The mainstream political rhetoric concerning Islam in Norway has undoubtedly changed for the better in the past year. The number of ordinary citizens willing to contest Islamophobic discourse publicly has risen. But popular attitudes often remain stubbornly unchanged. A 2012 survey indicates that Norwegians hold more negative attitudes towards Muslims than towards any other minority group, except the Roma. Such negative attitudes are more prevalent among Norwegians who profess adherence to rightwing political parties. It hardly seems coincidental that the one witness in the Breivik trial who received death threats on the day was Muslim. It is now little more than two weeks since a provincial leader of the Progress party in Norway declared on a party blog that he “hated Muslims”. The response was full and unconditional support from fellow provincial party colleagues, and only the mildest of rebukes from the party’s national leadership.
Following the 22/7 trial, it will no longer be possible for Norwegian extreme rightwing Islamophobes to deny that Breivik was in fact inspired and motivated by their ideals, fabrications and distortions. Nor will it be possible for the Progress party, Norway’s third most popular party, to deny that its political rhetoric on Islam and Muslims in Norway was part of the ideological formation of Breivik, who was one of their dedicated party members for about 10 years until 2006. After a national trauma, the verdict presents us with the opportunity to finally face and confront the hatred in our midst with the honesty, seriousness and commitment it requires of us all.
Sindre Bangstad at Comment is Free, 28 August 2012