West End Boy

Adam Shatz

  • BuyA Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utøya by Aage Borchgrevink, translated by Guy Puzey
    Polity, 299 pp, £20.00, November 2013, ISBN 978 0 7456 7220 5
  • BuyAnders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia by Sindre Bangstad
    Zed, 286 pp, £16.99, June 2014, ISBN 978 1 78360 007 6

Before he went on his mass killing spree in 2011, Anders Behring Breivik was a regular at the Palace Grill in Oslo West. He looked harmless: another blond man trying to chat up women at the bar. ‘He came across as someone with a business degree,’ one woman recalled, ‘one of those West End boys in very conservative clothes.’ Indeed he had tried his hand at business, though he’d never completed a degree, or much of anything else. And he was a West End boy, a diplomat’s son. Yet there was the book he said he was writing, a ‘masterwork’ in a ‘genre the world has never seen before’. He refused to say what it was about, only that it was inspired by ‘novels about knights from the Middle Ages’. He did little to hide his obsessions. One night in late 2010, he was at the Palace Grill when a local TV celebrity walked in. Breivik launched into a speech about the Muslim plot against Norway, and about the Knights Templar. The bouncers threw him out. On the street, he said to the celebrity: ‘In one year’s time, I’ll be three times as famous as you.’

This story appears in Aage Borchgrevink’s superb book, and it plays like a scene from a horror film because we know the barfly will make good on his promise. Breivik was hard at work on 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, a 1518-page screed exposing the Muslim plot to conquer Christendom. In large part a compendium of extracts from counter-jihadist websites, 2083 was posted online on the day of the attacks under the name ‘Andrew Berwick’, one of Breivik’s several aliases. The signs of Europe’s creeping Islamisation were everywhere, he argued, from Bosnian independence to the spread of mosques in Oslo. Muslim men were having their way with European women, while declaring their own women off-limits to European men. Breivik and his fellow white Norwegians were ‘first-generation dhimmis’ – a term for non-Muslim minorities under Ottoman rule which, like most of his ideas, he’d found online – in what was fast becoming ‘Eurabia’. Worst of all, Europe’s ‘cultural Marxist’ elites had caved in, like a woman who would rather ‘be raped than … risk serious injuries while resisting’. Even the Lutheran Church – ‘priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches that look like minimalist shopping centres’ – had surrendered. Fortunately, there were ‘knights’ like Breivik who had the courage to defend Europe’s honour.

2083 isn’t just a manifesto: it’s also the would-be inspirational memoir of a man who has rejected the ‘Sex and the City lifestyle’ in favour of his sacred duty. The leap from empty hedonism to murderous heroism is also a recurring theme in the biographies of the young men who leave Bradford, Hamburg, Paris and Oslo for Syria. As Borchgrevink writes, Breivik’s hatred of Islam didn’t prevent him from proposing a tactical alliance with al-Qaida against the liberal state he hated even more. The desires that motivated him scarcely differed from those of his jihadist enemies: revenge, adventure and fame.

Breivik was born in 1979. His parents never married, and separated before he was two; he was raised by his mother, a nurse, who turned out to be unstable and emotionally abusive. By the time he was four, the home had become so turbulent that the state welfare services recommended he be removed. But the recommendation was never acted on, and Breivik grew up hating his mother, whom he accused of ‘feminising’ him, and idolising the father he rarely saw. He was drawn to tough boys like his pal Rafik, the son of Pakistani immigrants who claimed to know members of the notorious ‘B Gang’ in Oslo East. Breivik was a ‘potato’, a white boy, but under Rafik’s tutelage he bought himself a pair of baggy trousers and learned to steal and speak what Borchgrevink calls ‘Kebab Norwegian’. He ‘bombed the city’ with his graffiti tag, Morg, inspired by a Marvel Comics villain. But the friendship with Rafik gradually unravelled, partly because Rafik and his cohort seemed to be a magnet for the white girls who rejected him. Breivik joined a ‘white pride’ gang, and even found himself a girlfriend – but then she dumped him for a Pakistani.

