Norway tragedy can teach us to abandon our prejudices

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To commit an act of terrorism is to carry out violence in support of political ambitions. The recent horrific attacks in the usually calm, sanguine nation of Norway have served to bring its people face-to-face with the terrorist threat for the first time. As the country tries to understand and recover from the massacre inflicted at the hands of Anders Behring Breivik, the Western world as a whole must come to terms with the growing extremist threat not in the Middle East, but in its own back yard.

Photo credit: Geir Halvorsen

As news circulated of an atrocity having taken place in Norway, I don’t think I am alone in saying that my first assumption was of it being of Islamic origin. Whether it was Al-Qaeda or a similar Muslim extremist group which had carried out the attack, I naively assumed the Norwegians had become the latest to suffer the inhumanity of the Jihadist movement. How wrong I was. The perpetrator was fair haired, white skinned, and, perhaps most importantly, seemingly Christian.

The attack was not one motivated by a desire to remove Western influence in Islamic nations; rather it aimed to end the Muslim presence in the West. Breivik’s aspiration was simple, he aimed to ‘save Europe from Muslim traitors’. Comparisons with Bin Laden are chillingly prevalent.

The prejudicial beliefs which led many to initially attribute the attacks in Norway to an Islamic source allude to a more widespread failure among Western nations to stamp out discrimination and intolerance.

It is through such bigotry men like Anders Breivik are inspired to commit such atrocities, and it is a notion present throughout Europe and beyond. Whether or not Breivik’s allusion to like-minded cells throughout the continent is proven true, extremist organisations, often neo-Nazi, are increasingly commonplace in the West. It does not take long for one to find links to groups such as the American Nazi Party, suggesting it will ‘do anything necessary’ to achieve their goal of a white America, whilst as recently as a few days prior to the Norwegian attack, the grave of the Nazi Rudolf Hess was destroyed because of fears it had become a neo-Nazi shrine in Germany.

The events of July 22nd 2011 should serve to open Western eyes to the dangers of intolerance. The focus has for too long been on the extremist threat emerging abroad, allowing the fanatical element to grow at home. Intolerance and bigotry are endemic in our society, and we as a nation must not gloss over this by looking only at the extremist dangers from Iraq, Afghanistan or some other far reaches of the globe. It is prejudice in society which feeds extremism, and it is through extremism that acts of terrorism are inspired. If we are to truly eradicate the threat of fundamentalism, more must be done at home to stamp out discriminatory beliefs within the native population.

The attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utoeya will not be forgotten in Norway, indeed in much of the world, for some time. But they should be remembered all the more poignantly in the West for the message they have delivered; extremism is not limited to Islam. The 22nd of July should be seen as a day where we abandon the prejudices that led many of us to initially assume the attacks were inspired by the Qur’an. It should serve as a day where we unite against the intolerance blighting all peoples in Europe and beyond. The attacks in Norway should open our eyes to the consequences such intolerance can have, and inspire our efforts to remove it from society.

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