Immigration must be brought back into the political conversation

It is dangerous to try to make reason of the savage brutality of a madman. His horrifying act, motivated by extremist politics, has shone a spotlight on an increasingly powerful far right movement across Europe

The English Defence League use immigrants as a scapegoat for  the country's financial and social difficulties

The English Defence League use immigrants as a scapegoat for the country's financial and social difficulties

It is dangerous to try to make reason of the savage brutality of a madman. Breivik’s ‘manifesto’, a jumbled, egotistical mess of the tedious and hateful, claims that he is a “saviour of Christianity”, and a “defender of cultural Conservatism in Europe”. His horrifying act, motivated by extremist politics, has shone a spotlight on an increasingly powerful far right movement across Europe.

First, the good news: the far right vote in the UK is the lowest in Europe. However, before we get too smug, a recent Searchlight poll indicates that if our extreme right parties were stripped of their violent and fascist associations, 48% of Britons would consider supporting them. Such a figure points to a worrying trend of racist and xenophobic attitudes that are beginning to choke Europe once again.

Norway, Denmark and Sweden, countries considered to follow the Scandinavian model of tolerance and liberalism, are falling prey to increasingly popular extremist parties. Their aim is to ‘reclaim’ their countries from influences of multicultural influences, and especially from perceived ‘Islamification’. Norway’s Progress Party, of which Breivik is a former member, won nearly one-fifth of the vote in the country’s last parliamentary election. Meanwhile, in Sweden, the Swedish Democrat party became the first far right party to enter the national parliament with nearly 6% of the vote. Denmark’s Folkparty gained 14% of the vote in 2007.

All three of these countries have an immigrant population that makes up roughly 9.3% of the population – very similar to the UK.

The reasons for the growth in extremism are a matter for debate. David Milliband has blamed the rise in interest in Britain’s far right parties on economic insecurity. As people begin to worry about jobs and financial security, they look to a scapegoat to solve their problems. In the case of supporters of the English Defence League and the British National Party, these scapegoats are immigrants.

There is clearly some truth in this assertion. The endlessly repeated line that immigrants ‘steal jobs’ points to a deep-rooted economic fear among the native populations of European countries. Nevertheless, since countries like Norway and Sweden are noted for their liberal tolerance, we must also consider whether participation in extremist groups is in part a rebellion against the status quo.

In countries like Norway that define themselves as open-minded, concerns about immigration are generally viewed as unacceptable. While Britain’s Conservative party has openly attempted to cut back on non-EU immigration, those who fear the consequences of multiculturalism in much of Scandinavia feel excluded from the political process, and may vent their frustrations in the hostile world of extremist politics.

Chillingly, Western anti-terrorist officers have been pointing to threats from ‘lone-wolf’ right wing extremists for the last two years. Breivik’s haunting massacre has turned the spotlight on this dangerous, volatile minority of radical right wing fanatics.

Those of us who support immigration believe it creates a dynamic economy and an exciting, pluralist society. But immigration arouses strong passions on either side. Fears, misconceptions and concerns must be addressed throughout Europe to ensure a peaceful dialogue on this issue is maintained. Considering the evidence, it would be folly to dismiss Breivik as a terrifying exception. We must formulate a convincing discourse about immigration with the disenfranchised few who believe they are crusaders against a political movement that refuses to recognize them. Otherwise, Breivik might not be the last to take matters into his own hands; a horrifying prospect.

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