THE worst in people has brought out the best in people. Staid, proper Oslo, faced with atrocity, has become a city of flowers. A bright circle of blooms on the cobblestones outside the city’s cathedral has swelled by the day; sheets of blossoms float in fountains; roses are tucked lovingly onto statues and signposts.
The pilgrimages continued all this week, long past the 200,000-strong “March of flowers” remembrance on Tuesday night. Most trams going into the city centre carry grown-ups and children clutching bouquets. Each laying of flowers is a small, individual gesture. But it is also part of a wider expression of two emotions shared by the rest of Norway: grief over the 76 lives destroyed by gunman Anders Behring Breivik, and the peaceful defiance of a people who refuse to be cowed.
Well, those emotions are shared by most of the rest of Norway. The western city of Fored, on the other hand, this week found itself tagged with triumphant Nazi swastikas. Jailing Breivik is not going to solve all the ugly problems exposed by his ideologically driven violence; not in Norway, and not in Europe.
While Breivik’s bloody slaughter of teenagers at a summer camp was repugnant to all decent people, it is also true that a good proportion of decent people quietly share some of his political views. Support for right-wing politics is on the rise across Europe, fuelled by economic hard times and fear of Islam. A rise in the number of extremists on its fringe is expected as a result.
Breivik had intended his massacre to be a “wake-up call” to Europe about what he saw as the danger of a Muslim takeover. Instead it has become a different kind of wake-up call, warning a Europe that had been preoccupied with the threat of Islamic terror that blond, Christian, home-grown threats can be just as deadly.
Many Norwegians say the only comfort over the lone-gunman massacre eight days ago is that Breivik must be crazy, a freak of nature, a psychopath; a product not of politics and culture but of a murderously disordered mind. “He could not possibly be sane and do what he has done,” one person after another will tell you.
But those who study such things say this isn’t so. The “lone-wolf” terrorist is rarely mad or psychopathic, says Will Hartley, the editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in Washington.
“Terrorists tend to be better adjusted [psychologically] than the average. They often have a surfeit of qualities that would otherwise make them respectable, such as empathy and the ability to act altruistically. Their background is often surprising — with the 7/7 bombings in London, one of the terrorists was a social worker who worked with children.”
A terrorism expert at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs, Helge Luras, says Breivik’s internet manifesto suggests he pumped himself full of steroids to heighten his aggression, and listened to music through earphones so he would not be moved by the pleas of his victims: “So he’s not a psychopath or lacking in emotion or empathy. In the manifesto he talks about how it will be difficult to kill these people in this manner because he has empathy. Psychopaths don’t struggle with that.”
Breivik’s meticulous planning over nine years, and his attention to detail, suggest he is well and truly in touch with the real world, if markedly paranoid. Some analysts see him as a man who became a killer not because he was overcome by any emotion but because he made a logical decision that this was the best way to spread his ideas.
“Breivik was doing a mass murder as a form of fundamentalist PR,” says Matthew Feldman, lecturer in history at the University of Northampton in Britain and an expert on the extreme right wing.
He is convinced Breivik killed to get publicity for his online manifesto and video, posted just hours before he set off a car bomb and hunted teenagers with a sub-machinegun. “If he had posted them two weeks earlier, they would have sunk without trace. It was a publicity stunt. At the same time, the documents, video and killings were the first salvo in what he thought would be a European civil war.”
Feldman sees the fundamentalist Breivik, calling on heroic figures from Christianity’s distant past, as the Western equivalent of the Muslim terrorist: believing that ideas are more important than human life, that violence will lead to revolutionary change, and that martyrs must offer their lives in defence of their besieged culture. “It’s a kind of crusading ‘Christianism’ that is the mirror image of jihadi Islamism,” he told The Saturday Age.
According to his 1500-page manifesto — much of it cut and pasted from other writers — Breivik believes that European governments are allowing Muslims to take over Europe through mass immigration that is diluting the culture. He claims to be part of an organisation called the Knights Templar dedicated to fighting for Europe. The original Knights Templar was a military organisation during the mediaeval Crusades to take the Holy Land back from Muslims.
His manifesto suggests he killed the young people of Norway’s Labour Party at their summer camp on Utoeya island because Labour deserved “the death penalty” for its multicultural policies and friendly approach to immigration, which were a “betrayal” of Europe. He predicts that continued immigration will lead to civil war and history’s third expulsion of Muslims from the continent.
Analysts concede that, even within the bizarre world of terrorism, Breivik is an unusual specimen. Most terrorists work in groups, partly because it is mutual reinforcement that leads to the gradual acceptance of radical ideas, and partly because competitive dynamics help push individuals into violence. But while police are investigating Breivik’s claims of two more cells, and of international contact with bodies such as the English Defence League — denied by the league — it seems at this stage that he conceived and carried out his massacre alone.
