- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
It is perhaps inevitable, given the facts of the case, that Norway’s worst massacre in recent memory will lead to soul-searching questions about immigration. A blond-haired, blue-eyed sociopath — who has railed against "Islamic colonization" — bombed government buildings and gunned down young people at a summer retreat (officials have yet to release information about how many of the victims were Muslim and whether they were specifically targeted by the gunman). But will his actions change anything politically?
Norway’s Muslim population has been growing in recent years — estimates say there are about 100,000 Muslims in the country — and with that growth has come the kind of backlash many of its European neighbors have seen. Immigration and asylum rules have been tightened. And the anti-immigrant Progress Party has risen to become the second largest in parliament. Its leader, Siv Jensen, has spoken of "a form of sneak-Islamization in this society and we must put a stop to that." (Last week’s mass killer, Anders Behring Breivik, was once a member of the party, though he has also criticized it for not going far enough).
Analysts say politicians are going to be careful talking about immigration in the wake of the attack. "In the short term, the parties are not going to touch the immigration issue.… I think it’s going to make politicians quite cautious in their wording, their rhetoric," Hanne Marthe Narud, a political science professor at Oslo University, told Reuters.
Some Muslim leaders have said the violent outburst could help bring Muslims and Christians closer together. "I think minorities will think of themselves as more Norwegian.… Religion, ethnicity, color will go into the background. The Norwegian identity will be strengthened," Mehtab Afsar, the Islamic Council of Norway’s general-secretary, told Reuters. "We are standing shoulder to shoulder with our Christian brothers and sisters in Norway."
Politically, it’s less clear what the outcome of the attack will be. Raymond Johansen, the ruling Labor Party’s general secretary, said yesterday that the shooting "will impact Norway and the political debate in Norway for many years." Does that mean bad news for the anti-immigrant Progress Party? Not necessarily, say political analysts. Local elections are set for September, and the Progress Party will "have to keep a low profile on the immigration issue in the upcoming election campaign simply to avoid being associated with the terrorist attack," Todal Jenssen, a Norwegian analyst, told Bloomberg News. But, the party is unlikely to see a major loss of political support since national traumas like last week’s rampage "tend to breed cultural fears, which project onto immigrants or the unknown," Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels, told Bloomberg. "The fantastic show of support for open society and the values of democracy will inevitably fade away and be overshadowed by suspicion of the unknown." As shocking as it is to believe, the Progress Party could actually benefit from Breivik’s attack.
One Eritrean immigrant said he wasn’t worried about any negative consequences: "The most important thing is what the majority thinks. And the majority is fine with us."