He didn’t do much better in his attempt to become a millionaire, though in his twenties he did make some money selling cheap mobile phone contracts and fake diplomas, mostly to immigrants. He joined the right-wing Progress Party, whose opposition to immigration and higher taxes chimed with his own resentments. But what appears to have transformed him was discovering the writings of Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen, a blogger who wrote under the name ‘Fjordman’. Fjordman’s online manifesto, Native Revolt: A European Declaration of Independence, gave meaning to Breivik’s failures by situating them in a global war between Christendom and Islam. Rafik, he realised, was no mere hoodlum: he was a secret jihadist. ‘The petty-criminal subculture of the 1990s was reborn as a religious conflict,’ in Borchgrevink’s words, and Breivik was now a knight in the war to save Europe.

Keen to make contact with his fellow knights, he introduced himself to Fjordman, who found him ‘as boring as a vacuum cleaner salesman’. He turned up at a pro-Israel meeting organised by the Friends of Document.no, a far-right website edited by Hans Rustad, a former soixante-huitard who claimed that Muslim men were using sex as a form of warfare, inflicting a ‘slow castration’ on Western men. Rustad felt ‘there were some inhibitions missing in [Breivik’s] head.’ No one with inhibitions would have wandered into Monrovia during the Liberian civil war, which is what Breivik did in 2002. He told friends that he was going to buy blood diamonds, but his real purpose was to pay his respects to Milorad Ulemek, known as the Dragon, an ultra-nationalist Serb who’d fought in the Special Operations Unit of the Serb army: the Serbs, in Breivik’s view, had been Europe’s front-line defenders in the battle with Islam, only to be cruelly abandoned in their hour of need. Nothing much came of these encounters, but he now felt himself to be part of a community. In 2006 he moved back in with his mother, so that he could contribute to right-wing websites, play video games and work on 2083. But he was afraid of becoming ‘a bitter old goat behind a computer’: ‘Convert your frustration and anger to motivation and resolve,’ he told himself. He began taking steroids, and dressing up in a red uniform covered in badges; his mother thought he’d gone ‘all Rambo’.

On the morning of 22 July 2011, Breivik uploaded his manifesto to his favourite websites, and emailed it to 1003 contacts in Europe and Israel. He’d timed the launch to coincide with the events he’d planned for later in the day: a bombing in central Oslo, followed by a strike on Utøya, an island 40 kilometres north of the city where the Labour Party Youth had their annual retreat. He’d been preparing the attack since 2002, he claimed when interrogated by the police. He had bought his Ruger rifle and Glock pistol legally; the rifle bore the inscription ‘Gungnir’, after Odin’s spear. He built the 950 kg bomb with fertiliser he’d purchased for a farm he set up in 2009 on land rented from elderly farmers north of Oslo. Five months before the massacre, a UN-directed anti-terror programme identified him as one of 41 Norwegians who had imported chemicals that could be used for fertiliser bombs, but the Norwegian security services didn’t investigate. They were worried about radical jihadists, not West End boys who lived with their mothers.

Breivik placed the bomb in a van parked outside a government building. It went off at 15.22, killing eight people. Disguised as a police officer, Breivik then made his way to Utøya by ferry. A failure at everything else he had tried, he proved to be a highly methodical killer. In little more than an hour, he killed 69 people, 67 of them with shots to the head; two died from drowning in the fjord as they tried to escape. Thirty-two of the victims were under the age of 18. ‘Today you will die, Marxists,’ he shouted. He had chosen his victims carefully. For all his rage against Muslims, he was more angry at the leftists who had allowed them to enter Norway. Generations of Labour Party leaders had received their political, and sentimental, education at the Utøya camp. The ‘left-wing ideological stone in the shoe of the pragmatic governing Labour Party’, Utøya embodied everything that Breivik loathed: feminism, gay rights, and sympathy for immigrants and oppressed Third World peoples. With his ‘pre-emptive’ attack on these ‘cultural Marxists’ he hoped to detonate a civil war. In the eyes of most Norwegians, though, he had attacked not only Utøya but Norway itself. Thanks to Breivik, Borchgrevink writes, Norway discovered that it was ‘rich in more than oil, and 22 July 2011 became a symbol – not of division and weakness, but of strength and solidarity’.

