In the aftermath of Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage, Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins wrote, “The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so.
“A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics.”
Most of the world’s media has followed suit, portraying Breivik as a “psychotic loner”.
The danger of this so-called analysis is that it divorces Breivik’s actions from any social context.
Breivik, like David Copeland and Timothy McVeigh before him, took far-right ideas to their logical conclusion—murder.
And the rantings found in Breivik’s 1,500 page “manifesto” were not created in a vacuum.
Across Europe, an axis of Islamophobia is developing.
This runs from violent street movements, through fascist and far-right racist populist parties to mainstream political leaders.
These so-called respectable leaders are whipping up Islamophobia
(anti-Muslim racism) with ever-greater ferocity and denouncing multiculturalism in the crudest terms.
France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed through laws banning the public wearing of the full-face veil.
In March this year, Sarkozy declared he was going to launch a debate on Islam’s place in what he referred to as “secular” France.
He said, “France definitely does not want halal food options in school canteens, prayers outside mosques, veils, definitely no—and oh, no to minarets.”
In Germany, Angela Merkel spoke to a gathering of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party in October 2010.
She said, “At the beginning of the 1960s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country.”
She added, “We kidded ourselves a while. We said, ‘They won’t stay, sometime they will be gone.’ But this isn’t reality.
“And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed.”
Just as shocking was her argument that Germany was defined by Christian values and that “those that do not accept this are in the wrong place here”.
Britain’s prime minister David Cameron joined the attack in a speech made to delegates at an international security conference in February.
He warned, “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.
“We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”
He went even further, claiming that so called “state multiculturalism” fostered extremist ideologies and directly contributed to “home-grown Islamic terrorism”.
Why are Europe’s leaders singling out Islam? Clearly it is part of their justification for the “war on terror”.
But domestic agendas also dovetail into this. Islamophobia is used to divert attention away from the economic crisis.
Because in many cases Muslims are the most recent wave of immigrants, they have been targeted.
The fact that large sections of Europe’s political leaders are indulging in incendiary right wing populism is not lost on the far-right in Europe.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Nazi National Front (FN), described Cameron’s speech as “exactly the type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years”.
She added, “I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him.”
The leader of the English Defence League (EDL) is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon—who calls himself “Tommy Robinson”.
He boasted to his supporters on a demonstration in Luton that Cameron was “now saying what we’re saying. He knows his base”.
When Europe’s leaders whip up Islamophobia they fuel the rise of far-right populist and fascist parties.
All of Europe’s far-right groups support extreme forms of neoliberalism and authoritarian politics. They increasingly use Islamophobia to build their base.
Alongside this, older forms of racism are on the rise, for example against the Roma and Jews.
But all of the Western European racist and fascist parties have moved away from using overt racism to win greater support. Instead they concentrate on issues such as nation and identity.
Broadly speaking the growth of the far-right in Europe is taking three forms. Firstly there is the rise of racist, right wing electoral parties.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ racist Freedom Party (PVV) is now the third largest in parliament with 24 seats. Islamophobia is central to Wilders’ electoral success.
He has publicly stated, “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam,” and, “There is no such thing as moderate Islam.”
On Breivik’s journey to becoming a racist mass murderer, he joined Norway’s Progress Party.
It won just under 23 percent of the vote in the 2009 parliamentary elections, making it the second largest party in the country.
Its leader, Siv Jensen, declared on national TV that the party aimed to ban the hijab—the Muslim headscarf—in schools and deport parents who allowed their daughters to wear it.
Secondly, there are parties like the FN in France, the Sweden Democrats (SD), Jobbik in Hungary, and the British National Party (BNP).
Often described as euro-fascist parties, these come from traditional fascist backgrounds.
But they have been prepared to dilute their public political programme and drop overt Nazi imagery in order to gain electoral success.
Today the FN has three seats in the European parliament and 118 seats on regional councils.
Many political commentators believe it could come second in the 2012 presidential elections.
Sweden’s fascist SD was elected to parliament for the first time in September last year with 20 seats.
It has said it wants to cut asylum and immigration by relatives of those already living in Sweden by 90 percent.
It also describes Muslim immigration as the “biggest foreign threat to Sweden since the Second World War”.
Hungary’s openly fascist Jobbik Party (“The Movement for a Better Hungary”) has a paramilitary wing.
It has three MEPs. Jobbik cemented its position as Hungary’s third largest party in last year’s parliamentary elections when it secured 47 seats and 12.8 percent of the vote.
The BNP is ripping itself apart—but still managed to poll nearly half a million votes in the 2010 general election and has two MEPs.
Lastly, there is the development of street fighting movements.
Across eastern Europe we are witnessing the terrifying rise of Nazi skinheads and ultra-nationalists who attack minorities and anti-racists.
In Britain there’s the organisation Breivik admired—the English Defence League (EDL). It’s not difficult to explain its attraction for Breivik—this is a group that puts words into action.
More and more the EDL behaves like a classic fascist organisation. It is trying to control the streets, intimidate opposition and terrorise Muslims.
It has organised a series of violent demonstrations since its creation two years ago. EDL supporters have physically attacked mosques and Muslims’ homes, and more recently anti-racist meetings, trade union demonstrations and a Hindu temple.
Nazis make up the core of the EDL leadership—despite its strenuous denials.
Much of the liberal establishment has been thrown into confusion because the EDL boasts that it has LGBT, Jewish and Sikh divisions.
It claims to speak up for the “white working class”. This is a sham and is an attempt to repackage fascist ideas.
Far from being a loner, Breivik emerged from a growing cesspool of racist and far-right politics.
But the polarisation in Europe is not just to the right. There have been magnificent struggles against austerity and the crisis.
We have to be resolute in our opposition to the cuts, while at the same time opposed to the racism pumped out by the likes of Cameron, Merkel and Sarkozy. We also have to unite to stop the rise of the far-right.
As part of a chilling message to EDL members, Breivik wrote, “You’re a blessing to all in Europe, in these dark times all of Europe are looking to you for inspiration, courage and even hope that we might turn this evil trend with Islamisation all across our continent.”
Socialists and anti-racists in Britain have a special responsibility to drive the EDL back into the sewers where it belongs.