By Charlotte Schriwer
July 22 marked the one-year anniversary of one of the darkest days in Norway’s history since World War Two. Seventy-seven people—most of whom were between 14 and 18 years of age—were killed in two separate attacks by a lone individual, Anders Behring Breivik, the self-confessed perpetrator currently standing trial for the bombing and massacre that changed the soul and psyche of a relatively isolated nation in a matter of only a few hours.
Within the first hours of the violence, which began with a car bomb in downtown Oslo aimed at killing Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, and senior cabinet ministers, the world media assumed that the attacks had been carried out by Muslim extremists; it was not until news of a full-blown massacre a few hours later at a Labor Party Youth Camp on Utøya Island, outside of Oslo, that the police and internal intelligence realized the assailant was not a member of an Islamic terrorist organization. In fact, it emerged after Breivik’s arrest that he was a right-wing Islamophobe extremist, supposedly working alone, who believed Norway was being betrayed by a government and a youth that supported an open, multicultural society—too liberal a society in his view, particularly in its encouragement of Muslim immigration.
The attacks sparked multiple debates on Norway’s immigration policy, which has been seen as one of the more liberal in Europe. For its large land mass Norway’s population has always been small, hovering around the five million mark, and immigrants account for roughly 13 percent of the overall population. Of these 13 percent, only between two and four percent (that is, between 100,000 and 200,000 people) are Muslim immigrants, according to the Statistisk Sentralbyrå (State Statistics Office). In a paper published in August of last year, in the aftermath of the massacre, the demographer Lars Østby explored the question of a future Muslim majority population emerging in Norway. He predicted that the country’s Muslim population will make up no more than six and a half percent of the overall population by the year 2060. One may argue that if “Islamization” were indeed a possibility, it would be a relatively remote one.
Despite these relatively insignificant figures, the question of Islam and Muslims in Norway and indeed in many countries across Europe continues to be at the forefront of the immigration debate. In the public commemorations that took place in Oslo on July 22 to remember the victims of last year’s bombing and massacre, Prime Minister Stoltenberg reaffirmed the idea of tolerance among Norwegians, emphasizing that the unity between Norway’s various ethnic and religious groups is stronger than ever, despite the attempt of a mass murderer to destroy efforts to create a multicultural society liberal in its views toward immigration; he stated in his speech that “the people have won.” The reality of everyday life, however, is still often fraught. Although the majority of immigrants in Norway are from European countries that only have minority Muslim populations (Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Lithuania), much of the racial tension in Norway is still centred on minority Muslim immigrants. This tension, based on false fears, emphasizes the misconceptions that surround Islam.
Certainly, Breivik’s political agenda and religious ideology would contradict this, but it seems highly likely that such misconstrued ideas of cultural and religious differences drove him to commit one of the worst atrocities carried out by a single person in history. He referred in his manifesto, entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, to “cultural Marxists” and “multicultural traitors” as those who supported the “Islamization” of Europe, which he vowed to fight as the “Justiciar Knight Commander” of the Knights Templar. He is fighting an ideological battle, which, in his worldview, began during the Crusades and the military monastic orders in Europe between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. One of the most powerful of these was the Order of the Knights Templar, created in 1118 AD to protect the city of Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land from the threats of the surrounding Islamic empires. Breivik is only one of thousands of members of a globally rising extremist right-wing movement frequently fuelled by deeply rooted Christian fundamentalism, with a heavy political agenda often disguised as “an aggressive defense of national culture and history.” The movement’s mission is ostensibly to preserve a global Christian majority, ideally white, and to eliminate those perceived to be a threat to that purpose. A frightening result of this is the global rise in the number of radical right-wing political parties, which has surged in the last decade or so. These parties are increasingly gaining in popularity among voters, particularly in Europe. Even in the current presidential race in the United States, religion is at the forefront of public debate, with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney—a Mormon Christian—accusing Obama of trying to make America “a less Christian nation.”