Breivik was symbolically purged from Norway: he was a ‘lone madman’, his crime a horrifying but isolated incident. This fable was reassuring but never very persuasive. Before his trial he was described as a paranoid schizophrenic, but the psychiatrist in residence at Ila Prison failed to find any evidence of psychosis or schizophrenia; a second team of psychiatrists concluded that he had narcissistic personality disorder but that he was not psychotic and was therefore criminally liable for his actions. Breivik himself insisted that he was sane, and after a second psychiatric assessment he was deemed sane enough to stand trial and to receive the maximum 21-year sentence. Still, the conventional wisdom in Norway remains that Breivik is a case for psychiatrists, rather than a cause for deeper political reflection. Borchgrevink gives a detailed account of Breivik’s descent into the virtual netherworld of ‘Eurabia’ literature, yet he too blames his radicalisation on a dysfunctional home. He relies heavily on confidential reports by the psychiatrists who had monitored little Anders and his mother – reports that his mother, who died last year, fought successfully to have declared inadmissible as evidence. If it hadn’t been for ‘a deficit of family care’, he implies, Breivik might never have turned violent.

Perhaps. But the story doesn’t end there, as Sindre Bangstad argues in Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia. Childhood trauma doesn’t explain why Breivik directed his anger at Muslims and the European ‘quislings’ who colluded with them. And to focus exclusively on Breivik is to miss, even repress the problem of Norway’s relationship to its Muslim population. As Bangstad writes, ‘it is entirely possible to be a lone madman, yet act out ideological fantasies of purity and existential danger which are, in fact, far more mainstream.’ Very few Norwegians would condone Breivik’s actions, even secretly, or understand why his anger at Muslims took the form of killing mostly white teenagers. Yet the anti-Muslim tropes that appear in 2083 are commonplace not only online, but among members of the Progress Party (of which he was a member until 2004) – the country’s third largest party and a junior partner in the Conservative Party government. Anti-Muslim rhetoric has seeped into liberal movements in Norway, too, movements concerned with gay rights, feminism and free speech. One might have expected this trend to be reversed after Utøya, but the opposite has happened. Norwegian ‘unity’ was strengthened by the Breivik massacre, but at the expense of the country’s Muslim minority, who comprise 3.6 per cent of its five million citizens, and who are less welcome than ever.

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Tolerance has never been Norway’s strong suit. Jews and Catholics were constitutionally banned from entering the country for much of the 19th century; the prohibition against Jesuits was lifted only in 1956. The so-called tatere – travelling Romani who have been in Norway for several hundred years – were subject to ruthless assimilation policies, including forced sterilisation, from the 1930s until the 1970s. There is no figure in Norwegian history more reviled than Vidkun Quisling, the collaborationist prime minister who was executed in 1945, but he had plenty of company. Yet until the 1980s, Norwegians learned at school only of the heroic men who took to the forests and mountains to fight the Nazis, not of the thousands who volunteered for the Waffen SS’s Nordic Division Wiking, or of the round-ups of Jews by the Norwegian police. By then, Muslims had replaced Jews as the ‘enemy within’ for the far right.

The first wave of Muslim immigration began during the oil boom of the 1960s, when guest workers arrived from Pakistan. In 1975, Norway’s parliament passed a ban on immigration which, in effect, applied only to non-Western migrant labour. Since then, most immigrants of Muslim background have arrived either as asylum seekers (the majority from Somalia or the Balkans) or to join an already settled husband or father. At first, Muslims immigrants weren’t identified as Muslims but by their family’s country of origin. That changed in the 1990s. Partly thanks to a feeling that they weren’t fully accepted as Norwegians, piety and social conservatism among Muslims increased, a trend that leaders of mosques – some trained in highly conservative schools in Pakistan – did their best to encourage. More than 80 per cent of Norwegians belong to the Lutheran Church, but almost no one attends services. Muslims increasingly stood out as believers of a different religion in a Christian yet irreligious society. For many Norwegians, a stroll in parts of Oslo East became an unsettling experience. The sounds of Urdu and Arabic, the wearing of the hijab, even the smell of foreign food clashed with their idea of Norway. The country, many began to feel, had a ‘Muslim problem’.

