Prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh (left) and defendant Anders Behring Breivik (second from right) in a discussion during court recess for lunch on Tuesday. Image Credit: EPA

Dubai: The gunman who massacred 77 people in Norway last summer is proudly boasting that he would "have done it again" to strike back against Norwegian and European governments for embracing immigration and multi-culturalism, claiming that he was a member of the anti-Islam militant group, the Knights Templar.

Prosecutors, however, say the group doesn't exist and is a figment of the twisted mind of Anders Behring Breivik. What is real, though, is a growing wave of anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe which has increased as the economy of Europe declined.

"Islamophobia in Europe does seem to correlate to the financial crisis," Prof Jorgen Neilsen, head of the Centre of European Islamic Thought at Copenhagen University, told Gulf News yesterday.

"There's a real feeling of scape-goating," he said. "It's very difficult and complicated to rouse public opinion against the real sinners which are globalisation and the rise of India and China, and the gradual move in Europe from national sovereignty to the European Union."

In that environment, discrimination and hatred against minorities thrive in the right wing political parties, who use phenomena such as Islamophobia to their advantage.

"In France, over the past couple of years, there's been a heated debate, for example, over women's dress and whether they should be allowed to wear the burqa," Nielsen noted. "That debate feeds into the threat from the far-right and will likely recede after the presidential elections."

He noted, though, that pre-existing laws in France adequately covered security concerns over wearing the burqa and that the debate and subsequent passing of the burqa ban fed into the need of the far right.

"In Denmark, there's been a pretty nasty and vicious debate, particularly since the cartoon affair of 2005 and 2006, over Islam," he said, "with both sides taking a very active and vicious stance." Across Europe, Nielsen said anti-Muslim sentiment seems to grow through social and political expediency.

"You can go around Europe and tick off the boxes, depending on where and when you are," he said, adding that at present, Hungary and Bulgaria are in the throes of a vicious debate over Islam.

"I don't think Norway is all that different from the rest of Europe," he said. "It does have a hard-line right wing nationalistic party which before the Breivik killings was predicted to form the government."

Psychiatric analysis

He pointed out that German police captured a right-wing group which had been responsible for the murders of several Turks over a number of years. "The psychiatric analysis says [Breivik] is not nuts, although how you describe this as not nuts I'm not sure," he said.

Muslim communities do have a role in combating Islamophobia, Nielsen said, pointing out that after the London tube attacks, the Muslim community in Britain did act to root out and isolate extremist elements who had fanned widespread anti-Muslim sentiment.