July 9, 2021

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The 2019 mosque attack and freedom of speech in Norway | Far Right

On August 10, 2019, then-21-year-old neo-Nazi Philip Manshaus made his strategy to al-Noor mosque within the suburban municipality of Baerum close to the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on the eve of Eid al-Adha, aspiring to commit a bloodbath of Muslim worshippers.

His murderous plot, nevertheless, led to a spectacular failure. It was Saturday afternoon when he burst into the mosque, so solely three worshippers had been current. Two of them – 77-year-old Mohammad Iqbal and 66-year-old Muhammad Rafiq – managed to wrestle him all the way down to the bottom.

A number of days later, the neo-Nazi appeared in court docket with a bruised face, having did not “kill as many Muslims as possible” and as an alternative having gotten a beating from two aged Muslims.

Though there have been no deaths on the mosque, it turned out that earlier than setting off for the assault, Manshaus had killed his 17-year-old step-sister, Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, who was adopted from China and in his thoughts, additionally constituted a “threat” to the “white race”.

Earlier this month the court docket case in opposition to him began, with prosecutors seeking a 21-year jail sentence for his crimes. As Norway goes by one more trial of a murderous neo-Nazi, essential questions should be requested about how severely violent far-right extremism is taken in Norway and the way its concepts have been allowed to freely flow into underneath the guise of defending “freedom of speech”.

Proper-wing extremism

Regardless of the rising sway of neo-Nazi concepts in Norwegian society, there’s a steady pattern to understand right-wing extremists as disturbed people and their violence on account of psychological sickness moderately than excessive ideology.

Within the case of Anders Breivik, who in 2011 went on a capturing spree in Norway killing 77 folks, the Norwegian media extensively coated his psychological profile and claimed he had a problematic relationship together with his mom.

Some Norwegian commentators even went so far as evaluating him to a “natural disaster”.

Such narratives proceed to dominate the general public discourse in Norway as a result of they provide a handy means for a society which has lengthy seen itself as “post-racial” and “colour-blind” to exceptionalise right-wing extremism and the broader societal local weather of Islamophobia on which it feeds, moderately than see it as a rising native phenomenon and an actual menace.

Manshaus, very like different murderous far-right extremists, was not an individual with a psychological sickness. And he was clearly motivated to behave violently by neo-Nazi ideology.

In keeping with court docket paperwork, forensic psychiatrists discovered him to be sane and criminally responsible for his actions. Through the psychiatric evaluation, Manshaus didn’t seem to remorse killing his personal step-sister, as he thought-about her “subhuman” attributable to her Chinese language ethnicity. He did categorical remorse that the had not deliberate his assault on the mosque higher so he would have truly been capable of kill Muslims.

Along with espousing the concept of the “great replacement” – that there’s a conspiracy to “replace” white Europeans with (principally Muslim) immigrants – he additionally appeared to consider varied anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and known as the Holocaust “a myth”. He additionally declared homosexuality “a disease”.

He clearly had drawn inspiration from Breivik and Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 folks in two mosques in New Zealand in 2019 and whose “manifesto” he cited in court docket.

Manshaus additionally utilized for membership within the neo-Nazi, pan-Nordic and Swedish-dominated Nordic Resistance Motion (NRM) in June 2019, and had a gathering with a few of their members. A number of months earlier, after the New Zealand mosques assault, the NRM had refused to “distance” itself from Tarrant’s terrorist assault.

Manhaus’s more and more racist angle previous to the assault frightened some folks in his fast household and social circles. In 2018, a person contacted the Police Safety Companies (PST) expressing concern about his attitudes, however the police didn’t comply with up on it.

Fellow college students at a rural ecological faculty that Manshaus attended in 2018-2019 had been additionally perturbed by his concepts and knowledgeable the college administration, which additionally didn’t take motion.

Again in 2010, the Norwegian authorities additionally didn’t act on tip-offs about Breivik.

Free speech vs hate speech

It’s undoubtedly one thing of a paradox that it was after Breivik’s terrorist assaults in 2011, the worst in trendy Norwegian historical past, that the Swedish-dominated neo-Nazi NRM began discovering a footing in Norway. The Norwegian media reporter and creator, Harald Klungtveit, has estimated that not less than 81 Norwegians have handed by the ranks of the NRM since then.

Regardless of this worrying pattern, Norwegians have been duly advised by Norwegian free speech liberals in highly effective positions that the proverbial “answer to hate speech” is “more and freer speech”.

Since 2011, Norwegian far-right, anti-Muslim and racist activists have loved liberal entry to mainstream media retailers, have had their self-published books sponsored by liberal foundations dedicated to freedom of expression, and have seen continued dedication to state funding of their media retailers.

Norwegian liberal media editors have enforced editorial conventions whereby clearly and discernably racist and Islamophobic organisations have been euphemistically described as merely being “critical of Islam”.

Each far-right anti-Muslim conspiracy theories just like the Eurabia idea and identitarian “replacement theory” have been overtly promoted by public intellectuals in positions of appreciable energy in Norway.  

Fairly how Manshaus first got here throughout the neo-Nazi NRM we have no idea. However what we do know is {that a} central propaganda and recruitment software for the NRM in Norway as in Sweden has been its public marches. When 60-70 Swedish and Norwegian neo-Nazis from the NRM, together with a lot of members with violent felony information, marched by the town centre in Norway’s fifth-largest metropolis of Kristiansand on July 29, 2017, the response of the exact same Norwegian free speech liberals was that freely allowing them to take action was nothing in need of a litmus take a look at for Norwegian liberal democracy.

The media has additionally extensively coated the Manshaus trial, going into extreme particulars about his life and printing images of him, together with these by which he makes far-right gestures, thus giving a platform to his propaganda efforts. And identical to the media protection of Breivik’s trial, this raises the questions concerning the means of Norwegian media to search out the suitable stability between offering info of public curiosity and turning into a stage for extremist right-wing propaganda.

As media scholar Gavan Titley cautions in a forthcoming e-book, “free speech has been adopted as a primary mechanism for amplifying and re-animating racist ideas” in our occasions. Although comparatively few of these repeatedly uncovered to racist hate speech in any society are more likely to interact in violence or terror, there might be little doubt that the propagation of hatred made potential by ultra-liberal interpretations of “freedom of speech” is an enabling circumstance for such violence and terror.

In the meantime, members of immigrant and minority communities are more and more residing in worry. In Baerum, al-Noor mosque has seen few worshippers return and has struggled financially, as donations have dwindled. Norwegian authorities have supplied little help, regardless of high-profile media exhibits of solidarity from Norwegian PM Erna Solberg and Crown Prince Haakon Magnus within the fast aftermath of the assaults final August

“Never again” was the mantra in Norway in 2011. However right here we’re – once more.  

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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