The fears that drive this perception are not entirely irrational. Norway’s Muslims are over-represented in the professions, but they are also over-represented among the poor and unemployed. Racism, disenfranchisement, the war on terror and a feeling that their identity as Muslims is under attack have made some of them susceptible to the appeal of radical Salafism. Bangstad provides a thorough account of groups like IslamNet and the Prophet’s Ummah, which has sent volunteers to Syria and held small but incendiary rallies in support of Isis. Yet, as he emphasises, the supporters of radical Islam are vastly outnumbered by Muslims who reject it. And while Muslims protested against what were seen as insults to Islam, from the publication of The Satanic Verses to the Danish cartoons, opinion polls show that they remain supportive of free speech, at levels only a few percentage points below those of ‘ethnic’ Norwegians.

Faced with such polls, Norway’s Islam haters say they’re lying, that they’re practising taqiyya, a Shia term for ‘dissimulation’. The spectre of ‘Islamic expansion’ has helped the Progress Party to become a major political force. Its share of the vote may have dropped from 22.9 per cent to 16.3 in the 2013 parliamentary elections, but it was able to enter the governing coalition for the first time. When it was established in 1973, the PP was known as the ALP: Anders Lange’s Party for a Strong Reduction in Taxes, Duties and Public Intervention. The ‘threat’ of racial minorities ranked far below high taxes, toll roads and the price of petrol on its list of priorities at the time. Yet the party has always been infected by a powerful strain of white supremacy. In the late 1980s, the PP turned its attention to immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, drawing inspiration from the success of the Danish Progress Party (from which it took its new name). Lange’s successor, Carl Hagen, warned at a rally in 1987 that unless Norwegians rallied in defence of their culture, ‘Islam will conquer Norway.’

Central to the PP’s message is the idea that the country’s ‘cultural elite’ is stabbing Norway in the back, colluding with what its leader Siv Jensen – Norway’s finance minister – describes as ‘Islamisation by stealth’. Because liberals are ‘failing liberals’, only an aggressive party like the PP can defend Norway’s traditions of social liberalism. Under Jensen, the patriarchal, nostalgic party of Norwegian shopkeepers has rebranded itself as a feminist party, although its feminism mostly amounts to what Bangstad (following Gayatri Spivak) calls ‘saving brown women from brown men’. The ‘polarisation entrepreneurs’ of the PP have a growing audience, and their arguments an increasing cohesion and sophistication, thanks to journalists and bloggers like Fjordman and Walid al-Kubaisi, an exiled Iraqi writer and filmmaker who has played the role of ‘native informant’ much as Ayaan Hirsi Ali did in Holland. Their rhetoric is more extreme than the PP’s, but the overlap is too pronounced to be a coincidence, and some have advised the party. They form part of a much broader network, an anti-Islam international that extends from Scandinavia to the United States and includes such figures as Lars Hedegaard, a prominent right-wing Danish intellectual; the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci; the American neoconservatives Daniel Pipes, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer; and – the maître à penser of the ‘Eurabia genre’ – Gisèle Littman, a British woman of Egyptian-Jewish origin who lives in Switzerland and publishes under the pseudonym Bat Ye’or. (It’s striking how many Eurabia theorists write under pseudonyms when you consider their attacks on Muslim dissimulation.)

