Three and a half years ago, the far-Right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik bombed Oslo, and then gunned down dozens of young people on the island of Utøya. His rationalisation for the atrocity was to stop the ‘Islamisation’ of Norway: That the Norwegian Left had opened the country’s doors to Muslims and diluted its Christian heritage. But Norway’s response was not retribution, revenge, clampdowns. “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity,” declared Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. When Breivik was put on trial, Norway played it by the book. The backlash he surely craved never came.
Here’s how the murderers who despicably gunned down the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo do not want us to respond. Vengeance and hatred directed at Muslims as a whole serves Islamic fundamentalists well. They want Muslims to feel hated, targeted and discriminated against, because it increases the potential well of support for their cause. Already, there are multiple reports of attacks in France against mosques, and even a ‘criminal explosion’ in a kebab shop. These are not just disgraceful, hateful acts. Those responsible are sticking to the script of the perpetrators. They are themselves de facto recruiting sergeants for terrorists.
Social media abounds with Islamophobes seizing this atrocity to advance their hatred. Islam as an entire religion is responsible, they cry: It is incompatible with ‘Western values’. They wish to homogenise Muslims, as though Malala and Mo Farah have anything in common with the sectarian murderers of the ISIS. Most victims of Islamic extremists are of course themselves Muslims: Including Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer killed at close range by the terrorists in Paris during the attack at Charlie Hebdo’s office.
This is a dangerous moment. Anti-Muslim prejudice is rampant in Europe. The favoured target of Europe’s far-Right — like France’s Front National, which currently leads in the opinion polls — is Muslims. France is home to around five million Muslims, who disproportionately live in poverty and unemployment, often in ghettoised banlieues. This incident should rightfully horrify, but it will now undoubtedly fuel an already ascendant far-Right.
The consequences? More anti-Muslim hatred, more disillusionment among already marginalised young Muslims, more potential recruits for extremist groups.
There is a choice, of course. Norway’s enlightened response could be a model elsewhere in Europe too. It would be the last thing the attackers would want us to do. That, in itself, should give us all pause to think.