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Friend or Foe?

Contemporary debates on Islam among Swedish right-wing radicals


(Draft version1) Niklas Bernsand (Lund University) The Swedish context Depending on different definitional approaches, estimates of the number of Muslims in Sweden vary from approximately 100 000 members of officially recognised Islamic communities (www.sst.a.se/statistik.htm) to 250 000 or even 400 000 individuals from predominantly Muslim countries, in a general population of about 9 million. Since immigration in the 1990s and first decades of the 2000s has been largely provoked by the wars and turbulence in the Balkans, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, Swedish discourse on immigration, integration and intercultural relations has to a large extent become synonymous with discourse on Islam and Muslims. The increased demographic presence of Muslims in Sweden has triggered intensive discussions on the present state and future outlook of Swedish society, both in mainstream discourse and on the margins of the political and ideological spectrum. While mainstream Swedish political and media discourse on Islam and Muslims immigrants long remained inside the framework of a hegemonic multiculturalism (Carlbom 2003), in recent years a critical stance towards what are deemed to be illiberal and radical strands of Islam has been increasingly prevalent in public discussions. Offering a critique of certain religious practices and interpretations deemed inacceptable for individuals being raised in a modern and secularised society, this liberal tendency often argues that multiculturalisms encouraging of stable collective identities for immigrant communities blocks the integration of Muslims in mainstream society. Instead, they focus on the need for explicit core values based on Enlightenment traditions, rationality and personal freedom, which can unite all citizens regardless of ethno-cultural or religious traditions in a common civic culture. This presentation, though, focuses on ideological developments on the margins of Swedish discourse on Islam and Muslim immigration. Much as the shift of focus from immigrants in general to Muslims in particular has resulted in the weakening of the multiculturalist hegemony in Swedish mainstream discourse, among Swedish nationalists on the radical right debates on Islam and Muslims have revealed sharp internal divisions in crucial ideological matters pertaining to national identity and the moral state of modern Swedish culture. While for some nationalists, Islam clearly represents the ultimate Other and the key threat to Swedish culture and society, other nationalists, inspired by wider European identitarian and traditionalist thought, seek common ground with conservative Islamic strands of thought in their critique of key aspects of modern Swedish and Western society. Simultaneously, the positions on Islam taken by nationalists of various convictions can interconnect with ideas launched by actors in mainstream discussions in the media and in the political field. The anti-multiculturalism of populists such as the Sweden Democrats combines a
This presentation is a preliminary version representing an early phase of work in progress. Please do not quote without permission from the author (niklas.bernsand@slav.lu.se)
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cultural nationalist and assimilationist agenda with values anchored in the political mainstream such as secularism, individualism and rationalism, a combination which sometimes adds up into fiercely anti-Islamic rhetoric (see e.g. kesson 2009). Populist nationalists believe that Muslim immigrants can assimilate into Swedish society provided they shed unwanted parts of their cultural heritage and make no political or cultural claims based on that heritage and keep symbolic expressions of Islamic faith out of public space. The equivalent liberal position seeks to uphold a strict division between normal Muslims whose everyday religiosity is to be respected, and extremists or fundamentalists who are seen as a threat to a society based on secularism and individual freedom and, of no less importance, to the assimilation of Muslim immigrants into that society (although in most texts the word integration would still be used). In other words, liberals accept a safe version of Islam that can have a presence in public space provided it does not try to compete with the hegemonic values of society. It can be argued that an important difference between populist nationalists and liberals in this regard is that while the former might prefer assimilation into a distinctly Swedish culture, for the latter assimilation implies succumbing to a general contemporary secular Western cultural framework, but it is does not seem clear what such a clear-cut conceptual division would mean in an actual social context. The identitarian context This paper does not, however, concern itself so much with the populists and the assimilationist discourses, but is rather devoted to an examination of the views on Islam developed among segregationists: Swedish identitarians, the adherents of a far right ideological current positioned much further away from mainstream discourse. The paper enters the discussion on attitudes to Islam and Muslims in cyberspace (Larsson (2007:53-54) by focusing on material published on the Swedish identitarian blogs hosted on www.motpol.nu. Motpol (opposite pole) is a blog portal where Swedish identitarians seek to provide an alternative forum for cultural struggle, civic education and public debate among young independent-minded intellectuals proclaiming to defend Nordic traditions and culture. Many identitarian nationalists in their segregationist, ethnopluralist agenda draw on a radical-conservative and traditionalist ideological heritage, and identitarian discourse on Islam and Muslim immigrants is developed in the context of an intellectually broad and far-reaching critique of political, cultural and ideological conditions in contemporary Swedish and Western society. Although, as we will see, the identitarian discourse on Muslims is ambivalent, many Motpol identitarians tend to accept, as do the liberals, a juxtaposition between good and bad Muslims, but what would be a good Muslim for the liberals (secularised, individualist etc.) would be a bad Muslim for the identitarians. What the liberals would prefer Muslims to shed to fit into contemporary Western society is exactly what identitarians would prefer them to keep to safe-guard their right to difference (a term coined by French identitarian thinker Alain de Benoist) and to resist a system that is seen as a mortal threat to all organic cultures. Apart from the cultural critique, what sets identitarian ethnopluralism apart from multiculturalism is the