Eurabia writers believe the West has been weakened by a politically correct cult of victimhood, yet their own writing (like Breivik’s) appears to be driven by a personal sense of injury at the hands of Muslims, reinterpreted, and thereby globalised, through the prism of Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’. Fjordman, an Arabist from a left-wing family, was in Cairo on 9/11 when he saw a group of Egyptians celebrating the attacks. Al-Kubaisi fled from Iraq to avoid serving in the Iran-Iraq war and received asylum – and a state scholarship guaranteeing him an income for the rest of his life – in Norway. Bruce Bawer, an American gay literary critic who moved to Norway in 1999 to be with his Norwegian partner, came to see Muslim immigrants as an irredeemably illiberal fifth column. He denounced Breivik as a ‘murderous madman’ but – in his 2012 book The New Quislings: How the International Left Used the Oslo Massacre to Silence Debate about Islam – lifted two fake assertions directly from 2083: that the Labour Party had employed anarchist militants as storm troops, and that ‘innumerable Norwegians have been killed by Muslims.’

Eurabia ideologues have been given a platform by liberal intellectuals and the Norwegian press. Hysterical polemics about Islam and Muslim immigration are easy to come by in liberal papers like Klassekampen. So are articles that confirm the hysteria, such as a recent interview with a Norwegian admirer of Isis, which appeared in a liberal newspaper without any editorial note questioning his claim to be speaking for all Muslims. Liberal tolerance for anti-Muslim hate speech, Bangstad argues, goes back to the Rushdie affair, when Norway became the first country to publish The Satanic Verses in translation. Four days after Khomeini issued the fatwa, a group of Muslim leaders established the Islamic Defence Council, calling for the novel to be banned and invoking a blasphemy law that had long since fallen into disuse. In 1993, Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot three times outside his home in Oslo (he survived); the assailant was never found. The government responded by forming a series of commissions that called for expanding the protection of free speech. It was an admirably full-throated defence of Rushdie’s right to publish, but, as Bangstad suggests, since then a kind of ‘free speech absolutism’ has steadily chipped away at any concern for minority protections against racist and discriminatory speech, which are guaranteed by Norwegian law. A popular narrative had emerged that Muslims were uncomfortable with free speech, and that there was an irreconcilable conflict between Norwegian ‘values’ and Muslim ‘culture’. The press became ‘an arena for confrontation rather than dialogue’ – a forum for inflammatory views about Islam. Tolerance for ‘free speech’ has been widely construed as a loyalty test. ‘The right to offend bishops and imams is absolutely central to our way of life,’ Per Edgar Kokkvold, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Press Association, has explained. ‘If they happen to dislike it, they must leave.’

The situation hasn’t improved since the Breivik massacre. The press gave lavish coverage to a tiny protest by radical Islamists outside the US Embassy over the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims, attended by eighty people, but virtually ignored a demonstration of 6000 people organised by the Islamic Council of Norway with support from Oslo’s Lutheran bishop. As Bangstad writes, the press has had a love affair with the ‘young and marginalised Muslims’ who are ‘willing to play the role … which non-Muslim Norwegians have valid reasons to fear’. And the intellectual establishment continues to dote on Eurabia propagandists who insist that these young people represent Islam as a whole. Breivik’s hero Fjordman has graduated from the web to the pages of the Aftenposten, a self-described ‘conservative-liberal’ newspaper. He’s also writing a book about Utøya, partly subsidised by a fellowship from the Fritt Ord Foundation, Norway’s most prestigious free speech organisation. Nygaard, who is now the chairman of PEN Norway, defended Fjordman’s fellowship on the grounds that he ‘does not incite violence’.

Norway isn’t the only European country in which the cause of free speech has been travestied by bigots. Throughout the continent, but especially in Scandinavia, demagogic ‘critics of Islam’ have styled themselves as modern-day Dreyfusards willing to speak truths that politically correct liberals don’t dare express. The recent electoral successes of the right-wing Swedish Democrats, France’s Front National and Geert Wilders in Holland have been fuelled by their appeals to anti-Muslim fear. As Bangstad writes, socially liberal right-wing populists now claim to be carrying on the campaign that began more than two centuries ago with the revolt against the superstitions – and privileges – of the church. Its liberal credentials, they say, should be self-evident: why should Europeans give any quarter to those who cover their women and attack the achievements of postwar social movements, from women’s emancipation to gay marriage – not to mention those among them who support jihad? In 1892, Edouard Drumont set up an anti-Semitic newspaper to expose the Jews’ disloyalty to France; he called it La Libre Parole.