There are important lessons for India in the murderous violence in Norway: lessons it can ignore only at risk to its own survival.
In 2008, Hindutva leader B.L. Sharma ‘Prem' held a secret meeting with key members of a terrorist group responsible for a nationwide bombing campaign targeting Muslims. “It has been a year since I sent some three lakh letters, distributed 20,000 maps of Akhand Bharat but these Brahmins and Banias have not done anything and neither will they [do anything],” he is recorded to have said in documents obtained by prosecutors. “It is not that physical power is the only way to make a difference,” he concluded, “but to awaken people mentally, I believe that you have to set fire to society.”
Last week, Anders Behring Breivik, armed with assault weapons and an improvised explosive device fabricated from the chemicals he used to fertilize the farm that had made him a millionaire in his mid-20s, set out to put Norway on fire.
Even though a spatial universe separated the blonde, blue-eyed Mr. Breivik from the saffron-clad neo-Sikh Mr. Sharma, their ideas rested on much the same intellectual firmament.
In much media reportage, Mr. Breivik has been characterised as a deranged loner: a Muslim-hating Christian fanatic whose ideas and actions placed him outside of society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Breivik's mode of praxis was, in fact, entirely consistent with the periodic acts of mass violence European fascists have carried out since World War II. More important, Mr. Breivik's ideas, like those of Mr. Sharma, were firmly rooted in mainstream right-wing discourse.
In the autumn of 1980, a wave of right-wing terrorist attacks tore through Europe. In August that year, 84 people were killed and 180 injured when a bomb ripped through the Bologna railway station. Eleven people were killed when the famous Munich Oktoberfest was targeted on September 26; four persons died when a bomb went off in front of a synagogue on the Rue Copernic in Paris on October 2.
Little attention, the scholar Bruce Hoffman noted in a 1984 paper, had been paid to right-wing terrorists by Europe's police forces. Their eyes, firmly focussed on left-wing organisations, had characterised the right “as ‘kooks', ‘clowns', ‘little Fuhrers', and, with regard to their young, ‘political punk rockers'.” Less than four months before the Oktoberfest bombing, Dr. Hoffman wrote, an official German Interior Ministry publication dismissed the threat from neo-Nazi groups, saying they were “most armed with self-made bats and chains.”
Earlier this year, the analysts who had authored the European Police organisation Europol's Terrorism Situation Report made much the same mistake as they had before the 1984 bombings. Lack of cohesion and public threat, they claimed, “went a long way towards accounting for the diminished impact of right-wing terrorism and extremism in the European Union.”
Zero terrorist attacks might have been a persuasive empirical argument — if it was not for the fact that no EU member-state, bar Hungary, actually records acts of right-wing terrorism using those terms.
Europol's 2010 report, in fact, presented a considerably less sanguine assessment of the situation. Noting the 2008 and 2009 arrests of British fascists for possession of explosives and toxins, the report flagged the danger from “individuals motivated by extreme right-wing views who act alone.”
The report also pointed to the heating-up of a climate of hatred: large attendances at white-supremacist rock concerts, the growing muscle of fascist groups like Blood and Honour and the English Defence League, fire-bomb attacks on members of the Roma minority in several countries, and military training to the cadre.
Yet, the authors of the 2011 Europol report saw little reason for alarm. In a thoughtful 2008 report, a consortium of Dutch organisations noted that “right-wing terrorism is not always labelled as such.” Because “right-wing movements use the local traditions, values, and characteristics to define their own identity,” the report argued, “many non-rightist citizens recognize and even sympathize with some of the organization's political opinions”— a formulation which will be familiar to Indians, where communal violence is almost never referred to as a form of mass terrorism.
Thomas Sheehan, who surveyed the Italian neo-fascist resurgence before the 1980 bombings, arrived at much the same conclusion decades ago. “In 1976 and again in 1978,” he wrote in the New York Review of Books, “judges in Rome, Turin and Milan fell over each other in their haste to absolve neo-fascists of crimes ranging from murdering a policeman to ‘reconstituting Fascism' [a crime under post-war Italian law]”.
“When it comes to fascist terrorism,” Mr. Sheehan wryly concluded, “Italian authorities seem to be a bit blind in the right eye.”
