By John Feffer
Scandinavians have a dual reputation for tolerance and homogeneity: a population of pale, polite people who speak English perfectly. But that’s your grandfather’s Scandinavia. Over the last several decades, the region has become a great deal more diverse after a steady influx of immigrants from the east and south. And the tolerance has become considerably frayed with the more recent rise of several right-wing xenophobic parties.
Five years ago, writer Bruce Bawer published a screed against Islam, immigrants, and multiculturalism called While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within. An American living in Oslo, Bawer watched with distaste as the Scandinavia of his dreams became a very different reality. He has many ugly things to say about Muslims in the book, but he reserves his greatest scorn for average Europeans: “In the end, Europe’s enemy is not Islam or even radical Islam. Europe’s enemy is itself — its self-destructive passivity, its softness toward tyranny, its reflexive inclination to appease.”
Passivity in the face of neo-Nazis? Softness toward right-wing extremism? An inclination to appease demagogues? Not quite.
Bawer, like many of his co-religionists on the right, attributes this European “inclination to appease” to the disease of multiculturalism, which they argue has fostered a tolerance for intolerance and generated an anti-racism that has excused racism. Tolerance was fine when Europe was mostly white and Christian. But then Europe brought in guest workers and accepted former colonial subjects and provided safe havens for refugees. And the right wing suddenly didn’t like how different Europe began to look and how uppity the newcomers were getting. They blamed the immigrants, to be sure, but also the gatekeepers who let them in. Borrowing from the critiques of neocons of the 1980s — Dinesh D’Souza, William Bennett — the European right picked up the cudgel of multiculturalism with which to beat the left over the head. These views on multiculturalism eventually found their way into the speeches of major European leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in the form of laments about the failures of Rainbow Europe.
This scorn for multiculturalism has also shown up in the ramblings of Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing Norwegian extremist who shot his way into the headlines last week. “Multiculturalism,” he wrote in a diary that also extensively cites Bawer’s book, “is an anti-European hate ideology designed to deconstruct European cultures and traditions, European identities, European Christendom and even European nation-states. And, as such, it is an evil genocidal ideology created for the sole purpose of annihilating everything European.”
Breivik did not open fire on Islam or even radical Islam. He targeted what he perceived as the primary enemy of his cherished European ideal. He bombed a government building to take out the ruling Labor Party and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Then he went out to a Labor Party youth conference and gunned down as many people as he could.
This was an attack on social democracy, on tolerance, on the very best of post-war Europe. What Bruce Bawer condemned in his book and what conservative European politicians have bemoaned in their speeches, Anders Behring Breivik made the focus of his bloody crusade. And “crusade” is the apt word, for he was pushed along this path toward violence by NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. Breivik approved wholeheartedly of Serbia’s oppression of Kosovo Albanians, because they were Muslims on the edge of Europe. Breivik’s technology was very modern; his thinking, however, is medieval in the worst sense of the word.
The original Crusades also relied on atrocities, like the ethnic cleansing the knights conducted in Jerusalem in 1099. The crusaders accepted these “necessary evils” in order to wage the larger battle for the soul of the West. They too were focused as much on establishing a certain understanding of Europe — as a Christian, militant, autocratic space — as they were with fighting a distant enemy. Today’s crusaders, from Breivik on the fringe to Bawer in the unfortunately respectable mainstream, talk about the Islamic threat. But they really fear a diverse, democratic, and egalitarian Europe. Their disgust produces intolerance as palpable as the Taliban’s. And their actions, like Breivik’s terrorism, resemble nothing so much as al-Qaeda’s shock attacks.
It took a while for the talking heads to abandon their narrative of “us against them” for the reality of “us against us.” From CNN to Fox, the pundits were quick to assume that Muslims were behind the atrocity, with John Bolton reluctant to give up even after the revelation of the identity of the culprit. Experts on British television talked about why Muslims hate Norway. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin teamed up with Thomas Joscelyn of the Weekly Standard to pin the blame on a “jihadist hydra.” When their error became obvious, instead of apologizing or retracting, Rubin simply reloaded: “the world remains very dangerous because very bad people will do horrendous things. There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West.” This is almost comically beside the point. No one has said anything about blond Norwegians out to kill Americans any more than Timothy McVeigh was out to kill blond Norwegians. Does the world care only about Americans in the crosshairs?
This talk of an “ideological war with the West” obscures what is really going on: an ideological war within the West. It is an ideological war against the social democratic underpinnings of Europe, against the inclusive multiculturalism of the United States, against the whole project to overcome the legacy of the Crusades, slavery, colonialism, and absolutism. Immigrants, whether Muslims or Mexicans, have become pawns in this larger struggle.
Bawer, in the end, is right: the enemy is not Islam or radical Islam. The enemy is pale and probably speaks English perfectly. Make no mistake, though. This enemy is not polite or passive. It is armed and dangerous.