Thursday, July 28, 2011

Palestine's Norwegians

Marxist-Multiculturalists for BDS


Palestine's Norwegians



July 25, 2011


Sitting on an Amtrak train from New Haven to Washington,

DC on Friday, I was enjoying my thriller, Kjell Ola Dahl's

The Man in the Window. Dahl's police procedural novels are

set in Oslo, Norway, where the remarkable detectives Frank

Froelich and Gunnarstranda confront the heart of modern

evil: Property is often the hub of the conflict, but so

too is the ineluctable history of Nazism and the Second

World War. A brave history of pacifism, partly contained in

the Norwegian Labour Party, kept the country out of World

War I. Its ports and a direct route to Swedish iron ore

made it irresistible to the Nazis, whose forces invaded a

largely unprotected Norway in 1940.


To run the country, the Nazis turned to the leader of the

Norwegian Nasjonal Samling, the local Nazi Party, Vidkun

Quisling (from whom we get the noun for traitor). It was

the Quisling era (replete with concentration camps) that

planted the tree of Nazism in Norwegian soil. The remnants

of Scandinavian Nazis regrouped after World War II, but

they remained small and obscure.


Scandinavian social democracy stumbled by the 1980s as the

economic benefits of its welfare state were reduced.

Anti-immigrant and anti-left sentiment grew amongst

sections of the dispossessed working-class and

middle-class, whose more militant element formed the

Skinheads. They were the rump of the revival of neo-Nazism

in the 1990s. It was as a consequence of this emergence

that in 1995 the Swedish left created Expo, the

anti-racist magazine edited by Stieg Larsson. It is also

the reason why Scandinavian police procedural novels and

thrillers are so very good (from Henning Mankell to

Larsson to Jo Nesba¸): they produce superb artfrom the

hypocritical bourgeois denial of the existence of Nazism,

and how it is the soft-Right of the "moderates" that

tolerates and encourages the far-Right.


In Norway, the Skinheads morphed into groups such as the

Boot Boys, who spent their time trolling the streets

seeking out those who appear to be migrants. In 2002,

three of the Boot Boys killed a fifteen year old, Benjamin

Hermansen. When this incident occurred, the newspaper

Dagsavisen wrote, "This must open the eyes of the

authorities and all those who don't want to acknowledge

the existence of Nazism and racism in Norway." On February

1, 2002, 40,000 of the 4.4 million Norwegians gathered in

Oslo to demonstrate against this murder. The crowds

included Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Crown Prince

Haakon. The Centre Against Racism in Oslo notes that since

the late 1980s, there have been almost two thousand

incidents of racism in the country, some of it enhanced by

the rhetoric of the so-called Progress Party and of course

the Nazi sects.


My I-Phone pinged, and news came of the bombing in Oslo

and the massacre on Utoya Island. The dead at the latter

were from the Workers' Youth League (AUF), linked to the

Norwegian Labour Party, but with roots in the Communist

and Socialist movements of the 1920s. The current Prime

Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, was once leader of

the AUF. The initial reaction in the West was that the

attacks had been conducted by Muslim jihadis. This has

become a habit after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City,

CBS's Jim Stewart said, "The betting here is on Middle

East terrorists." Of course this was more Mid-West than

Mid-East, but there was no apology from the media to the

Muslims in America.


The first reports from the New York Times suggested that

the Oslo bomber was a jihadi (Professor Will McCants

tweeted that the perp was Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami,

something repeated by the Times, who later said that "the

group was previously unknown and might not even exist").

When the fog of Islamaphobia partly cleared, and the

Norwegian police was allowed its moment, they revealed

that the actual killer was a Nazi, Anders Behring Breivik,

who could very well have been a character from a Dahl



A few hours later, Breivik's manifesto began to appear on

various websites. Here Breivik fulminated against

"Marxist-Multiculturalists." This has become a familiar

refrain among the defenders of Fortress Europe: they want

to secure their continent from the re-conquest of the

Moors. The tendency is hateful toward immigrants and

Islam. But these are not marginal socio-paths. Their views

flow down the center of the stream of European

conservatism. In October of last year, German Chancellor

Angela Merkel said that multiculturalism "has utterly

failed." Immigrants needed to be force-marched into German

culture, and if this is not possible, they should not be

allowed to enter the country.


