When news of the Oslo terror attacks broke late on Friday, news outlets and commentators reflexively saw it as an act of jihadi violence. Foreign Policy magazine wondered if this was “Norway’s 9/11”: it had more than a touch of exaggeration, given the vast difference in the death toll of the two events and the scale of the operations.
The director of Norway’s Peace Research Institute in Oslo, speculating on the likely perpetrators of the attack, said: “The only concrete supposition that would emerge in a Norwegian context would be al-Qaeda.”
Overnight, with the detention of a Norwegian man, that reflexive rush to judgment is being proved wrong. Norwegians, and the rest of the world, are learning that “terrorists can also be blond, blue-eyed men,” as television journalist Martin Jay noted.
Yet, the mere fact that it wasn’t a brown, bearded bomber who carried out the attack offers no solace for Norway or for the rest of Europe. Although the political affiliation of the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, isn’t immediately known, the police are inclined to believe that he may have been influenced by far-right groups in Norway, which oppose liberal immigration policies.
For instance, the right-wing Progress Party in Norway, the second largest in Parliament, has in recent years gained enormous mass on the strength of its anti-immigration platform, and its espousal of “Christian values”. It argues that Norway’s overly liberal immigration policy is a failure because “it lets criminals stay in Norway, while throwing out people who worked hard and followed the law.”
Party leaders have called for keeping out “illiterates” from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, who “are not able to adapt in Norway.” They have also called for a ban on the use of the hijab in schools and the deportation of such children’s parents from the country.
Elsewhere in Europe, too, right-wing parties on the rise, largely as a consequence of the rising tide of immigrants, and the growing realisation that multiculturalism has failed. Last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that the so-called "multikulti" concept —where people would "live side-by-side" happily - did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate - including learning German.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier this year that "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We've failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”
French President Nicholas Sarkozy put it even more bluntly: “Multiculturalism is a failure. The truth is that in our democracies, we cared too much about the identity of the migrant and not sufficiently about the identity of the country that welcomed him.”
The point is that these very same liberal democracies once used to lecture and talk down to India, whenever the complexities of a multicultural society showed up the fissures underneath. It was possible for them to occupy the high moral ground at that time because at that stage of their civilisational evolution, they did not experience the tide of immigration (often illegal immigration) that India has experienced over the decades.
Liberalism in immigration policies is easy to preach and practice when you experience only a trickle. When that trickle turns into a flood, as it has now, and they find that the political space is being occupied by far-right groups, even yesterday’s liberal leaders have quickly fallen off that high perch.
Even without the forensic evidence from the latest Oslo terror attacks, it is possible to trace the ideological roots of the perpetrator’s action to the immigration politics that now wracks all of Europe. If it is clearly established that the bomber was organically linked to right-wing groups, they may experience a momentary political setback, given the scale and monstrosity of yesterday’s killings.
But the debate over the continuing flood of immigration, and over Europe’s identity, is far from over. If anything, the walls of Fortress Europe are likely to be raised higher. We will also likely see a lot less of the preachy pontification that has hitherto characterised the European discourse on India’s experience in multiculturalism, however imperfect it may appear to them.