formers segregationism - all peoples and cultures are equal but each nation has a right to chose separate development over intermingling and mixing2. Notably, a view of Islam and pious Muslims as potential allies against an individualist, hedonist and consumerist late modern Swedish culture has been promoted by the self-described IndoEuropean pagan, identitarian traditionalist and right-wing radical Motpol blogger Oskorei (www.oskorei.motpol.nu). Arguably the most important Motpol blog with 2-5000 readers every week, Oskorei is a widely quoted source for inspiration for nationalists seeking an arena for discussing matters of identity and ideology in connections with current political, economical, cultural and intellectual trends. The positions taken by Oskorei on Islam in several blog posts have stirred controversy both among fellow identitarian bloggers and nationalists of other persuasions, and have triggered discussions that sometimes can be as multi-faceted and contradictory as the mainstream debates. It should be stated that Motpol is a blog portal, and the individual and mostly anonymous Motpol bloggers do not represent a coherent and consistent ideology shared to an equal extent by all bloggers. One could perhaps say that bloggers share many similarities in formulating their critique, but show more internal variety in formulating a positive program. I would propose a three-fold division of notions expressed on Motpol, where some key ideological notions are shared by all, or virtually all, bloggers, other notions are shared by some bloggers but rejected or simply not mentioned by others3, and a further category of notions can be regarded as idiosyncratic, i.e. expressed only by a single blogger. Among the latter we find e.g. the conservative Catholicism of Jonas de Geer and the Orthodox Christianity of FAS. If we briefly consider the aspects of Motpol discourse that is common to all bloggers, a first basic notion is metapolitics, a term inherited from the French identitarians and de Benoist. Metapolitics involves influencing society in a long-term perspective not through political parties but by the diffusion of ideas and values (see e.g. FAS: Metapolitik 2010). Metapolitics thus embraces all