In February of this year, Britain's Cameron and France's

Sarkozy followed Merkel's lead. Cameron blamed the

"doctrine of state multiculturalism" for encouraging

migrants to "live separate lives, apart from each other

and the mainstream." France's Sarkozy gave a bitter speech

against multiculturalism and then told the MPs of his

"Union for a Popular Movement" party that he wanted laws

to rein in Islam. Electorally, Sarkozy wanted to outflank

the increased popularity of Martine Le Pen's National

Front. "We had a debate on the burqa," he said, "now we

should have a debate on street preachers." This is less a

debate and more a vitriolic campaign against Islam and

those who look like Muslims.


European Conservatism takes a harsh position vis-à-vis its

African and Asian migrants. There is not much that

separates these sophisticated leaders from their

antecedents (namely, Enoch Powell and his 1968 "rivers of

blood" speech) and the neo-Nazis (namely, Breivik). This

strand of Conservatism hates difference and diversity, and

promotes mono-cultures in social life. It cannot fathom

that human beings are able to live convivial lives with

those who are different. It would like to blame society's

problems on difference. The last thing imaginable is to

put the onus on the hierarchies of property, power and

propriety, all of whom are generally alien to the

commonplace conviviality of everyday people.


When Breivik writes that "indigenous Europeans" are

committing "cultural suicide" by accommodating these

migrants, he displays the typical ignorance of Nazism â€"

they have no sense of the long centuries of interaction

across the continents, of the mechanisms of colonial

ideology that continued those interactions amidst the

growth of a toxic racism, and of the recent histories of

polycultural social life that has become so important to

the lives of people in his own Europe. Watching television

footage from Utoya, one could see that the Labour youth

had among them children of migrants from Sri Lanka and

North Africa. Their Norway was not Breivik's Norway.




On July 20, days before the shooting, the leader of the

AUF Eskil Pederson gave an interview to the tabloid

Dagbladet. The AUF had held a rally for the boycott of

Israel at Utaya Island, and it had strengthened its

position vis-a-vis the BDS campaign

(Boycott-Divest-Sanctions). Pederson told the tabloid that

he believed that"the time has come for more drastic

measures against Israel." He wanted the Norwegian Foreign

Ministry to impose an economic boycott against Israel. "We

in the Labour Youth will have a unilateral economic

embargo of Israel from the Norwegian side."


Norway has a very advanced position on the international

campaign against the Occupation of the Palestinian people.

The Norwegian trade union federation (LO), which includes

a fifth of the country's population, divested from a

series of Israeli firms, such as Africa Israel

Investments, Danya Cebus, and Elbit Systems. This is one of

the largest sovereign funds in the world, and its move

puts pressure on other funds. Norway also has an arms ban

on Israel. Norwegian civil society has been very active in

pushing for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel

(support comes from 42% of the population, including the

Norwegian soccer coach Egil 'Drillo' Olsen, who is a

member of the Norwegian Worker Communist Party). Last

year, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry refused to allow the

Germans to test submarines that are slated for sale to

Israel in Norwegian waters. A few days before the

shooting, Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stare

visited the AUF youth, who told him that they wanted the

boycott strengthened. A picture of Stare at the AUF camp

walking past a sign that said "Boikott Israel" ran in the



Stare's visit to the AUF camp came just after he met with

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas to reaffirm

Norway's support of the Palestinian bid for statehood at

the United Nations later this year. It is significant that

Oslo was the home to the Israel-Palestinian peace accords

in 1993. Israel's obduracy since then has changed the

equation. "I don't think that any Palestinians or anybody

around the world are in doubt that Norway supports

Palestinians' right to statehood," Stare said. Stare is

also a great supporter of diversity in Norway; he often

uses the expression "the New We" to refer to Norwegian

society. His "we" includes the asylum seekers and

migrants, the Muslims and the Jews.


Above my desk I have a poster from a demonstration led the

Anti-Fascistik Aktion in Copenhagen in June 1995. "No

Fucking Fascists," it says. That is the sentiment of the

more than ninety young people of the AUF killed last week.

Breivik was certainly a right-wing militant, and without a

doubt inspired by the Euro-fascism of

Merkel-Sarkozy-Cameron. The press might be obsessed by

their "lone gun-man" theory. They see things in the

police's terms, which is to say, in terms of who actually

acted, and who provided material support for the action.

The action in Utoya was not the act of a madman, and it

was not a human tragedy. It was an act of political murder

against people who had committed themselves to a convivial

world not only for their beloved Norway, but also for

those who live under Occupation elsewhere.



Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of

South Asian History and Director of International Studies

at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The

Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, won

the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. He can be reached



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