Story Stream
recent articles

Norwegian police indicated Monday that they believe Anders Behring Breivik, suspected of Friday's bomb attack in Oslo and shooting at a youth camp outside the city, acted alone. This is despite his claim to investigators that he is a member of a far-right network of "Crusader" cells across Europe.

The attack in Norway shocked Europe at a time when the Continent usually shuts down for a month due to holidays. Breivik's stated motive - to counter policies by the Norwegian Labor Party that favor multiculturalism - has prompted debate over whether the attack is a result of an anti-immigrant atmosphere that has permeated the Continent over the past decade and has intensified since the 2008-2009 recession.

Europe's turn toward anti-immigrant policies is not surprising and was forecast by STRATFOR three years ago. Europe has struggled to assimilate and incorporate religious and ethnic minorities. After World War II, and especially since the 1958 Notting Hill and Nottingham Riots in the United Kingdom, European populations have struggled to cope with the influx of non-European migrants. These tensions are exacerbated during times of economic pain, when anti-immigrant rhetoric becomes fair game for both center-right and center-left parties.

The post-2008 economic crisis has played out largely the same way. Leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have in recent months repudiated their nations' multicultural policies. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has entered the mainstream. In many ways this is the result of the rise in popularity of parties from the far right of the political spectrum. Across Europe - in France, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Hungary and Greece - the far right has become an acceptable electoral choice for European citizens. As such, established political parties - especially the center-right parties most afraid of losing votes to the far right - have sought to adopt anti-multiculturalism rhetoric as their own. Furthermore, anti-immigrant rhetoric can be used to distract Europe's populations from necessary budget cuts and austerity measures.

Therefore, an anti-immigrant atmosphere prevails in Europe and far-right parties have undeniably entered the mainstream in a number of countries. This may have contributed to the attacks in Norway, but not because violence against immigrants or against center-left parties who favor multiculturalism is seen as acceptable, nor because the atmosphere itself somehow breeds extremism.

In fact, one of the greatest contributing factors to the attacks in Norway - aside from Norway's unique approach to law enforcement, combined with the attacker's capabilities - may very well be the process by which the far right attained legitimacy. During this process, many far-right parties in Europe made an attempt to become part of the mainstream. These parties did away with Holocaust denial and overt racism. They instead focused their commentary on economic issues, problems with the eurozone, EU encroachment on state sovereignty, and defense of Europe's liberal values against illiberal immigrants. Dutch politician Geert Wilders has provided a largely successful model for this transformation. He places his greatest emphasis on the idea that intolerant and illiberal Muslim immigrants have to be considered incompatible with preservation of a tolerant and liberal Dutch society.

Wilders is joined by leader of the French National Front Marine Le Pen, who has distanced herself from her father Jean-Marie, an overt anti-Semite. The younger Le Pen has instead penned white papers on the eurozone crisis and proven adept at debating economic and legal issues with mainstream center-right opponents. She is now a serious challenger to incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 elections.

As part of their makeover, many of Europe's most powerful far-right parties have had to clean up their rhetoric and act as members of the mainstream. They have also had to jettison their most extremist elements. This process has left many, including Breivik, the suspect in the Oslo attack, on the outside looking in. However extreme their notions, these parties had a moderating influence on their most extreme members, who are no longer allowed to participate in clubs, associations and parties because they would compromise far-right parties' efforts to gain political legitimacy. In this process, these individuals have been left without a group in which to belong.

This process is not unique. It occurred in Europe in the late 1960s when a slew of Marxists and Communists decided to eschew international revolution, mainly due to the combined effects of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and the 1968 Prague Spring. The Soviet Union was revealed for what it truly was: a self-interested geopolitical hegemon looking to preserve its sphere of influence, not an altruistic socialist experiment. En masse, former committed Communists became center-left Social Democrats, moderating their demands and becoming committed liberals and socialists. Many of these former student revolutionary leaders are now prominent European statesmen, very much members of the political mainstream.

However, not everyone followed this transformation. The fringe element, ostracized by their less extreme left-wing counterparts, formed their own groups. Many of them are remembered for how violent and militant they became, including the Red Army Faction, Direct Action, November 17 and the Red Brigades.

The irony for Europe, therefore, is that the same process that brings the far right into the mainstream leaves its most extremist elements without the moderating influences of their now supposedly legitimate peers. Increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric is not creating an atmosphere that in some metaphysical way breeds violence. The process is far more mechanical. Left alone - or in restricted groups - extremists can concoct militant plans without being restrained by their mainstream far-right counterparts, who crave power and political success far more than they do ideological purity. On one end of the spectrum, this process produced Marine Le Pen, who is capable of framing a coherent policy stance on the negative consequences of monetary union in Europe without a single reference to a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. On the other end, it created potentially hundreds of Breiviks, who, lacking the moderating influence of belonging to these groups, are allowed to stew in their extremism and concoct militancy and violence. It would therefore be unsurprising if the attack in Oslo were followed by other attempts by far-right extremists, in Europe and beyond.