Utoya Island, Norway, Friday, 22 July 2011: A calculated act of political terror.
SIXTY-EIGHT idealistic young Norwegians shot to death with chilling efficiency. Eight of their compatriots blown to pieces by a massive car-bomb in the Norwegian capital. What other question can there be but: “Why?”
The answer is frighteningly straight-forward: both the bombing and the shootings were carefully calculated acts of political terror.
The man Norwegian authorities have charged with these atrocities, a 32-year-old businessman named Anders Behring Breivik, is a self-confessed Christian and an ardent Norwegian nationalist. Between 1999 and 2005 he was a “youth member” of the Norwegian Progress Party – a party whose principles and policies closely align with those of America’s “tea partiers” and New Zealand’s Act Party.
Breivik’s resignation from the Progress Party was in reaction to the severe internal stresses brought on by the often bitter debates over how far the party should go to curb the influx of Muslim immigrants to Norway.
Throughout the 1990s the Progress Party was torn apart by splits and divisions over the immigration issue. Breivik was a supporter of those he described as the “idealistic” faction of the party: hardliners who despised the “multiculturalism” preached by the Norwegian Left, and who were committed to restoring the racially homogeneous Norwegian society of the 1950s and 60s.
It was the Progress Party’s radical ideas on race, and the extreme positions adopted by some of the leading protagonists of the anti-immigration faction, which led Norway’s other political parties to declare it persona non grata in that country’s generally tolerant and liberal political culture.
Opposition to the Progress Party’s racial and religious prejudice was most pronounced among the left-leaning Labour and Green parties – both of whom strongly promoted the ideal of multicultural tolerance. But even Norway’s centrist and conservative parties were put off by the Progress Party’s extremism and excluded it from the real and potential governing coalitions of the centre-right.
Essentially, the entire Norwegian political class (aided by the news media) came together to mount an effective political boycott of the Progress Party.
The only problem with this strategy of exclusion was that the Progress Party was not simply an anti-immigration party. In Norway’s still very strong social-democratic political culture the Progress Party stood out as the only mass political movement whole-heartedly committed to introducing the policies of “free market” neo-liberalism.
By bringing together rural and provincial Norwegians antagonistic to the influx of non-white, non-Christian immigrants, with the growing number of young, urban-dwelling Norwegians chafing under the benign collectivism of Norway’s social-democratic institutions, the Progress Party had grown rapidly to become Norway’s second-largest political party after Labour.
The result has given rise to what writer and social-critic, Dr Chris Harris, has aptly described as a “civil cold war or cold civil war” in which upwards of one quarter of the population found its political beliefs and aspirations deliberately excluded from government.
Paradoxically, it may have been the Progress Party’s incremental movements towards the political centre (and thus towards participation in a future centre-right government) which set Breivik on his path towards political terrorism and mass murder.
IN SPITE OF looking like the healthy, blond-haired, blue-eyed young man any Norwegian mother would have been delighted to have as a son-in-law, Breivik had not made a conspicuous success of his life.
Aspiring to be part of Norway’s entrepreneurial elite, he’d tried his hand at several businesses but all had ended in failure. Refusing to abandon his dreams, he’d talked himself into “The Pillars” – one of Oslo’s leading masonic lodges. But even here, among the rich and the powerful, he could find no backers for the right-wing newspaper he’d hoped to launch. Lonely, frustrated and increasingly marginalised, Breivik was reduced to venting his spleen on right-wing social-media sites, and chatting on-line with the dark denizens of Europe’s neo-Nazi underworld.
And after them – who?
What triggered the final descent into practical planning: the amassing of fertiliser; the stockpiling of ammunition; the acquisition of a policeman’s uniform; we’ve yet to discover.
Did he find himself in an Oslo bar one evening, locked in conversation with a pretty young student attracted to his buffed six-foot frame and cute, cupid-bow smile? Did he feel the pangs of sexual yearning? Wonder if this girl might be the one? Only to ruin it all by getting into an argument about politics. Was it before or after she’d called him a racist pig that he noticed the Labour Youth logo on her T-shirt?
Did he imagine them all on Utoya Island? All those happy little Marxists rutting in their pup tents. Mocking a vengeful god with their easy fornication and treacherous tolerance of the filthy defilers of Norwegian purity.
Did he imagine all their Labour Party mentors, beavering away in their downtown Oslo offices, plotting yet more ruin for the Fatherland?
Well, he had a surprise for them.
And afterwards, Norway would never be the same.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 July 2011.