It is notable, however, that American new rightist Michael OMeara in his overview of the European identitarian currents argues that the ethno-pluralism and right to difference approach of de Benoist and other Grecists now no longer can be viewed as a way of escaping accusations of racism, but equals the promotion of a qualified form of multiculturalism (2004:77), a criticism that has been put forward also by fellow French identitarian Guillaume Faye. Furthermore, and not surprisingly, the ethno-pluralist approach has indeed been labelled new racism or cultural racism by critics from other ideological camps. Such a theme is radical antisionism, which finds an outlet on a few Motpol blogs, first and foremost Jonas de Geer and Reaktion, and to some extent FAS. Radical antisionism here sometimes relates to Israeli policies and support for the Palestinian national cause, but is occasionally mixed up with Holocaust denial and theories of Jewish media and financial control. It should be emphasised that this is not a common theme characteristic of Motpol identitarians, and most notably not by Oskorei (see e.g. Farvl till antisemitismen, 2006-02-26). The antisionist theme is more prominent in the rhetoric of Nordisk Ungdom (Nordic Youth), another - recently launched - nationalist project that partly subscribes to identitarian ideology. Leading activists of the organisation supports cooperation with pious Muslims, and see the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of the same struggle against Sionism as the European nations fight against immigration and imposed multiculturalism (Nordisk Ungdom: Islam r inte det strsta hotet). As we will see, however, in the case of Oskorei, identitarian sympathy for pious Muslims does not have to relate to antisionism at all.
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activities on Motpol, and it is no coincidence that the identitarian equivalent of Wikipedia is called Metapedia. Sociologist Mable Berezin (2009:7) argues that right-wing movements in contemporary Europe emerge against the background of processes of European integration, globalisation and individualism, which challenges established national loyalties and perceptions of cultural and socio-economic safety tied to the nation-state. Interestingly, Berezins analysis both contextualizes and interacts with another important common theme in Motpol discourse: the fundamental critique of late modern society, a critique which profoundly influences identitarian discourse on Islam and Muslim immigrants. Identitarians here draw inspiration from several sources: traditionalist thinkers such as Julius Evola, identitarians such as de Benoist, conservatives such as Christopher Lasch and paleo-libertarians such as Paul Gottfried. At the centre of the critique is a neo-liberal exploitative economic order that in the framework of globalisation seeks to subjugate all bearers of authentic traditions and erase collective loyalties and values standing between individuals and the markets (financial, work, sexual, identity markets etc.). As globalisation and the breakdown of traditional collective ties convert citizens into consumerists and hedonistic individuals, incapable of and uninterested in collective resistance, a politically correct, therapeutic form of liberalism supervised by an emergent new class (Gottfried) controls political discourse and the formation of opinions. Identitarians thus conceptualise power as divided between beneficiaries of neo-liberal economic policies and the civil servants administrating state-supported identity politics encouraged by media professionals. Identitarian metapolitics can be conceived of as a form of resistance to this late modern state of society and culture. The critique of mass immigration and multiculturalism is a third common identitarian theme crucial for the attitude towards Islam and Muslims. In the identitarian framework, discourse on immigration should be seen in the light of its general critique of contemporary society, but is also deeply influenced by ethnopluralism, which is defined on Metapedia as an anti-racist and political counterpoint to multiculturalisms efforts to eradicate the differences between peoples and cultures and standardise all ethnic groups. With obvious inspiration from ecologist preservation discourse, identitarians see the various ethnic groups as guarantors of human cultural diversity and thus promote the right to continuous existence and preservation of every ethnic group, including the right to a territory, land, area or region which can be traditionally claimed by the respective peoples. They further argue that every single people is believed to be the best experts and bearers of its own culture and various traditions. (all quotes from http://sv.metapedia.org/wiki/Etnopluralism) In can be noted here that blogger Oskorei more often refers to himself as ethnically conscious than nationalist, a preference that might be inspired by de Benoist identificational system including (Indo)European, regional and local identities and not always national identity in the first place. In the context of the influx in recent decades of immigrant groups from the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa and the corresponding changes in the ethnic make-up of many Swedish cities, identitarians draw on ethnopluralism in their insistence on the Nordic peoples right to difference. Ethnopluralism is thus a defence line both in the struggle against globalisation and in the new urban environments, where ethnic Swedes should be entitled to live by

