Anders Breivik is the alleged perpetrator of the July 22 bomb attack in downtown Oslo and a shooting rampage at a nearby summer camp. In an interview on the Diane Rehm Show, Ömer Taşpınar discusses the many questions being asked about the man in custody and the possible links to far right radicalism.
Susan Page, The Diane Rehm Show: So, put this in the context of the political climate in Norway. What’s happening there that allowed this guy to develop?
Ömer Taşpınar: Well, I think that’s a very important question. It’s important to see a phenomenon in Europe. And it’s also important not to jump into conclusions that it is this political climate in Norway or in Europe that is fueling such heinous acts. But there is a backlash in Europe and in Norway against multiculturalism. There is a sense that Muslim immigration is on the rise.
In fact, even in mainstream academia in Europe and in the United States, there is this alarmist demographic projections that somehow Europe in a matter of a generation will become so-called Eurabia, that there will be basically a Muslim colonization, something that the perpetrator refers to in his tracts.
So he is obviously someone who is very well-connected to the extreme right-wing cells, extreme right-wing political formations in Norway, in Britain. And he’s part of, basically, a phenomenon that we see in Europe that, I think, is important to call as Islamophobic. So that’s very interesting in the context of Norway, which is a tiny country of 4.5 million people, which does not have a large Muslim population. But such conspiracy theories about Muslim domination are part of the age we live in, this age of clash of civilizations that Huntington predicted long time ago.
Page: You talked about the situation in Norway. Compare it to what the situation we find with some of this anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim feeling in larger, more familiar places, perhaps, in Europe, like France and Great Britain.
Taşpınar: Yes. Well, France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. But even there, we’re talking about 5, 6 percent population, around 4 to 6 million Muslims. But there is this alarmist sense that Muslim population is on the rise, that Muslim birth rates are much higher than Christian birth rates. And there is this conspiracy theory about an Islamic invasion, which, in a way, finds acceptance by mainstream politicians as well because you have extreme right wing political parties who are actually making significant gains in the ballot box right now in France. One of the most popular politicians is Marine Le Pen, who’s the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who’s the leader of the Front National, which is the extreme right wing party.
In Britain, you have also the prime minister who declared that multiculturalism does not work. In Germany, you have Angela Merkel, Christian Democrat, who argues that multiculturalism is dead. So there is this belief that Europe has been too tolerant of Muslim culture and that it is time to assert Europe’s identity, a kind of more civilized, more secular identity, and that Muslims have to choose, that they have to assimilate to this European civilization, the values of the Enlightenment.
So there is, overall, in my opinion, a climate of fear, a climate where center-right political parties are trying to co-opt the agenda of extreme right wing political parties so that they can gain votes from that sections. And, overall, I think there is a fear that Europe is losing its Christian identity.
And this is a very interesting phenomenon because, although Europe is not a continent which has very high church attendance, for instance — it’s known as a very secular continent — it is, culturally, still very Christian. And it is not a, historically, place of immigration. Europeans are — have uneasy feelings with immigrants. The Germans, for instance, have traditionally called the Turks gastarbeiters, guest workers.
I mean, they thought that they were guests who were supposed to leave, like good guests do, when the party was over. And the party was over in the 1970s. The Muslims came to Europe in the 1950s and ’60s at a time when Europe needed, desperately, labor. But by the ’70s, when economic problems started with unemployment and a lack of development, there was this growing xenophobic, anti-immigration feeling.
And, today, the European economic crisis that we see across Europe, the crisis of the euro, lack of development, but, most importantly, structural unemployment — youth unemployment is on the rise across the board in Europe — there is this fear that Muslims are taking the jobs. So it’s time for them to go back, to go home. So there is this fear of Islam that, I think, is important to understand.