Europe's fascist parties have little electoral muscle today but reports suggest that a substantial renaissance is under way. The resurgence is linked to a larger political crisis. In 1995, commentator Ignacio Ramonet argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union had provoked a crisis for Europe's great parties of the right, as for its left. The right's failure to provide coherent answers to the crisis of identity provoked by a globalising world, and its support for a new economic order which engendered mass unemployment and growing income disparities, empowered neo-fascism.
“People feel,” Mr. Ramonet wrote in a commentary in the French newspaper, Le Monde, “that they have been abandoned by governments which they see as corrupt and in the hands of big business.”
In the mid-1990s, fascist groups reached an electoral peak: Jorg Haider's Liberals won 22 per cent of the vote in Austria; Carl Igar Hagen's Progress Party became the second-largest party in Norway; Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance claimed 15 per cent of the vote in Italy; while the Belgian Vlaams Blok gained 12.3 per cent in Flanders, Belgium. In France, the centrist Union for French Democracy was compelled to accept support from the National Front in five provinces.
Europe's mainstream right-wing leadership rapidly appropriated key elements of the fascist platform, and successfully whittled away at their electoral success: but ultimately failed to address the issues Mr. Ramonet had flagged.
Now, many are turning to new splinter groups, and online mobilisation. Mr. Brevik's comments on the website Document.no provide real insight into the frustration of the right's rank and file. His central target was what he characterised as “cultural-Marxism”: “an anti-European hate-ideology,” he wrote in September 2009, “whose purpose is to destroy European culture, identity and Christianity in general.”
For Mr. Breivik, cultural Marxism's central crime was to have de-masculinised European identity. In his view, “Muslim boys learn pride in their own religion, culture and cultural-conservative values at home, while Norwegian men have been feminized and taught excessive tolerance.”
He railed against the media's supposed blackout of the supposed “100 racial / jihadi murder of Norwegians in the last 15 years.” “Many young people are apathetic as a result,” Mr. Brevik observed, “others are very racist. They repay what they perceive as racism with racism.”
Mr. Breivik, his writings suggest, would have been reluctant to describe himself as a fascist — a common feature of European far-right discourse. He wrote: “I equate multiculturalism with the other hate-ideologies: Nazism (anti-Jewish), communism (anti-individualism) and Islam (anti-Kaffir).”
These ideas, it is important to note, were echoes of ideas in mainstream European neo-conservatism. In 1978, the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, famously referred to popular fears that Britain “might be swamped by people of a different culture.” In 1989, Ms Thatcher asserted that “human rights did not begin with the French Revolution.” Instead, they “really stem from a mixture of Judaism and Christianity”— in other words, faith, not reason.
In recent years, key European politicians have also used language not dissimilar to Mr Brevik. Last year, Angela Merkel asserted that multikulti, or multiculturalism, had failed. David Cameron, too, assailed “the doctrine of state multiculturalism,” which he said had “encouraged different cultures to live separate lives.” France's Nicolas Sarkozy was more blunt: “multiculturalism is a failure. The truth is that in our democracies, we cared too much about the identity of the migrant and not sufficiently about the identity of the country that welcomed him.”
Mr. Brevik's grievance, like Mr. Sharma's, was that these politicians were unwilling to act on their words — and that the people he claimed to love for cared too little to rebel.
The Norwegian terrorist's 1,518-page pseudonymous testament, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, promises his new “Knights Templar” order will “seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda.” He threatens an apocalyptic war against “traitors” enabling a Muslim takeover of Europe: a war, he says, will claim up to “45,000 dead and 1 million wounded cultural Marxists/multiculturalists.”
For India, there are several important lessons. Like's Europe's mainstream right-wing parties, the BJP has condemned the terrorism of the right — but not the thought system which drives it. Its refusal to engage in serious introspection, or even to unequivocally condemn Hindutva violence, has been nothing short of disgraceful. Liberal parties, including the Congress, have been equally evasive in their critique of both Hindutva and Islamist terrorism.
Besieged as India is by multiple fundamentalisms, in the throes of a social crisis that runs far deeper than in Europe, with institutions far weaker, it must reflect carefully on Mr. Brevik's story — or run real risks to its survival.