x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Norwegian massacre by anti-Islamist puts Europe's far-right on the defensive

Police identification of Breivik as a right-wing Christian fundamentalist had far-right parties complaining they are being unjustly associated with him.

Relatives gather to observe a minute's silence opposite Utoya Island, after Friday's twin extremist attacks in Norway. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images
Relatives gather to observe a minute's silence opposite Utoya Island, after Friday's twin extremist attacks in Norway. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

PARIS // Anders Behring Breivik's anti-Islam agenda and links to extreme right-wing groups have driven Europe's flourishing far-right political parties on the defensive.

Far-right parties across Europe have seen their political fortunes rise in recently, focusing largely on immigration and the perceived threat from Muslims in the years since the September 11 attacks on the United States.

But after Europe's latest atrocity, they now risk being associated themselves with extremist violence.

Police's identification of Breivik as a right-wing "Christian fundamentalist" had analysts pointing to anti-Islam strains in the far-right's discourse and the parties themselves complaining they are being unjustly associated with him.

Filip Dewinter, the leader of the Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang in Belgium, said: "It bothers me because it's a way for our rivals to lump us with murder and attacks.

"We are a democratic movement. We don't want to be associated with such acts or such people. We hate this kind of people."

Far-right parties such as Vlaams Belang have won dozens of seats in parliaments across Europe and some have made alliances with governments, as in Denmark and Italy.

When the French anti-racism group MRAP linked the Norwegian killings to the rise of far-right parties such as France's National Front, it sparked an angry reaction from the Front's leader, Marine Le Pen.

She accused MRAP of using "a terribly painful event to try to confuse people", adding: "The National Front is of course quite unconnected with the Norwegian killings, which were the work of a solitary unbalanced individual."

Breivik "apparently understands nothing of nationalism", said Vlaams Belang in a statement. "Our nationalism is driven by love of our people but also respect for others. Hate and violence have no place."

Breivik was reportedly a former member of Norway's nationalist Progress Party, which opposes what it sees as the Islamisation of Norway, "but is not an extremist party", said Cyril Coulet, a French expert on Scandinavia.

"He left it because it was too moderate for his tastes. This will raise questions in this group and in Norwegian society."

The English Defence League meanwhile was forced to deny press reports that Breivik had been in touch with it.

Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist specialising in the far-right at the Paris international studies institute IRIS, said it was important to consider the rise of far-right ideology in Europe in the past decade.

"There comes a point where you have to question whether these ideas, which for 10 years now present Europe as a continent undergoing Islamisation and all Muslims as enemies of the west, are responsible," he said.

"A lot of people are playing with fire in that respect, because it makes people want at some point to act on it."