Last Updated: Sun Jul 24, 2011 23:57 pm (KSA) 20:57 pm (GMT)

European racists put Muslim immigrants in crosshairs. By Ray Moseley

Europe has seen a steady rise in far-right parties in recent years. (File Photo)
Europe has seen a steady rise in far-right parties in recent years. (File Photo)

For the past 10 years, Western intelligence agencies have focused heavily on Islamic extremists groups, a natural result of atrocities carried out in New York, Washington, Madrid and London in that period.

With the attack in Oslo on Friday by a Norwegian rightwing extremist with an anti-Muslim agenda, more attention may now be directed at threats coming that that end of the ideological spectrum.

Europe has seen a steady rise in far-right parties in recent years—many of them anti-Muslim and some opposed to the European Union as well. Some have been involved in political violence, but none has ever advocated murder such as was carried out in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik.

Described by police as a fundamentalist Christian, he killed at least 92 people and others are still missing. He justified the slaughter as an opening shot of a war to rid Europe of Islamization and Marxism.

Intelligence agencies will now want to monitor the extent to which far-right parties, wittingly or otherwise, give encouragement to such fanatics and will scrutinize websites for examples of the kind of hate-filled rhetoric Mr. Breivik posted just before he went on his murderous rampage.

Police are aware that others with his viewpoint could undertake copycat acts of carnage to support his act of madness.

At the same time, European mainstream parties will be watching to see if public revulsion over the Oslo killings helps to undercut support for the far right.

Matthew Goodwin, a terrorism expert with the Royal Institute of International Relations in London, told the BBC that rightwing extremists often are dismissed in Europe as being from the “lunatic fringe.”

“This is a movement we need to take much more seriously,” he said. He said Mr. Breivik had shown that he, for one, was a meticulous planner “and not an irrational far-right loner.”

The reasons for the growth of the far-right movement are not hard to find. It was fueled initially by worldwide outrage over the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the US in 2001, then by the 2004 Madrid train bombing that took 191lives and the 2005 London underground train and bus attacks that killed 56, including the four bombers.

All of these attacks by Islamist extremists coincided with a steady rise of Muslim immigrants streaming into Europe. Today non-European immigrants constitute roughly 4 per cent of the European population, or as much as 30 million people. That is a relatively small proportion, but most countries of Western Europe have experienced far higher rates of immigration.

The Arab Spring has contributed to this phenomenon, with increased numbers of people from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries paying smugglers to ferry them across the Mediterranean to such destinations as Italy and France.

There has been a backlash against immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants, in a number of countries, enabling some far-right parties to enter national parliaments or the European parliament for the first time.

More than 11 per cent of the population in Norway—550,000 people out of 5 million—are immigrants, but that includes people coming from other European countries such as Poland and Sweden. Pakistanis, Iraqis and Somalis account for many of the rest.

Spain has had the highest proportionate influx of immigrants, who now represent 12 per cent of the population. The bulk of these come from Latin America but Morocco and other African countries have contributed significantly.

Austria, Greece, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom all have sizeable immigrant population. The UK’s 62 million people include about 1 million Pakistanis.

Inevitably, immigration creates racial, religious and cultural conflicts, particularly in countries such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden that previously had fairly homogenous populations.

The Swiss voted in a 2009 referendum to ban the building of minarets, even though the country had just four. It hosts 400,000 Muslims.

Earlier this year, France banned the wearing of Islamic head coverings for women, and it has also expelled some Roma immigrants back to Romania. The rightwing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a hardline stance on such issues in part to counter the voter appeal of the extreme right National Front, which has been growing.

Mr. Breivik, the Oslo killer, described himself on a website as an admirer of the far-right English Defense League, which sprang into existence in 2009 in response to British Muslim protests against British troops returning from Afghanistan.

The EDL was quick to disown Mr. Breivik’s support. But its website states: “If you, like us, are fed up and sick to the back teeth of Islamic Extremism in the UK, then sign up and join the struggle. . .and start protesting peacefully with us today.”

In fact, the EDL has been involved in a number of violent clashes with police and with its opponents. Its birth has given rise to similar groups in Scotland and Wales.

In Norway, a backlash against immigration has helped to make the Progress Party the second largest in Parliament. It favors restrictions on immigration and party leader Siv Jensen warned well before the Oslo atrocity that the country was facing “sneak Islamization.”

In 2009 the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, representing the 47-nation Council of Europe, warned that Islamophobia was on the rise in Norway, and it highlighted the aggressive rhetoric of the Progress Party. Ms. Jensen has denounced Mr. Breivik, who was once a party member.

Aside from Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe, some Europeans are resistant to immigration from Muslim and non-Muslim countries of an anti-democratic stamp that permit discrimination against women and have been known for such practices as female genital mutilation and so-called honor killings. The Europeans fear such influences spreading in their countries, and some such practices do take place undercover.

Among the principal far-right parties in Europe are the Netherlands Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, an avowed hater of Islam; the Front National in France; the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party and the True Finns in Finland.

Opposition to Islam and immigration is common to most of these groups.

In the Czech Republic, the small, fascist National Party calls the large Roma community “parasites” and, in an echo of Nazi rhetoric, demands “a final solution to the Gypsy question.”

The far-right Jobbik Party in Hungary boasts black-shirted paramilitaries and runs an anti-Gypsy campaign.

The Freedom Party in Austria engages in anti-Semitism and has called for a veto on Turkey and Israel joining the European Union, even though Israel, unlike Turkey, has never asked to join.

(Ray Moseley is a London-based former chief European correspondent of the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at rnmoseley@aol.com.)

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