Hartley says this suggests he is highly self-reliant and has a massive ego, full of the importance of his own ideas, like America’s Unabomber. “He’s not mentally ill but he may have delusional fantasies. He likes to picture himself in the uniform and cross of the Knights Templar; there is an element of role-play, of conveying himself as knight in a long line of European crusader heroes who fought for their religion.”
He warns that solo operators such as Breivik are almost impossible to detect in time: “The lone-wolf terrorist is far, far harder to track unless he makes mistakes. The first you hear of him is when he carries out his first attack.”
Which is a big problem, because European police have been warning that exactly this kind of terrorist is becoming more likely, created by a new and volatile combination of factors: the technology of the internet, and a right-wing backlash across Europe focused on immigration, unemployment and national identity.
The internet provides the would-be terrorist with anonymity, global reach on information and the ability to spread material quickly and widely. Feldman says there have been two recent right-wing, lone-wolf cases in England, one involving a member of the white-supremacist Aryan Strike Force who made the deadly chemical ricin. “With the right amount of dedication, a credit card and a modem, you can make weapons of mass destruction from your home computer.”
Breivik claims he learnt how to make a car bomb by spending 200 hours on the internet in two weeks.
In Europe, Islamism has been the major focus of terror fears since September 11. Europol’s 2011 report on terrorism warned of a continuing “high and diverse” threat of Islamist terrorists, with 179 arrests in 2010 over plots to cause mass casualties. This was a 50 per cent increase on the year before. And it warned that more “lone actors with EU citizenship” were becoming involved in Islamist terrorism, with fewer plots controlled by leaders from outside the EU.
But the Europol report also said the threat of right-wing extremists was intensifying, and noted: “If the unrest in North Africa leads to a major influx of immigrants into Europe, right-wing terrorism might gain a new lease of life by articulating more widespread apprehension about immigration.”
Immigration is a focus of every mainstream right-wing party in Europe, although most have worked hard to eradicate any clear sign of racism. “Very few contemporary right-wing movements play with race,” Hartley says. “It is the fringe of the fringe. The mainstream has tried to move beyond that. Once you drop race and start focusing on levels of immigration, that concerns a much broader segment of society. That’s what’s behind their growth.”
Of course, the left argues that debating immigration is simply “dog-whistle politics”: those being called recognise it as code for “race”. But among extremists, Feldman says, there is no room for doubt: “The 20-century scapegoating of Muslims is something everyone on the far right can agree on.”
Far right parties have become a more powerful presence in mainstream politics across a range of countries. In Russia, says Hartley, “they are conventional nationalists, against migration from the former Soviet socialist republics”.
In Britain, “The British National Party has actually secured seats on councils and things like that, and is much closer to giving the conventional parties a run for their money in elections.”
It seems paradoxical, but the old left is part of the new far right. Hartley says most members of the BNP are “traditional Labour voters who no longer feel Labour is protecting their interests in terms of multiculturalism and the erosion of salaries. The right-wing parties are benefiting from being able to portray themselves as representatives of disenfranchised workers”.
Britain also has the English Defence League, cited by Breivik as an organisation he connected with, which has chapters in many European countries and a Norwegian Facebook page with 13,000 members, says Feldman. “The EDL is perhaps less uncompromising in its ideology, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of working-class young white men putting their hoodies up and shouting slogans on English streets.”
A sense of an in-group that is being economically threatened by an out-group is central to the resentment of far-right activists in Britain, while nationalist ideas are more the focus in Europe, according to research by Matthew Goodman, an associate fellow at Chatham house.
He interviewed one British far-right activist who said of migrants, “They’re getting post offices, shops, takeaways . . . The government’s way of dealing with deprived areas is by giving the biggest regeneration grants to the poorest areas . . . They’re winning hands down every time. We haven’t got a chance . . . So they’re getting their houses done up . . . new windows, new doors, new kitchens . . . they’re making people angry.”
And another: “They [mainstream politicians] don’t know what it’s like to live cheek by jowl with a Polish person, a Lithuanian person, an African person and then fight for a job.”
On the continent, far right-wing groups are gaining traction from Hungary to Italy, but their rise is particularly apparent in northern European countries such as Norway that previously had liberal immigration policies.
The rapid arrival of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of them Muslims, led to a significant backlash in Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party has 25 out of 179 seats in parliament, and the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom won 15.5 per cent of the vote in the 2010 general election. Wilders once compared the Koran, the holy book of Islam, to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In Sweden, a man was arrested last November in the city of Malmo in connection with more than a dozen unsolved shootings of immigrants, including one fatality. The far-right Sweden Democrats entered parliament for the first time last September after winning 5.7 per cent of the vote.
The far right is getting better at recruitment in the digital age. Europol spokesman Gerald Hesztera told The Saturday Age that right-wing extremists are now more professional in their use of the internet, with stylish websites and clever use of social media.
