Slandering the Progress Party
Norway’s opposition isn’t extremist.
Aug 8, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 44 • By JAMES KIRCHICK
In 2009, a representative of the sexual violence division of the Oslo police reported that, in the past 3 years, every single one of the city’s 41 reported aggravated sexual assaults had been committed by immigrants who come from countries “with a very different view of women than we have in Norway.” As to accusations that the party is “anti-Muslim,” Amin says, “No one has ever discriminated against me because of my religion.”
Among immigrant Norwegians, Amin is hardly alone in her allegiance. A poll conducted in 2009, at the time of the country’s last national elections, found that while the Labor party was “by far” the most popular with immigrants, the Progress party came second. “The Progress party is gaining more members who believe in Allah,” claimed the Norwegian Dagbladet newspaper at the time. Adnan Made-sko, a self-described “liberal Muslim” from Bosnia, is cognizant of the dangers of anti-Muslim prejudice. He and his family fled the former Yugoslavia for Norway, “because of the racism we experienced towards Bosnians,” he told the paper. “The Serbs tried to exterminate us as the Germans tried to exterminate the Jews. Therefore, I am sad and angry when people call me a racist. I know what racism is.” For what it’s worth, the party’s shadow foreign minister, Morton Hoglund, is married to a Muslim woman.
It’s true that anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise in Europe, and the Progress party has certainly been able to harness that concern for electoral advantage. But unlike other Scandinavian political parties that have gained support in recent years, like the Sweden Democrats or Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Progress party does not endorse ending immigration or asylum. “All parties agree on one thing,” Siv Jensen told me, “and that is that we do have immigration to Norway and we will have immigration to Norway in the future as well. So you won’t find any elected party in Norway opposing immigration or opposing Norway’s [taking] our share of the responsibility for people running for their lives.”
Moreover, the attempt to tar the party with Breivik’s erstwhile membership is weakened by the fact that it was, well, erstwhile. Breivik may have initially been attracted to the Progress party by its policy on immigration, but he eventually quit because it did not conform to his own, murderously paranoid views. In a 2002 entry to his manifesto, Breivik wrote, “I am going to discontinue my involvement in the Norwegian Progress party as I have lost faith in the democratic struggle to save Europe from Islamification.” Breivik complained that the party is “systematically ridiculed and isolated by all other political parties and a united media sector. This, even despite the fact that they have taken measures and gotten rid of all true nationalists ending up with only opportunistic career cynisists [sic] unwilling to take any political risks.”
One of the reasons why the attack came as such a shock is that, unlike in other European countries, Norway has no appreciable, organized far-right movement. Therefore, in order to fit a convenient media narrative, the party’s critics have simply asserted that it is the Norwegian offshoot of a continent-wide phenomenon. Even the Daily Telegraph, hardly a bastion of elite left-wing opinion, called the Progress party a “fringe group” (an odd way to describe the country’s second-largest party), though it qualified the characterization by reporting that it “denies holding neo-Nazi views,” a variation of the old “when did you stop beating your wife” chestnut.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, many commentators were quick to allege that the perpetrators were Muslim. While such a scenario was certainly plausible, it was nonetheless false. The error of that hasty assumption, however, hasn’t prevented others from making a host of assertions about the Progress party that are equally unfounded. “Journalists, who have an important job to do,” says Jensen, the party leader, “need to face facts before they write and jump to conclusions.”
Towards the end of his manifesto, Breivik wrote,