Last Friday, August 24, Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence under Norwegian law. Many have described the 22 July 2011 attack as Norway’s own 9/11. But, in contrast to America’s response to 9/11, Norway responded by rallying around democracy and warning against letting fear determine how Norwegians should react.
In the first few hours after the horror in Norway unfolded, both the press and politicians were quick to point to Islamists as the most likely culprits. But when it became clear that it was the act of a right-wing madman, the tone of the discussion changed. Since then, the press has described the act as stemming from “the evil within all of us” or as something conceived of “by a madman”.
It’s important we keep in mind that Breivik is technically neither a madman nor a psychopath. Breivik’s attack was a premeditated assault on Norwegian values. Breivik’s Oslo bomb targeted the government building in order to put an end to the political correctness that, in Breivik’s eyes, had permitted multiculturalism and immigration.
Breivik is a member of the Norwegian Progress Party, which draws inspiration from the diverse group of anti-Muslim voices on the far right, such as Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party), which has been eager to promote anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout Scandinavia and served as the inspiration for Sverigedemokraterne (Swedish Democrats) in Sweden.
In the 1,516-page manifesto Breivik published on the internet prior to carrying out his well-planned attack, he takes aim at a wide range of enemies, including Islam, Marxism and multiculturalism. Former Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Morten Messerschmidt, an MEP for Dansk Folkeparti, are both praised in the manifesto.
Breivik names Rasmussen as one of the men he would like to meet, and described him as “the only western European leader who has something resembling a spine”.
Immediately after the attack last year, the Wall Street Journal linked the attack to Islam and recalled in its editorial that Rasmussen, after Denmark found itself the subject of an Islamic Jihad in 2005 when Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, opined: “We Danes feel as if we’re in the wrong scene in the wrong movie.”
National media outlets, too, were also quick to look for such a non-existent connection. The media’s failure as the tragedy was unfolding should give cause for reflection. Predictably, public broadcaster DR and TV2 used the Breivik attacks as the basis for reports that fanned the flames of anti-Islam sentiment and xenophobia. The threats to Jyllands-Posten and the attacks on the World Trade Centre were both trotted out as comparable events, even though it was still unclear at that point if Breivik’s attack was one of terrorism or whether Muslim extremists were responsible. Nevertheless, ‘Islamic terror’ was ‘the most likely’ explanation in the minds of so-called ‘terrorism experts’.
The rumour mill was churning away in the Danish press and, according to their sources, Islamists were responsible.
Not even Information – the Danish newspaper of choice of the left-wing elite – was immune. Their headline the next day, “Experts suspect Islamic terrorism”, was based on a combination of two otherwise carefully worded statements by experts: the first, by Danish terrorism expert Tore Bjørg, that “the evidence at hand indicates that the bombing was the work of a terrorist”; the other, uttered by Lars Erslev Andersen, that the “natural assumption” was “militant Islamists were to blame”.
Berlingske’s coverage focused on how Denmark was the actual target of the attack, but that “Danish security services had been much more proactive in protecting Danes at home and abroad. They collaborate far more closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies” than Norwegian security services, said Magnus Rantorp, a so-called international terrorism scholar.
It didn’t take long for the press to change its tune. By July 26, filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen was presenting evidence that veteran Dansk Folkeparti MP Søren Krarup had sewn the seed for the emergence of a person like Breivik. Another of the first to ask where Breivik’s ideologies came from was Politiken editor Anders Jerichow, who wrote in an opinion piece entitled “We bear our share of the blame”, that “with the exception of the centrist Radikale and the far left Enhedslisten, political parties across the board, as well as the media, have co-opted the language of the far right”.
The Oslo court’s decision that Breivik was not insane at the time of his act is, if you believe the press, of the most importance. Being held responsible for his actions means he can be imprisoned. This is an important detail, but it should not detract from what is truly most important: Breivik is guilty of premeditated, politically motivated murder, and he consciously carried out an act of right-wing terror. With the sentence, Breivik will be put away for years [he got 21 years with the option of extending the sentence five years at a time], but we must not let it be a matter that is out of sight or out of mind. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the threat of right-wing extremists.
The democratically elected representatives are not responsible for Breivik. But Breivik should constantly remind them of the consequences of what a hateful tone in public discourse, anti-Islamic sentiment and their disdain for the left can lead to.
We all need to pull together to fight fascism, racism and terrorism – for the sake of Breivik’s victims.