The bombing and massacre in Oslo has not only changed the global response to extremist terrorism—which has since the Arab-Israeli war, and more recently since 9/11, been assumed to be led by Islamic militant groups—but it has also forced governments to focus more on an inward, rather than outward, oriented security policy in terms of terrorist activities and networks. The threat is no longer purely external, or driven by fundamentalist Islamic ideology, but, perhaps more distressingly, it is now also internal, often fuelled by a combination of racist pro-white nationalistic, pro-Christian, and anti-Islamic sentiment; rather than one enemy, there are now two. Indeed, it can be argued that a number of recent government policies are a reflection of such sentiments. Sarkozy’s recent ban on wearing the burka in France and Israel’s current deportation of non-white, non-Jewish Africans indicate a trend of self-protective nationalism intent on eradicating culturally distinctive elements of “the other” that are somehow thought to weaken national identity.
More importantly, perhaps, such actors, represented increasingly by individuals rather than groups, are much more difficult to identify, monitor, and control, and as Breivik proved last year, much more challenging to anticipate. The shock that the Oslo attacks left both inside and outside Norway lingers on bitterly, and suggests that, in an increasingly globalized world the threat to a nation’s identity perceived by such individuals or groups is on the rise. It may, among other factors, reflect the discontent of a population that is not satisfied with its government’s increasing concentration on the needs of “the other” by, for example, allowing immigrants to take advantage of the social welfare system. In this view, the government is neglecting “the nation” as it once was, and in the opinion of many, should rather work toward restoring its national identity than encouraging its demise through a multiculturalist agenda. This issue is further highlighted by yesterday’s attack on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the perpetrator—also a white male in his forties—killed six worshippers before being shot dead by armed police.
The trial of Anders Behring Breivik concluded on June 22, with family members of the victims walking out as he gave his final statement: “My brothers in the Norwegian and European resistance are sitting out there following this trial, while planning new attacks. They could be responsible for as many as 40,000 deaths.” While much of the debate around his trial and, perhaps more broadly, around the motivational factors of extremist-terrorist behavior has surrounded the question of his sanity, this is really not the core issue. The fact is that Breivik is symptomatic of a rising politically violent global right-wing extremist movement—whether or not it is based on sane convictions—intent on reclaiming ground that it believes has been lost due to the growing influence of Islam. It is a modern Crusade movement fighting imaginary enemies.
Charlotte Schriwer is Acting Director and Senior Research Fellow at MEI. Her research has focused mainly on the Levant region, primarily on agricultural history from the twelfth century to the 1800s, and the use of water and water-driven technology. She has also explored the question of ethnic identity in the Ottoman architecture of the Levant. Her research at MEI involves an investigation of the Hadhrami diaspora and Southeast Asia’s connections with the Indian Ocean, as well as the Islamic arts of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. She holds a Ph.D. in history and an M.A. in Middle East studies from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and an M.A. in Islamic art and archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
 Norway’s area is 385,230 km2, with a population density of 16 people per km2; as a comparison, the United Kingdom covers approximately two thirds of that area at 243,610 km2, but has a population density of 258 people per km2.
 Lars Østby, “A Muslim Majority in Norway in the Future?” Norwegian State Statistics Office, 29 August 2011 (in Norwegian). Available at http://www.ssb.no/vis/magasinet/blandet/art-2011-08-29-01.html .
 Jamie Bartlett and Jonathan Birdwell, “Rise of the Radical Right,” Foreign Policy, 23 July 2011.
 Matt Negrin, “Mitt Romney Defends His Wright Quote: ‘I Stand by What I Said, Whatever It Was,’” ABC News, 17 May 2012. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/mitt-romney-defends-his-wright-quote-i-stand-by-what-i-said-whatever-it-was/.
 Dan Williams, “Israel Launches African Migrant Deportation Drive,” Reuters, 17 June 2012. Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/17/us-israel-southsudan-idUSBRE85G0PA20120617.
 CNN Wire Staff, “Gunman, Six others, Dead at Wisconsin Sikh Temple,”CNN, 6 August 2012. Available at http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/05/us/wisconsin-temple-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_t1.