“White Power” music groups hold concerts organised over the internet that attract hundreds of young people to listen to xenophobic songs with hate-filled lyrics, he says. “They have a general ideology of white supremacy and they are rock groups with a racist, sometimes fascist, orientation. Right-wing skinheads go to these concerts all over Europe,” he says.
On Oslo’s streets the racial mix is clear. Along with the ethnic Norwegians are Africans, Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis, as well as stateless Romany, who have drifted across from Eastern Europe.
Norway tends to see itself as an open, democratic, inclusive society of tolerance and shared values. Not everyone there agrees. One man of Pakistani background, who did not want to be named, says he is second-generation Norwegian but is preparing his children, who are third-generation, for the fact they will be made to feel like outsiders in their homeland. “They will get to school and be seen as Pakistanis and Muslims, as foreigners. If a person can function in a society, can follow the rules, can work and go to school, they are part of the society even if they have a different skin colour or religion or culture. That’s my opinion. But there are a lot of Norwegian politicians who want you to go and hold a sausage in your hand and want your woman in a bikini and only then are you part of the society.”
He was one of several Norwegians privately to express relief this week that the killer had not been a Muslim because that might have led to social fracture.
Forty-nine per cent of Norwegians questioned in a recent poll said they thought immigration had gone too far and too fast, says Helge Luras. This is not a reaction to immigration but the way it has always been in Norway. “People said pretty much the same thing in a poll in ’87,” he says.
Luras says he is not right-wing, and that he angered the right because he always argued that the threat of Islamic terrorism in Norway was overblown. But he does urge caution over immigration, simply on the basis of human nature’s historical intolerance of difference.
“This is not just something peculiar to Europe. This need for group cohesion and the issue of borders is so ingrained in humans. It ensured our survival in the very early phases. This is still with us and it creates problems in a phase of globalisation, but we are genetically what we were 20,000 years ago. I’m not saying that’s how it should be, but that is more or less how it is. We have to adapt our political and social system to the reality.”
He formed views partly while working “for a long time in the Balkans, with a multi-ethnic society that collapsed into civil war because of people’s perceptions of difference in identity and [economic problems]. This dynamic of finding scapegoats has been part of human affairs ever since we have been studying them.”
He says every culture has a threshold of tolerance for newcomers that varies over place and time: “If there’s massive unemployment, even if it’s not to do with immigration, then at the same time you have the immigration of large groups of people who live in separate neighbourhoods, definitely that’s a factor of instability and could lead to conflict.”
The Progress Party now holds about a quarter of seats in Norway’s parliament and is seen to have increased its support because of its criticism of immigration, which has become more restricted as politicians began to take note of the public mood. This week, the party — which is not as far to the right as those in other nations — was at pains to distance itself from Breivik, who was a member when he was younger. Breivik wrote that he left both the Progress Party and the English Defence League because he found them inadequate.
Himanshu Gulati is a 23-year-old Norwegian of Indian background who is vice-president of the Progress Party’s youth wing. He told The Saturday Age that it had less of a focus on immigration than conservative parties in other countries, and that its concerns were more about failures of integration, such as female mutilation and forced marriages.
Gulati said his party had been distraught over the massacre: “Even though we disagree with the Labour Party we do agree on core values and principles, and what this crazy guy has done is against what we all stand for. I am part of the Progress Party’s youth movement and all of us know many people who were on Utoeya. Most of the youth politicians of all parties have been there. They invited us to debates in their summer camp and we invited them to ours. We have all had the worst week of our lives, no matter which party we belong to.”
In typically Norwegian fashion — political debate here is strong, but so is the tradition of consensus — leaders of all the main parties agreed to suspend partisan politics for several weeks, and this week met at the Progress Party’s headquarters to discuss how best to manage the election coming up in September.
ANDERS Behring Breivik wanted to change the course of history. He thought he would light a fuse that would set fire to Europe. Opinion is divided on what effect, if any, he will have on the future.
Hartley says he has damaged the mainstream right wing because now some of its rhetoric is linked with his violence: “He reminds everyone of what they have been trying to bury, and now the right is being tarred as racist in the media because of his focus on Muslims.”
But Breivik could turn out to be inspirational to some who, like him, feel the system is rigged against the right and prevents ordinary people from expressing views considered politically incorrect, says Hartley.
Luras says the drivers for far-right-wing support — stagnating economies and pressure on borders — will continue, and Europe should be “prepared and concerned” about its rise. “It doesn’t mean that it would lead to terrorism but my sense at the moment is that Mr Breivik is the beginning of what may be a cult figure for some. He has described in detail how the movement should arise to be inspired by himself, and some will be inspired.”
Luras says the level of hero-worship will depend on whether Breivik cracks in prison: “If he can keep up the appearance that he is superhuman, able to stand completely on his own, still believing in himself even though he is in a cell, then the cult will definitely be created.”
And if that should happen, “I will be very surprised in 10 years if, looking back, not a single terrorist act has occurred connected to Mr Breivik.”