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Breivik, Norway shootings and reaction of Muslims in Europe

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

       After last week's killings and Oslo bombing by Anders Behring Breivik, someone in a part of London was asked about the reaction of Muslims there. His response was that they are just relieved and saying "Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God), the gunman was not a Muslim". In addition, they are pointing out the contradictions in the media reporting noting that if he had been a Muslim, he would have been labelled a ‘terrorist' whereas he is being labelled a "lone madman".

Why is a lot of the Muslim community's reaction limited to this? Well, after nearly 10 years of stops and searches when travelling through airports, anti-terror laws, the media's demonization of Muslims and Islamic practises and beliefs (niqab, hijab, Danish cartoons e.t.c.), many Muslims feel that the best course of action is to lie low and keep their heads down.

However, given that Breivik has justified his mass murder by claiming he aimed to spark a war to stop Muslims "taking over" Europe, the issues this raises and the wider societies and politicians' response to them must be of concern to Muslims. Some of the issues raised include:
• The widespread climate of xenophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice pervading Europe.
• The rise of the far right and the reaction of mainstream political parties to that.
• The responses of European governments and the effect on Muslim citizens.

The issues the political class are choosing to address - the wrong ones - mainly surround questions of security: How do you secure a society from lone gunmen? Is there sufficient information sharing between governments? This deflects some attention from the serious problem Europe faces from racist and xenophobic attitudes, the rise of the far right, and a worsening economic situation. All of this shows the paradoxes and stark contradictions in policy making towards Muslims and non-Muslims.

European xenophobia
The rise of the far-right across Europe has been noticed by many over the past few years - whether the rise of Jorge Haider, Geert Wilders, the right-wing parties in Eastern Europe some of whom are allied to mainstream political parties in the European Parliament, or the British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL) in the UK. Concerns about this stem from Europe's 20th century experience with fascism and xenophobia.

Paradoxically, the policies adopted 30 years ago that was aimed at diminishing such attitudes - the doctrine of multiculturalism - is now attacked by mainstream European politicians like David Cameron and Angela Merkel as having failed. They therefore reinforce racist views demanding Muslims assimilate and westernize, ban symbols of Islam (like hijab, niqabs and minarets) and frequently criticise immigration (though their economies depend on immigrant labour). Consequently, their position is now praised by those on the far-right such as the leader of France's racist National Front, Marine Le Pen - illustrating the political affinity between mainstream politicians like Cameron and the extreme right-wing who dislike all forms of foreign culture. Both are unified on anti-Islamic rhetoric, and policies that would force Muslims to assimilate.

Europe's Muslims find themselves caught between a far-right - that hates foreigners and anything foreign - and the political class, who dislike their adherence to their Islamic values, which is part of a global revival of a rival ideology (Islam), which threatens the hegemony of capitalism in the Muslim world.

In addition, Muslims see the silence of politicians regarding the Islamophobic media coverage, which they helped to create in the first place.

From the reaction since the Oslo bombing and Utoya shootings, it appears that we will now see another double standard. The July 2005 London bombings resulted in a hastily assembled series of workshops and discussion, after which a narrative rapidly dominated that the cause of the bombings was an Islamic political ideology that needed to be tackled. The argument evolved into not merely clamping down on ‘violent extremist' ideas but any ‘extremist' ideas. This is the current working model in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, leading to extrajudicial pressures on Muslim speakers and Islamic groups and banning of visitors to the UK (e.g. sheikh Qaradawi).

It is highly unlikely there will be any comparable strategy to deal with the ideas that may or may not have contributed to the ideology of Anders Behring Breivik - a Christian and Freemason. Whatever actions politicians take regarding individuals and fringe groups, we are not likely to see the banning of right-wing conservative thinkers and commentators - who may or may not have influenced the ideas of the ‘fringe' - from the airwaves. Indeed, one of Silvio Berlusconi's former ministers has defended the thinking of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Interviewed on a popular radio show, Francesco Speroni, a leading member of the Northern League, the junior partner in Berlusconi's conservative coalition, said: "Breivik's ideas are in defence of western civilisation." Others have said that there needs to be more of a discussion about the "assimilation" of Muslims and still some talk of the danger Muslims pose to European culture.

The future?
Despite its history and two world wars ‘against facism', to this day, Europe has not found a model that brings sustained harmony between peoples or how to accommodate citizens who are of a different colour or belief.

Taji Mustafa
Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain

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