Whether we like it or not, last week’s massacre in Norway will force open a debate on the role and the growth of far-right politics in Europe, according to Nottingham University lecturer and expert on the extreme right, Matthew Goodwin.
Goodwin’s comments to FRANCE 24 follow a welter of claims and denials that Norwegian gunman Breivik had associated with the English Defence League (EDL).
Following Friday’s killing spree in Norway, British media speculated that Breivik may have had dealings with the EDL, quoting online postings by the Norwegian killer in which he claimed to have offered the group advice.
The EDL, which opposes what it believes to be creeping Islamisation in the UK (a staple feature of European far-right movements), posted an acerbic denial on its website on Monday
, insisting that the organisation had never had “official contact” with Breivik.
The group also pointed out that Breivik, in his 1,500-word manifesto published online in the hours before he killed more than 70 people, described the EDL as “naive fools” for refusing to embrace violence.
Growth of the far right in Europe
Breivik’s actual links with extremist right-wing groups – and whether they were real or purely figments of a psychotic imagination – have yet to be properly established.
Meanwhile, Goodwin, who authored ‘New British Fascism: Rise of the British National Party’ (BNP), says the role and influence of Europe’s growing extreme right will inevitably come under the microscope.
In the UK, he says, the EDL has become a “significant” social force. France’s National Front is edging increasingly into the political mainstream, while the far right has made significant gains in Austria, Italy and Sweden.
“There are far-right voters across Europe, most of them concerned about immigration levels and most of them dissatisfied with the mainstream parties,” Goodwin told FRANCE 24. “The current climate is fertile ground for the far right.”
“In the long term, Breivik may have inadvertently forced us into a debate on these issues.”
It is a debate that some in Norway’s right-wing Progress Party want to play down.
Progress Party foreign affairs spokesman Morten Høglund says he wants “to resume the political discourse in the appropriate manner” and insists that “the fanatical views [of Breivik] cannot be dealt with in a political debate. They are absurd.”
EDL reduced to a ‘street rabble’
And in the UK not everyone believes that right-wing extremists such as the EDL pose any significant threat to the country’s political balance.
“The EDL, although vile, shows the British far right’s weakness, not its strength,” Gilligan writes. “Two years ago, haters of Muslims had at least a semi-credible political party, the BNP, with serious hopes of winning one or more councils.
“Now the BNP has lost nearly all of its councillors, it has effectively collapsed, and the anti-Muslim Right has been reduced from political office to a street rabble.”
Gilligan adds that from a security perspective, “The threat of Islamist attacks far outweighs that from loners with no political clout.”
He concludes: “The white Right should not be ignored by the security authorities – but it would be dangerous to divert our attention from the real threat.”