themselves without any foreign community integrating or assimilating into their midst. It is significant that this right is also applied on the immigrant groups, since it is regarded as immoral to demand that members of one culture assimilate into the culture of another group. This means that assimilation of immigrants into Swedish society is not considered a viable option to any of the involved groups. Segregation is thus a preferred alternative. It remains unclear in identitarian discourse to what extent this segregation is to be territorial, and how such a demarcation would be realised, or manifested in non-territorial cultural rights, or if it should be enacted on the individual level4. In the long run, most identitarians would probably wish for the bulk of the migrants to return to their home countries, although they might doubt the realism of such hopes. Thus, while it is hard to find examples of outright Islamophobia on Motpol, and the identitarian discourse is more complex and more open to Islam and pious Muslims than the populists, in an ideal identitarian world there would not be any significant numbers of Muslim immigrants in Sweden or Western Europe, since everyone would have the privilege of developing their own cultures in their home countries. The problem with Muslim immigration for most identitarians is not Islam, but people living en masse in the wrong country. Oskorei and the post-liberal debate on the veil In order to provide a glimpse into how mainstream debates provoke counter-discourse on the Motpol blogs, and how their anti-liberal and ethno-pluralist ideological framework shapes identitarian thinking on Islam and Muslims we will look into one specific blog post by Oskorei. The post is called Post-liberal sljdebatt (Post-liberal debate on the veil) from October 14th 2009. In the post Oskorei argues that Swedish debates on the veil can serve as an illustration to the state of a Swedish society he terms post-liberal, in terms of free speech, the multi-ethnic situation, postliberal totalitarianism and the new lines of conflict. The post was triggered by debates in the media about an incident in the Stockholm suburb Rinkeby (mainly populated by immigrants, including many Muslims) when what was portrayed as Muslim religious extremists tried to convince girls not to enter a disco arguably because it was frequented by both sexes. In connection with the incident, the chairwomen of Social Democratic Women in Sweden, Nalin Pekgul, herself a practising Muslim, argued on public service radio that no one in this country should be able to limit womens freedom in the name of religion. This view was supported on the editorial pages of the mainstream liberal daily Dagens Nyheter who condemned religious fundamentalists of whatever faith when they limit other peoples right to live their life as they wish to, and asked public and private owners of housing facilities to consider if they really should provide premises for organisations and persons that encourage the oppression of women (Westerberg 2009-10-10). Oskoreis comments on the debate were, however, immediately caused by reactions to another article that took a critical stand to the views expressed by Pekgul and Dagens Nyheter. That article was written by a Swedish Muslim student

As for territorial segregation, in web discussions the thought of ceding parts of Swedish territory to compactly settled immigrant populations apart from Muslims can concern the Christian Assyrians/Syrians in the town of Sdertlje. For an example of such discussions among non-Motpol identitarians see the commentaries to Patrik Forsn: Drfr deltog vi i Al-Quds-demonstrationen.

of Iranian origin and published on Newsmill, a website which recently has become important for social and medial debates in Sweden. In the article the author reacted strongly against what he believed is a bias against pious Muslims in Swedish mainstream media, which ultimately seek to deny Muslims the same right to influence Swedish society that it grants to secular forces, liberals and feminists. Why should public space, the author asks, not be open for pious Muslims seeking to convince people to life a righteous life as they see it, while it is open to secular activists trying to change the behaviour of Muslims in Sweden in accordance with their views? Why is it only considered a problem when local Muslims are encouraged by pious believers to dress decently, but not when parents and relatives force young girls not to wear the veil? (Zahedi 2009-10-13). Not surprisingly, the article was followed by comments questioning the main arguments of the author with an often fiercely anti-Islamic rhetoric. In his post Oskorei sympathises with the authors criticism of mainstream medias double standards in celebrating the free life-choices of the young individuals but not respecting the freedom of young Muslim believers to chose and propagate a pious life-style, and that the pressure on young people to conform to the demands of consumer society is as strong as any religious propaganda. Oskorei also takes into account the commentaries on the Newsmill article, and sees them as an illustration of what has happened to the quality of public reasoning after decades of curbed public debate on questions of multiculture, Islam and immigration:
A large part of the public is ideologically confused, and confounds its resistance to a demographic/ethnic change of the public space with support for the liberal values that caused the change. Then partly the Muslims, partly the veil become the problem. To be Swedish then is to be liberal, atheist, and to be upset when women dont show their necks. (Oskorei, Post-liberal sljdebatt, 2009-10-14)

Demands of suppressing the expression of religious allegiances in the name of liberal values for Oskorei illustrate the latent totalitarianism of a public opinion caught between globalisation, the celebration of the free choice of individuals and the compulsory sensibilities imposed by a therapeutic new class. It also shows how expressions of Swedish identity and public debates on immigration under such conditions become contorted. The questioning in mainstream media by politicians and journalists of the rights of pious Muslims to influence society for Oskorei means that the mechanisms of suppression that have been applied previously to dissident Swedes now are extended to non-conformist immigrant groups. Interestingly, Oskorei then proceeds to take a stand in the debate on the veil, drawing on the ethnopluralist framework as well as his critique of the values governing contemporary society:
It is objectively good that e.g. Somali women wear the veil and preserve their culture. This is partly because it will be helpful the day when some Somalis return to their homeland, and partly because the Swedish culture they are offered is an unworthy mixture of political correctness and the consumer societys and the medias reduction of the human being into a monkey controlled by his instincts. The lesser people who voluntarily become slaves under the markets the better.

