Following the horrific attacks in Norway last Friday which killed at least 76, Democracy Now! have interviewed Ali Esbati, who was on Norway’s Utoeya Island at the time of the fatal shooting and the Director of the Norwegian Center Against Racism, Kari Helene Partapuoli.
Esbati reflects on the broader context of rising Islamophobia in the West. Excerpted from the interview:
AMY GOODMAN: …in your understanding of who Breivik is now, and Ali Esbati, your work, talk about why you—what you were lecturing about on the island to the camp. Do you see any connections?
ALI ESBATI: Well, no, not really. I was talking about the economic policies of the right-wing government in Sweden and how to learn from them in Norway, not to repeat the failure of the left in Sweden....his acts need to be understood in a social and political context, and that context is rising Islamophobia in the Western world and in the Nordic countries… They are not, absolutely not, (ideas) unique to him. They’re rather widespread in certainly milieux, where they’re seeing Islam and regular Muslims as sort of occupation force and those enabling that occupation as traitors. And, of course, traitors in a war situation, you might legitimize doing very drastic things to them. And this is the kind of worldview that has pushed him over new limits.
In an interview with the Director of the Norwegian Center Against Racism, Kari Helene Partapuoli, some more observations were noted,
KARI HELENE PARTAPUOLI: Breivik…was more inspired by what Ali Esbati also talks about …the paranoid theories about how there is an Islam-Muslim takeover in Norway and in Europe. And even though the sort of traditional right-wing extremist groups are small, there are other things that have been happening, specifically online, where these debates and theories are very free to develop and quite, quite widespread also, especially internationally. (Breivik is) part of that ideology.
…There’s been attempts to organize groups in Norway, modeled on, for example, the English Defence League in Britain, which is quite successful and widespread, and also something called Stop the Islamisation of Europe…(Breivik is) also a result of the—specifically the European debate, where there is just certainly a growing Islamophobia.
…things are changing, and you see now that they have a different enemy picture. It’s the Muslims. It’s the sort of threat to our culture, a threat to—they see immigration as a threat to the establishment, to our societies… …I agree with Ali Esbati that we have to also see Breivik as part of a social and political context. It didn’t—he didn’t just go on a shooting spree. It was—he was also shaped by this political environment on the right wing.
…This is a person who’s been developing his worldview. It doesn’t happen overnight. And it actually—as it looks now, it seems as if it started, you know, before these sort of major anti-Muslim sentiments actually became part of mainstream European politics.
As Esbati and Partapuoli point out, Islamophobia and its manifestations have become increasingly visible in Europe and the UK with persistent incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes and an increase in anti-Islam EDL demonstrations. Many of these demonstrations have resulted in arrests and charges brought against EDL members. There have also been a rising number of hate crime incidents involving EDL members and supporters. Matthew Goodwin in an article for The Guardian notes the turn to violence among far-right groups and sympathizers. Of the BNP, Goodwin says,
“the party is capitalising on anxieties about [the Muslim] community that is already settled here and is making a valuable contribution to British society, despite suffering significantly higher-than-average levels of deprivation."
The Norway massacre has perhaps been a watershed moment exposing the dangers of pandering to extremist views of any form and the need for a constructive and progressive dialogue about and with European Muslim citizens.
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