Hating hatred is not enough


Hatred based on race, religion or background is itself hateful. Less than a century ago, still within living memory, the Nazi government of Germany, one of the cradles of European culture, adopted official antisemitism which grew in scope until it ended with the horrors of the gas chambers and the extermination of some six million Jews. The Vichy government of a defeated high-culture France also connived in the Nazis’ abhorrent genocide.

Now, thanks to the unscrupulous and amoral maneuverings of far-right politicians, Europe is gripped by a new phobia, which is directed against European Muslim citizens and over a million migrants from predominantly Muslim war-torn countries who have sought refuge there. A by-product of this fresh eruption of corrosive contempt which is Islamophobia is that antisemitism is also again on the rise, to the growing concern of European Jews.

Norway was the scene on Saturday of an attack by a gunman on an Oslo mosque. Mercifully no one was killed and the only person injured was a brave attendee who overpowered the attacker. This outrage at the Al-Noor Islamic Center on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital brought a swift response from the government. Prime Minister Erna Solberg told reporters that she was making the combatting of hate speech a priority. She added that she was concerned that elderly Norwegians held “extreme views against Islam”.

With each fresh assault around Europe, this wringing of hands and promising to do better has become a standard speech. Taken at face value, these protestations sound good. But in actual fact, they may be a mistake. This certainly seems to be the case in the weekend Oslo mosque assault. When police went to the home of the white suspect, they found the body of a female relative. It is, of course, too early to do more than speculate but the shooter could have been motivated by more than hatred for Muslims. He may indeed have been crazy. And Norwegians should be particularly sensitive to this possibility since their country holds the dubious record for the deadliest massacre by a lone gunman in recent history. In 2011 Anders Breivik killed seven people and injured 209, a dozen severely with a bomb outside the office of the then prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. Afterwards, Breivik went on to murder 77 more people and injure 110 others, half of them seriously, at a socialist party political summer camp.

The problem is this. Breivik and very probably the weekend mosque attacker are clinically mad. Yet those politicians who are seeking to ride to power on platforms of race hate and bigotry are most of them cold-hearted and carefully calculating. Their views may be mad to any sensible moderate person, but they themselves are very far from being fools.

Premier Solberg clearly meant well when she vowed to combat hate speech and blamed older Norwegians for Islamophobia. But the effect could be counterproductive. Pensioners in Norway may be concerned about Muslims who have joined their community, even though most of these arrivals are making positive contributions to their new country. But is it right for their country’s leader to characterize them as extremists? Education, not threats is what is needed here. Hating hatred is not enough.