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When the bomb exploded in central Oslo last Friday, transforming parts of the city into something resembling a war zone, many suspected that Islamists were to blame. I admit that I was one of them.
Others did more than suspect -- they indicted. Pamela Geller, an influential anti-Muslim blogger and activist in the United States, resorted to her customary form of sarcasm. “But remember, jihad is not the problem,” she wrote shortly after the attack. “New York's 9/11, London's 7/7, Madrid's 3/11, Bali, Mumbai, Beslan, Moscow ... is not the problem. ‘Islamophobia is the problem.’ Repeat after me as you bury the dead, ‘Islamophobia is the probem [sic], Islamophobia is the problem.’ ”
Geller’s readers joined in. “Europe has been infected with venomous parasitic vermin,” one wrote, pointing to a list of Islamist terrorist attacks. Mocking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s concerns about right-wing extremists, another wrote: “You sure it wasn’t white males with hoods and sunglasses and back packs? DHS told me those were the people to worry about.”
Such jibes rang hollow when it emerged that the murderer was not far removed from that stereotype. Anders Behring Breivik, who has confessed to carrying out the attacks, is a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian man who loathes Islam, fears the “Islamization” of Europe, and fancies himself a “cultural conservative.” He sees himself as a hero of the future Europe, as a crusader of sorts, in a battle against the “cultural Marxists” and “suicidal humanists” in control of Norway and other European countries.
There was good reason to be surprised by the killer’s identity and motives. After all, it has been many years since right-wing extremism has been considered a major concern in Norway. Norwegian neo-Nazi groups are tiny and fragmented, owing largely to the government’s anti-Nazi campaign, carried out in the wake of the 2001 murder by a neo-Nazi gang of Benjamin Hermansen, a young Norwegian boy whose father was from Ghana. The campaign included preventive attempts to hinder recruiting, as well as efforts to provide neo-Nazis with an “exit” strategy, enabling them to abandon the sometimes cult-like groups.