Andrea Mammone: A lesson that European history can teach us

Immigration emerged in the 1980s as a very visible issue and was politicised and exploited by the local extreme right

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There are still no clear indications about the exact motivations behind the terrible acts of the Norwegian "terrorist", including whether he specifically selected his targets. What it is evident is that he is linked with a galaxy of far-right, neo-Nazi and fundamentalist groups.

All this generated surprise in the media and the public: can these be tied to each other and generate terrorism and violence? The problem is that much of the attention in the past has been devoted to the rise of radical Islam. Some politicians – and often police and media – have considered the radical fringes of the extreme right as a folkloristic phenomenon or simply a form of harmless nostalgia for Nazism.

But Norway is not a unique case. As in many other European nations, immigration emerged in the 1980s as a very visible issue and was politicised and exploited by the local extreme right. Almost a decade later, an influx of refugees led to the familiar far-right rhetoric of migrants costing the state too much, and immigration became the mobilising flag for the far right across the West.

In a world where many people perceived themselves as under threat from globalisation and the loss of national identity, the extreme right offered a protectionist binary model ("us" against "them").

This made possible the electoral successes of extremist parties in Austria, Norway, Britain, Italy, and France among others. What have we done to prevent this? Not a lot.

Political and media discourses are often full of references to the collapse of multiculturalism, the threat of Islam and the loss of our European identity.

The problem is when all this generates violence and, in some extreme cases, terrorism. Michael Whine, the Government and International Affairs Director at the Community Security Trust, recalled that the few police reports on the issue already showed that there were some extreme-right activists planning terrorist actions.

Have we paid enough attention to this? Probably not. But this is not a new issue. Radical elements within the far right have been linked with terrorism since the end of the Second World War and through the past century. Perhaps we should we start learning something from European history.

The author is a historian at Kingston University, London, and an expert on European fascism and neo-fascism

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