Norway massacre puts Europe anti-Islam groups on defensive

'Playing with fire'

Norwegian self-confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik's anti-Islam agenda and links to extreme right-wing groups have driven Europe's flourishing far-right political parties on the defensive.
Far-right parties across Europe have seen their political fortunes rise in recent years, focussing largely on immigration and the perceived threat from Muslims in the years since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
But in the wake of Europe's latest atrocity, which police said killed 93 people in Norway on Friday, they now risk being associated themselves with extremist violence.
Police's identification of Behring Breivik as a right-wing "Christian fundamentalist" had analysts pointing to anti-Islam strains in the far-right's discourse and the parties themselves complaining they are being unjustly associated with him.
"It bothers me because it's a way for our rivals to lump us with murder and attacks," said Filip Dewinter, leader of the Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang in Belgium.
"We are a democratic movement. We don't want to be associated with such acts or such people... We hate this kind of people."
Far-right parties such as Vlaams Belang have won dozens of seats in parliaments across Europe and some have made alliances with governments, as in Denmark and Italy.
When French anti-racism group MRAP linked the Norwegian killings to the rise of far-right parties such as France's National Front, it sparked an angry reaction from the Front's leader Marine Le Pen.
She accused MRAP of using "a terribly painful event to try and confuse people," adding: "The National Front is of course quite unconnected with the Norwegian killings, which were the work of a solitary unbalanced individual."
Behring Breivik "apparently understands nothing of nationalism," said Vlaams Belang in a statement. "Our nationalism is driven by love of our people but also respect for others. Hate and violence have no place."
Breivik was reportedly a former member of Norway's nationalist Progress Party, which opposes what it sees as the Islamisation of Norway, "but is not an extremist party," said Cyril Coulet, a French expert on Scandinavia.


"He left it because it was too moderate for his tastes. This will raise questions in this group and in Norwegian society."
The English Defence League meanwhile was forced to deny press reports that Behring Breivik had been in touch with it.
Behring Breivik was due to appear before an Oslo judge on Monday for arraignment over Friday's bombing and shooting spree which he told police he had planned over a long time and executed singlehandedly.
At least seven people died in a blast in downtown Oslo, in a calculated distraction for police allowing Behring Breivik to shoot 86 more, according to a provisional police toll, mainly youths at a gathering of the ruling Labour party on an island outside the city.
He had previously written in a tract of a "crusade" to end a centuries-long Muslim colonisation of Europe.
Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist specialising in the far-right at the Paris international studies institute IRIS, said it was important to consider the rise of far-right ideology in Europe in the past decade.
"There comes a point where you have to question whether these ideas, which for 10 years now present Europe as a continent undergoing Islamisation and all Muslims as enemies of the west, are responsible," he said.
"A lot of people are playing with fire in that respect, because it makes people want at some point to act on it."