10 years after 77 innocent people were killed in an extreme right terror attacks Norway still needs politicans to tackle hate speech and implement concrete action to prevent future attacks. The Norwegian terrorist inspired other attacks as in Christchurch and in Norway again, both in 2019. Anti-immigrant – and especially anti-Muslim ideology – continues to inspire even the mainstream and terrorists´manifestos are still widely available online. A recent report notes that the Norwegian Police and Security Services (PST) say: “right wing extemist ideology that inspired the  attack is still a driving force for right wing extremists nationally and internationally and has inspired several terror attacks in the last ten years.”
Ten years ago all of Norway’s PST´s focus was on Islamist terror and during the shooting at Utøya journalists, the police and ´terror experts´ assumed the perpetrator was linked to al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups. They were wrong. As in so many other examples of terror elselwhere, it is the extreme right that has so often operated under the police and security services´ radar.
In July this summer (2021), three men who are likely to be part of an extreme-right network, were arrested in the north of Norway with illegal arms and 8000 rounds of ammunition. The network is now under investigation, but the arrest has attracted little debate and is so far not an issue in the national election campaign that has just started.
Norway is not alone not preventing off- and online radicalisation, but ten years after one of the worst extreme-right attacks the world has seen, and after all the promises to challenge racism and hatred, it is truly disappointing that the right-wing government coalition and the opposition alike have done so little. The expression “sneak islamisation” was introduced to the media in 2009 by the previous leader of the radical right Fremskrittsartiet (FrP), Siv Jensen. The current leader Sylvi Listhaug defends the use of the expression and alludes to the threat some Muslims after all pose to ´Norwegian culture´.
Ideological Convergence between the Extreme Right and the Left: The Cases of Norway and Denmark
The idea that Muslims are the enemy is not unique to Norway but ´has become widespread over the last 30 years´ in Europe writes Katrine Fangen.
Despite of all the promises made 10 years ago by Labour Party (Ap) politicans, anti-Muslim rhetoric has got worse and become more mainstream. The authorities know that extremism online has increased and hardened especially during the pandemic. Comment sections in most newspapers publish racist comments and hate speech including death threats against minorities. Activities online aren´t monitored or controlled well enough and the threshold for hate speech in newspaper comments is very high.
In a climate where ´freedom of speech´ is hailed as sacred, hatespeech and death threats off- and online pose an increased security risk and a challenge to human rights and prevent protected minorities´ participation in politics and society.
The leader of the Labour Party (Ap), Jonas Gahr Støre, has long condemmed racist rhetoric. However, he still agrees to a large extent with FrP politics on immigration as seen in the Ap strategy on immigration as early as in 2011. Since then, Ap has supported nearly all proposed law changes that infringe on freedoms and human rights for immigrants – especially muslims. Norway aligns itself with Denmark that boasts the strictest and most inhumane asylum- and refugee policies in Europe. A Europe with FRONTEX and national vessels patrolling the coasts of the Mediterraean to keep refugees off its shores and where, on 30 July, 1,113 migrants were recorded dead in 2021 alone.
As only 338 asylum seekers made it to Norway by June 2021, it therefore seems peculiar that Ap is proposing stricter immigration policies. Immigration has a very low profile in the election campaign and Ap has managed to attract the wrath of the FrP´s current leader ,Sylvi Listhaug, who fears Ap is increasingly stealing more of their agenda.
Frp may be proud of themselves. The party has had a dramatic impact on economic- and immigration policy in Norway since the late 1980s. They have successfully linked immigration to the cost of welfare and gained broad support for their welfare chauvinism. The party celebrated its last immigration policy ´victory´ in June as legislation on immigrants´ time spent in Norway before they can access cash support for childcare increased to 5 years, criteria for indefinite leave to remain changed also changed from 3 years to 5 years in 2020.
Many leading Norwegian politicans are impressed with the hard line anti-immigrant approach of the social democrat Mette Frediksen in Denmark. This despite her being recently condemned by human rights organisations and the UN for its treatment of Syrian refugees and for failing to respect the Geneva convention. Lawyers are now preparing to take the Danish government to the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2009 during the election campaign, a high ranking Ap political leader said Ap had to give the impression of being tough on migration. The intention was not to lose voters to Frp, and that the party would revert to a more humane policy when the election was over (interview 6 August 2009). In the same breath he said it was a concern that ´everybody´ would come to Norway and create a burden for the welfare state if Denmark closed its borders and that Norway might have to follow suit. Ap never reverted to a more humane immigration stance. FrP gained nearly 23% of the vote in 2009. The party now polls at 10%.
Ever since the Norwegian Ap has followed their sister party in Denmark very closely but as recently as in 2018 Mette Fredriksen sent shockwaves to her Scandinavian sister parties when she presented her new asylum policy. In 2021 when hardly anybody seeks asylum in Scandinavia, the parties are seeing merit in the harsh Danish asylum system, maybe in a desperate attempt to gain more electoral support. In the Danish elections in 2019, the Social Democrats won on a promise to save the welfare state and to improve pensions for Danes. Implicit were clear references to immigrants, the ´non-deserving´ and promises to work hard to exclude and deport foreigners who were not entitled to generous Danish welfare services. Fredriksen promised to stop immigration from “non-western countries” and to send asylum seekers to reception centres in North Africa.
There is broad consensus in the European political landscape from the left to the right on anti- immigrant and anti-Muslim initiatives. In Denmark the burqa and the niqab were banned by lawmakers in 2018, Norway followed suit and banned the burqa and the niqab in schools, nurseries and universities.
Criminalisation and de-humanisation of asylum seekers and a disregard for international conventions and human rights is clearly not only the domain of the far right. Refugees now have to have lived in Denmark for more than 10 years to be considered for permanent residency.
The Danish government have started a trend in Scandinavia with a dehumanising treatment of refugees. The strategy is not unusual in liberal democracies; Behrouz Boochani gives a personal account of the brutality of the Australian detention system in his book ´No friends but the mountains´. Australia is condemned internationally by human rights groups but in 2016 the country was visited by a cross party delegation of Danish MPs who visited to learn from the asylum system. They won a ´rare access to an Australian offshore detention center where abuse and exploitation are rampant´.
The mainstream largely condones radical right anti immigration rhetoric and has over the last few years used the ideology and recommendations to change legislation with the purpose of excluding the ´other´. It is difficult to see how the situation can change to a more humane system with the current parties and politicians in power or waiting in the wings. A world where human rights are protected seems increasingly like a utopian fantasy but is at the core of a new Bergen Plan of Action that the University of Bergen, CARR and the Khalifa Ihler Institute launched this August (2021). What we increasingly observe in Scandinavia, in Europe and globally is that politicans in power increasingly ignore or violate human rights . This development can only lead to more radicalisation, violence and attacks on minorities and is encouraging for those who want to violently protect their national territory from a ´Mulism takeover´. Unless policy makers are challenged by the legal system and civil society and held to account, the presence of the extreme right is likely to grow.
Dr Mette Wiggen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. See her profile here.
© Mette Wiggen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).