Europe must stand shoulder to shoulder against right-wing extremists
I was first made aware of a tragedy in Norway when I happened upon a Facebook status of a friend sending out their prayers to those hurt and killed. My initial thought was that there must have been a skiing accident or a plane had crashed. Not for a nanosecond did I consider the possibility the appalling acts that took place on Friday, it was just unthinkable. The Norwegian government have called it the worst atrocity to befall the nation since the Second World War, and you can believe them. One can only admire the way in which King Harald and Queen Sonja have led their country in mourning.; unashamedly weeping during the cathedral service on Sunday and visiting to comfort grieving relatives. This is a country bearing it’s grief with a dignity and solidarity which must be congratulated. They are determined to ensure that this tragedy brings them closer together as a nation, rather than pull it apart as Anders Behring Breivik wanted.
Overall the Norwegians keep a fairly low profile; on the world stage, they are sometimes regarded as a supporting character. They are notable for their contributions to aid relief and they do participate in NATO operations from time to time as well. I have a horrible feeling that their vulnerability to such a threat might stem from this low profile and the associated reduced level of security. One only has to look at the extent of the damage caused by the blast of the car bomb near the government offices to see the buildings were clearly not designed to withstand such an attack. I should like to defend the Norwegian police, who are being questioned about the length of time it took them to respond to the events as they emerged on Utoeya Island; this attack will have taken them completely by surprise. They have not had the misfortune to be the victim of years of terrorist attacks, be they at the hand of the IRA or more recently Muslim extremists. Nor have they had to experience the terror inflicted upon sleepy enclaves of Cumbria by unhinged gunmen. The only way to reconcile these events in any way and to glean a positive for the future is for Norway to work closely with countries such as Britain to increase its security measures. William Hague promised as much during his Andrew Marr interview, he also stressed that a similar attack could not be ruled out in Britain. He is absolutely right when he says that it is much harder to prevent attacks when they are carried out by an individual or perhaps a couple.
Anders Behring Breivik, is a man who had clearly been planning this for some time, there was a massive amount of preparation for the attacks, the police uniform, his chilling 1500 page missive, the fact that he signed it under a pseudonym; it all indicates that here is a cunning and brooding individual who is truly beneath contempt. In a press statement I saw yesterday it was evident to all that his own lawyer was having a difficult time suppressing his own disgust at the actions of his client. No one can completely account to the actions of individuals, what governments can do, is to ensure an effective official response to those actions.
The only thing that we can hope for now is that Friday’s horror is not a catalyst for similar actions carried out by far-right radicals in other countries, fuelled by the media exposure in Norway and around the world. The judge at Brevik’s hearing on Monday was definitely right in ruling that the press should not be allowed in. David Cameron has requested a review of all right-wing groups based in this country, including the English Defense League, an organisation Breivik claims to have met in 2002. No doubt other countries will be doing the same, particularly those who have had attacks such as this in the recent past, Spain for instance.
I would argue however that it might be more prudent for countries such as Britain and Spain to lend their expertise in intelligence and counter-terrorism to nations, and particularly European nations that, similar to Norway, have been relatively quiet since 1945. It would be so easy for Machiavellian individuals to turn anger at austerity measures to their advantage. We only need to look at Germany after the Wall Street Crash to see how easily it could happen. George Santayana’s oft quoted line “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, is probably quite apt here. I am not suggesting that there could be a right-wing uprising across Europe; however there are many right-wing political parties across the continent and while they might only have a couple of seats per member state, but that adds up when they all come together in Brussels. In recent years the number of far-right MEPs has more than doubled. More worryingly, the expenses scandal was an absolute gift to the fringe parties in this country, who saw waves of disheartened individuals making protest votes. I would hate a big brotheresque state as much as anybody else, but I would personally welcome any measures that would stop the odious BNP getting the validation of a seat, either in Westminster or in Brussels.