The far right never really left politics. Though we are far removed from the mass fascist and Nazi movements of the 1930s, recent events in Europe and beyond show that their underlying potential was never quite expelled from the world. What we see today is a resurfacing and restructuring of these underlying currents. EDL marches are more frequent and aggressive, and the openly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party received nearly 7 percent during the recent Greek elections. Together with the recent terror attacks in Norway, it is clear that right-wing extremism will not go away of its own accord, and neither will it be ignored to death. It is on the march, and we need to talk about it.
When the Norwegian terror attacks were first reported in the afternoon of 22 July 2011, sleepy citizens on holiday could hardly believe their ears. In the time between the bomb-blast and the disclosure of Breivik’s distinctly Norwegian appearance and heritage, Muslims and immigrants on public transport in Oslo received dirty looks and verbal abuse. Though the perpetrator’s ethnicity was quickly confirmed as Norwegian, these reactions show a clear scapegoating tendency, as confused citizens attempt to identify the source of the danger. This often leads to blaming those who act or look a little different, or who hold what are considered to be ‘dangerous beliefs’.
These beliefs are precisely what is at stake. Breivik’s manifesto includes speculations of an emerging Eurabia: the infiltration of the West by fundamentalist Muslims, allowed to flourish by left-wing multiculturalism. His attack on future Labour party leaders was therefore perfectly rational within his universe. Seeing himself as a crusader, he attacked a world that wanted to take over our society.
What is scary is not just that he can hold these views and act upon them, but what lies beneath the surface. As Zizek wrote in Organs without Bodies, an ideology is never just an ideology, but rooted at a micro-level of how we act in daily life. Breivik’s actions were ideologies put into practice. Underlying his discourse is the fear of the ‘other’, not as a real entity (we have yet to see a Muslim terrorist attack in Norway), but as the potential of terror that has to be stopped. On a discursive level, his ideas are not so far from right-wing thinking that is latent throughout Europe. Nationalist parties continuously emphasize that a hidden enemy is creeping into our countries, taking our jobs, our benefits, our social services. This ‘other’, markedly the ‘Muslim’, enters society to water down all values, and will rise to replace it with misogynist, fundamentalist ideas.
Yet, where is this all-encompassing ‘other’, save as an abstract construction? Certainly, there are fundamentalists in Islamic communities. And yes, they do preach moral lessons that directly oppose Western democracy as we think we know it. But there are also fundamentalist Christians who do the same. The difference is that they look like us, eat like us, and have the same family names as everyone else when they apply for jobs. The fear is therefore not only a fear of forces threatening ‘our’ values. It is a scapegoating of those who can be singled out and talked about, and blamed because they are visible.
Breivik shows where the real danger lies. He shows why the grey areas of freedom of speech are so dangerous. The EDL marches are not just ‘expressions’ but practices. An EDL member beating up a young protestor in Manchester, or a black man on a street corner in London, is not just an expression of an ideology. It is both ideology and its practice at the same time, inseparable at the level of the behaviour of a particular person at a particular time.
Zizek, again, says that making something a matter of debate is more dangerous than rejecting it outright. By making his obscure ideologies possible, the actions that follow are also made possible. Constantly scapegoating groups in the media makes people vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse. And we need to talk about that.
If the court case against Breivik does any good, it will be to examine and expose the fallacies and delusions of his ideology. It will examine the grounds on which this creeping fear of the ‘other’ is constructed, and use public debate and writing to explicitly challenge his actions and his ideas. As Norway’s prime minister said following the attack, it would be to work towards ‘more openness, more democracy, more freedom’. This is only done by denying the legitimacy not just his actions, but also the grounds on which they are justified, exposing how ideas and consequences are connected. This would work to prevent a future resurgence of those ideas, not by implementing new security measures, but through radical openness and willingness to scrutinize all extremist views until their logic falls apart in thought and in practice, together with the shaky and hostile convictions they are built upon.
By Ragnhild Freng Dale (@ragnhildfd)