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It could happen here

There are lessons to be learnt in Britain from a book on the atrocities perpetrated by the Norwegian fascist Anders Breivik, says DAVID PEEL

Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia. Sindre Bangstad (Zed Books, £16.99)

A nation in furious debate over immigration, fuelled by politicians from every mainstream political party. The normally marginalised inflammatory language of the far right bandied about in the centre ground.

Populism and demagoguery, generating Islamophobia and dragging politics to the extreme. Fear of terrorism stoked by state and media.

Britain, 2014? No. Norway, 2011. There, as a direct result of this febrile atmosphere, the unthinkable happens.

A fascist with guns and explosives, Anders Behring Breivik, blows up the Norwegian government's Oslo headquarters and murders 77 people, mostly teenagers, in one bloody hour at a political youth camp on the idyllic island of Utoya.

He wore a police uniform, knowing he could beckon trusting young people to him so as to be more sure of his head-shots and waste less ammunition.

Sindre Bangstad is a social anthropologist who sets out to answer the question as to how could this have happened in his peaceful Norway. He pulls no punches, nor does he fall for the easy political consensus that the attacks were carried out by a deranged lone wolf.

According to Bangstad, this is what happens when racist Islamophobic rhetoric becomes common currency in the language of a society.

And it's what happens when immigration becomes a political football as politicians of all parties and persuasions fall over themselves to kick Muslims and migrants around.

That, he says, is the central lesson of the Breivik massacre.

Don't kid yourselves that it could never happen here. The truth is, we could be talking about Britain in 2014. The language of the far right is now the language of Ukip and the mainstream.

Gordon Brown once proposed "British jobs for British workers." We are being swamped by immigrants, says Tory Michael Fallon. He's right, says Labour's David Blunkett.

The Oswald Mosley-supporting Daily Mail falls over itself to glory in this so-called daring "truth" telling. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg fall dutifully into line and make curbing immigration their first priority.

But its a lie.

In some parts of eastern England, where sadly you'd be hard-pressed to even find an immigrant, Ukip are buoyant in what has become one of its heartlands. So often in British politics, fear is the key and truth is the first casualty.

The question that now must be asked is: "Where is our Anders Breivik?"

Bangstad makes a compelling case for at the very least ratcheting down the incendiary discourse, election or not. Much more remains to be done in nailing the myths and lies about Islam and immigration.

If not, we are sowing the wind, and may reap the whirlwind.


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