Anders Breivik and the Culture of Islamophobia

I have just been reading an excellent  study of the Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik. In this, a social anthropologist, Sindre Bangstad, argues that the scary thing about this man’s murder of 77 people on 22 July 2011 was not the capacity for a single human being to turn hatred of a religion and immigrants into a perverted action of murdering those who fell into neither category, but that it emerged from a society where Islamophobia was becoming normalised.

Bangstad’s case is that Breivik represented a growing culture of religious and racial intolerance in Norwegian society. Of course, the singularity of the position of Nordic nations has been their moral imperative to accept immigrants and to work for racial and religious harmony, despite not having imperial legacies akin to those of the UK, France, Netherlands or Belgium. They have been exemplar nations of modern European Human rights. They have taken leading roles in international peace negotiations, in sending peacekeepers to troubled zones of the world, and in providing high-profile events like the Novel Prizes which provide us with a common culture of excellence in culture and research.

Yet, it is one of these very Nordic nations that suffers a man like Breivik, driven by ideology, who wrote out a lengthy manifesto and published it on the internet just prior to his murderous deeds.  It is in this manifesto that Bangstad finds the connections with wider political developments in Norwegian society, in the increasing estrangement of right-wing voters from the social-welfare and human-rights pioneering of that country.  The author’s point is that it is in the normalisation of racism and religious hatred, in its very ordinariness, that barbarism lies, not in its peculiarity.

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