usually regard “free speech” as the touchstone of their independence have i ntroduced guidelines for their comments sections, where hateful and racist speech would be moderated. The conservative governments in Denmark and Sweden along with the social democrats in Norway have agreed to review their policies on terrorism. The resources allocated to “Islamic terror” will now also be used to monitor extreme Right-wing groups.

    Already the Norwegian police investigations have revealed wider extreme Rightwing connections across Europe where a ctivists are given arms and training. One such group Danmarks Nationale Front was

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    raided a week ago and the police confiscated bomb manuals, chemicals and weapons from the group’s headquarters. It also uncovered links between the Scandinavian organisations and the banned R ussian supremacist Slavic Union that provides training to European activists in warfare. While the police was aware of these activities, as recent investigations by newspapers show, it was not considered a real threat that could endanger lives! Moreover, the political debate, rather than police investigations, had already defined the enemy the authorities should be on the lookout for: the Islamic terrorist.

    It is this idea of the enemy as a universal outsider that has been dealt a fatal blow post-Utøya. The attempts by the Rightwing to distance itself from Breivik in order to maintain its innocence have been rigorously challenged. The most telling i nstance was when a Right-wing advocate of free speech, Sørine Gotfredsen, wrote in her provocative style, a newspaper piece “Let Us Use Breivik in the Right Way”

    “”

    arguing that we must understand the r ationale behind his actions, that Breivik had been pushed to the brink by the politicians and advocates of a tolerant multicultural society and that like Breivik, she recognised that Muslims and Christians can never live together and multicultural societies only create mayhem, violence and uncertainty. The only solution, in her view, was to take the problem of immigration and Islamisation seriously. The response to her article unleashed a near universal condemnation for granting legitimacy to the cold-blooded murder of school children. More than 2,200 people left comments of disapproval in an online debate following her piece and several wrote opinion pieces in response. For once, even the usual arguments for free speech were not enough to legitimise her words. Ironically, then, the legacy of Utøya is not the hateful words of Breivik and his cohorts, it is rather the willingness not only to tolerate difference but also forcefully contest hatefulness in the society.

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