Ethnopluralism thus enables an identitarian blogger to endorse Muslim immigrants wearing the veil, which is considered a more humane and noble option than its abandonment in favour of Swedish society in its present state, and the assimilation into a host population that has lost touch with its own traditional values. This is better in the specific case of Muslim women in Sweden, but also as a general cultural statement and choice. It is further interesting to note the implicit

conflict here between arguing for the preservation of traditional values and authentic cultures and accepting that such preservation would in fact demand a typical late modern identity choice, either by the women themselves or by their relatives and friends. But that is a conflict that goes also for the identitarians themselves, as individual proponents of a collectivist minority faith in a society encouraging individual identity projects. In that particular sense Swedish identitarian bloggers and immigrant Muslim traditionalists find themselves in a similar situation in contemporary Sweden. The final words of the post show that for Oskorei the importance of the debate lies after all first and foremost in what it reveals about a Swedish population that only expresses its real attitudes to the demographic changes in the name of values that have undermined their own culture:
This does not mean that as a right-wing radical you automatically must support the right to wear the veil, but one should be aware of how a contorted debate and ideological confusion encourage many Swedes to support and identify themselves with the system that made them into slaves and wants their children to be degenerates. (Post-liberal sljdebatt 2009-10-14)

In conclusion, Oskoreis post on the debate on the veil sums up many of the point related in this presentation about how the particular contextualisations of identitarian ideology inform their attitudes to Islam and Muslims, and how it sets identitarians apart in this regard from populist nationalists or liberals. While populists focuses on multiculturalism and immigration without offering any systematic critique of contemporary society, Oskorei puts such critique at the centre of his discussion of immigration and policies of integration or the populists assimilation. Oskoreis belief that wearing the veil would facilitate the return of some (ett antal) Somalis to their homeland points to an acceptance of a reality where large groups of non-European immigrants are not likely to leave Sweden. Since integration and assimilation are considered parts of the problem that would leave segregation as the only option, which also follows from the notion of the right to difference. How identitarians would realise such segregation and what it actually would mean is, however, not very clear. Literature
Books: Berezin, Mable (2009): Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Culture, Security and Populism in the New Europe. Cambridge University Press. Carlbom, Aje (2003): The imagined versus the real other. Multiculturalism and the representation of Muslims in Sweden. Lund Monographs in Social Anthropology, Lund Larsson, Gran (2007): Cyber-Islamophobia the case of WikiIslam. Contemporary Islam: The Dynamics of Muslim Life, Vol. 1/No 1 (2007), pp. 53-67. OMeara. Michael (2004): New Culture, New Right. Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe. 1st books, Bloomington, IN Blog posts and articles: FAS: Metapolitik 2010 (2010) http://fas.motpol.nu/?p=2488

Nordisk Ungdom: Islam r inte det strsta hotet (2010) http://www.nationell.nu/2010/02/04/nordisk-ungdom-islam-ar-inte-detstorsta-hotet Patrik Forsn: Drfr deltog vi i Al-Quds-demonstrationen (2009) http://www.nationell.nu/2009/09/24/patrik-forsendarfor-demonstrerade-vi-med-muslimerna/ Oskorei (2006): Farvl till antisemitismen 2006-02-26 http://oskorei.motpol.nu/?p=250 Oskorei (2009): Post-liberal sljdebatt 2009-10-14 http://oskorei.motpol.nu/?p=1903 Westerberg, Rikard (2009) : Tolerans: Dricks det Fanta i helvetet? 2010-10-10 http://www.dn.se/ledare/signerat/tolerans-dricks-det-fanta-i-helvetet-1.971489 Zahedi, Porang (2009): Ocks muslimer har rtt att pverka samhllet 2009-10-13 http://www.newsmill.se/artikel/2009/10/13/ocksa-muslimer-har-ratt-att-paverka-samhallet

kesson, Jimmie (2009): Muslimerna r vrt strsta utlndska hot. 2009-10-19 http://www.aftonbladet.se/debatt/debattamnen/politik/article5978707.ab http://sv.metapedia.org/wiki/Etnopluralism