Rhetoric in focus after terror attacks

In wake of tragedy, the tone of Denmark’s national debate on multiculturalism comes into focus

Anders Breivik’s deadly attacks last Friday targeted Norway’s Labour Party for being too soft on immigration and for what he called “treasonous acts” that have shepherded a “demographic Jihad” in which the Norwegian Muslim population would ultimately grow larger than the white population.

His actions left at least 76 people dead – mostly children attending the Labour Party’s youth camp on the island of Utøya. His words – outlined in a 1,500 page manifesto – have ignited a debate on the rhetoric and tone of the immigration debate, particularly as it applies to countries like Norway and Denmark with growing Muslim populations.

According to BreivikÂ’s manifesto, Muslim communities in Europe pose an unavoidable conflict to the interests of the white, majority populations. He placed Denmark on the front lines in his perceived battle between Islam and the West.

“My bet is still on Britain, or possibly Denmark, as the first Western country to face a civil war due to Muslim immigration,” he wrote, going on to praise Denmark’s approach in the “ideological war” against Islam as “the only Scandinavian country with some spine left”.

Many agree that the national debate in Denmark around immigration and multicultarism has been characterised by often incediary, harsh language.

Pia Kjærsgaard, the leader of the Danish People’s Party (DF) has made some notable attacks on multiculturalism.

“Multiculturalism is not tolerance and freedom, but a tense power balance where one word can disturb the peace,” she wrote in 2002. “In multiculturalism, it is the strongest that thrive – those who can threaten, bully and intimidate others to give up their religion.”

Another member of the DF, Jesper Langballe, has spoken extensively about the threat of Islam in Denmark. In a 2007 essay, he rhetorically asked what defined a multicultural society, to which he answered:

“ItÂ’s a culture-less society – a society without cohesion.  A torn and broken society – a mix of cultures without linguistic and historical community and without common norms and values.”

The recently formed The DanesÂ’ Party is also critical of multiculturalism. The anti-EU and immigration party shares BreivikÂ’s fear that toward the end of this century, non-western immigrants will outnumber ethnic Danes.

“The foreign policies that have let non-Europeans immigrate to Denmark has led to a population turnover which will lead to Danes becoming a minority in their own country,” reads their online manifesto.

“Such a development would be especially damaging because many of those immigrating come from countries with low IQs which will lead to a reduction in our overall intelligence. That will make it more difficult for us to maintain and develop our civilisation.”

But while BreivikÂ’s manifesto refers to many far-right movements in Europe as inspiration, some of those he quoted have since expressed horror at being mentioned.

One of those is Dutch anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders who said he “was repulsed” that he and his party, the PVV, received praise in Breivik’s manifesto.
“Neither the PVV, nor I, is responsible for the actions of a lonely, ill-adjusted idiot,” he wrote. “We fight for a democratic and nonviolent means against further Islamisation of society and will continue to do so.”

Most Danish political parties, however, disagree that multiculturalism is a bad thing.

“Multiculturalism is not about taking from anyone. On the contrary, it’s about giving people the opportunity to choose for themselves how to live,” Zenia Stampe from the Social Liberals wrote earlier this year.

The question remains, however, whether the rhetoric used by Wilders, Langballe or Kjærsgaard has the power to incite violent behaviour.

“It’s clear that the parties that are antagonistic towards immigrants should consider how far they are going in spreading their hostility,” Tore Børgo, a professor in political violence at the Oslo police school told Politiken. “You could say that the Danish People’s Party has gone much further than Norwegian parties as far as hateful statements go.”

Former foreign minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen also expressed his concern to Politiken.

“Things are said in the immigration debate now that we would not have dreamt of ten or twenty years ago. It’s clear that it plays a part in tragedies like what happened in Norway – I’m in no doubt about it,” he said.

The internet has also created an opportunity for many with extreme and hateful views to express themselves to vast audiences anonymously and without the risk of reprisal. Breivik was linked to many right-wing websites.

Despite many of these websites expressing hateful views that are punishable under Danish law, few have been convicted for their online remarks – something the Social Democrats want to change.

“The criminal code and press law were developed in a time before blogs and online debate. Very few people have been held responsible for hateful remarks online, and I don’t think that such a tone is healthy in our democracy,” Henrik Sass Larsen from the Social Democrats told Berlingske.