Europe after the Norwegian terror attack

The impact of the attacks on Oslo and the island of Utoeya might not be felt outside Norway.

The cowardly attack by a right-wing extremist in Norway last weekend will have profound effects on life and politics in Norway, but probably only minor impacts on the larger continent.

In the short term, one can expect growing sympathy for the Norwegian Social Democrats and a (slight) drop of support for the right-wing populist Progress Party, of which the killer was once a member.

In the long term, prominent politicians will no longer walk the streets without bodyguards, political meetings will be guarded by armed police, and the intelligence community will devote more attention to the extreme right in general, and extreme right lone wolves in particular.

But while the attacks might be the 9/11 of Norway, their impact beyond the Nordic country’s border will be much less far-reaching.

First of all, many Western European countries already have experience with political violence and terrorism.

In these countries, politicians and political meetings are already protected by (sometimes heavily armed) police and the intelligence community is well aware of terrorist threats.

Second, in many Western European countries the extreme right is already perceived as a major threat. In countries like Belgium, Germany, or the Netherlands right-wing extremist individuals and organisations are monitored and even members of legal radical right parties are at times scrutinised.

But in other countries, like the United Kingdom, the attacks might have the welcome effect that the disproportionate attention for Islamic terrorism is somewhat decreased and more resources will be devoted to monitoring right-wing extremists.

Third, although the author listed many European radical right parties as a source of inspiration in his 1500 page manifesto, his overall “ideology” was highly erratic and only partly related to the daily propaganda of these parties.

In fact, many of his views, including on Muslims, were more inspired by the Christian Right and so-called “counterjihadists” in the United States, than by his native radical right party, the Progress Party.

This is not to say that the Norwegian tragedy will be without any broader European fallout. Almost everywhere on the continent commentators and politicians have called for a change in the debate on Muslims and the multicultural society.

While some accuse the radical right of having developed a climate of hate that created the Norwegian killer, others simply note the correlation between the two, without claiming causation.

Still, they agree that the debate has become too negative and paranoid, and new rules should ensure that Islamophobia is not given voice in the mainstream.

It is doubtful whether this will have a long-term effect, however. Many people within Western Europe, and particularly potential supporters of the radical right, feel that they have finally overcome the “political correctness” of the 1980s and (early) 1990s, when critical voices of multiculturalism were ostracised and sometimes even criminalised. They will be very weary of any substantial limitation to their newly-won free speech.

I also doubt that radical right parties in other European countries will suffer much from the fallout of the terrorist attack.

All parties mentioned in the killer’s manifesto have already vehemently denounced his deeds, even if many noted that they do share most of his (Islamophobic) analysis.

And given that the killer acted alone, was not personally active in a radical right political party (except for a brief stint in the Progress Party), and is increasingly described as “insane”, few people sympathetic to the radical right will see him as a representative voice.

As most European radical right parties are not very religious, and many are not particularly pro-Israel or pro-US, it is easier for people with similar feelings towards Muslims and multiculturalism to consider the killer as a loner and fringe lunatic.

The horrific killings have changed Norway forever, like the killing of Dutch right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002 changed the Netherlands forever. It’s arguable the attacks represent a 9/11 for Norway but they are not a 9/11 for the whole continent.

While it might lead to a new focus on monitoring the extreme right within intelligence communities, and somewhat less tolerance for extreme Islamophobia within the public debate, Europe will continue to discuss Muslims and multiculturalism in polarized and strong terms, and radical right parties will continue to gain erratic if growing electoral support.