In Sindre Bangstad’s recent article in the Guardian, he wrote how:
“Many Norwegians conveniently managed to convince themselves that Breivik came from Planet Wacko rather than Oslo West, and that his ideas and actions had nothing whatsoever to do with Norwegian discourses on Islam and Muslims in the past decade.”
Sadly, the comment resonated with my own recent experience.
Having been invited to speak at an international conference at the University of Bergen last November on the issue of Europe’s Islamophobia, I was surprised by the response from some of the University’s faculty members in attendance.
Having spoken about the anti-Muslim anti-Islam discourses of the far-right – to much nodding and visible agreement – I went on to speak about ‘liberal discourses’ also; about how they not only fed into the ‘background noise’ about Muslims and Islam across Europe but so too gave some legitimacy to those from the far-right.
For some, even merely suggesting this was a step too far.
Whilst I was given time to finish my paper, the Q&A session became a heated affair. Some of the participants refused to address me directly, some refused to speak in English (the official language of the conference was English) while others resorted to mere insults. In the end, a professor stood up and ordered a number of his staff to walk out in protest.
Given the esteem with which Norway holds onto its liberal values, it’s maybe not too surprising that some took umbrage. How on earth could such a claim be substantiated?
But my point was not to attack liberalism or indeed liberal values, I made no value claims about one or other political ideology. Instead, I sought to highlight the climate within which anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiment and expressions were fermenting right across today’s Europe. One doesn’t need to look far to find evidence of this – just consider the discourses about Muslims and Islam that are emanating from a good number of Europe’s liberal multicultural states.
This was the evidence I used to substantiate my claims.
From presenting the paper – more so, experiencing the response !!! – I have some empathy with Bangstad’s observations. If Breivik is understood solely as a product of the far-right, then he and all that he stands for can be explained, rationalised and duly compartmentalised: the liberal body Norway protected, the far-right ideological virus of Breivik duly vaccinated against.
If however Breivik is understood, as Bangstad rightly suggests, as being a product of Norway and Norwegian society, then the consequences and realisations are far more stark: that lump on the body Norway that has been ignored for so long now clearly needing treatment and quick.
And as my paper suggested, the latter is now pretty much a reality. Liberalism and liberal discourses are feeding into background noise that is the ideological premise for Islamophobia. I have few doubts about this.
As Bangstad concludes, now then is the time “to finally face and confront the hatred in our midst with the honesty, seriousness and commitment it requires of us all”. But as we all know, honesty is not always that easy is it…?