Three veteran politicians of the conservative Progress Party have launched anti-Muslim and anti-immigration tirades this week that have surprised even those accustomed to their occasional outbursts. Per Sandberg’s attack Thursday morning on his party’s own government support parties ended with an apology later in the afternoon.
Sandberg’s attack stunned leaders of both the Christian Democrats and the Liberal parties, who said it “undermined” the agreement they have with the two government parties (the Progress Party and the Conservatives) that keeps Sandberg’s own party in power. Sandberg had claimed the Christian Democrats “had huge responsibility” for thousands of young people, “born and reared in Norway,” who “live in fear of forced marriages and genital mutilation,” and that scores of young people “travel off and join terrorist organizations, carry out acts of war and massacre children and women.”
“I have no problem saying that it got a little hot earlier today,” Sandberg said in a press release issued through the party’s parliamentary group Thursday afternoon, referring to his tirade on a morning newscast on state broadcaster NRK. “And I can easily apologize for that. The Christian Democrats are not responsible for the foreign warrieors’ grotesque acts.”
His apology came after strong protests from the leaders of not only the Christian Democrats and the Liberal parties, both of whom said they could never recall being attacked in such a way, but also from the Conservatives and members of his own party. Sandberg’s remarks “were far from reality,” said his party colleague Øyvind Korsberg, who has had run-ins with Sandberg before. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said it was important that Sandberg apologized since his comments “went too far.” Sandberg’s party leader, Finance Minister Siv Jensen, made no immediate public comment on the uproar he caused.
Commentators were grasping for the reasons as to why Sandberg and, earlier in the week, two other top Progress Party politicians resorted to rash generalizations about Muslims and the reasons for anti-Semitism in Norway. Their broadsides were even more surprising because they were seemingly aimed at torpedoing their party’s long-sought government position and its efforts at respectability.
Some observers quickly pointed out, though, that the Progress Party has taken a dive in recent public opinion polls. Speculation ran high that Sandberg and his veteran party colleagues were making a desperate attempt to appeal to immigration skeptics who long formed a key component of the party’s support. Sandberg especially was accused of “playing the immigration card” to win back some voter support and send a message that his party would not compromise on immigration issues.
Hard to take them seriously
Many had trouble taking Member of Parliament Erlend Wiborg seriously, meanwhile, when he accused a former leader of the Conservative Party, with whom his Progress Party shares government power, for being partially responsible for anti-Semitism in Norway. Conservative MP Michael Tetzschner quickly defended Conservative patriarch Kåre Willoch, noting that Willoch “has criticized the politics of the state of Israel” but that doesn’t mean he’s anti-Semitic.
Former longtime Progress Party leader Carl I Hagen had also fanned the flames a day earlier, after referring to an allegedly “sneaking Islamization” of Norway and wondering when Norwegians would resist “pressure from various Islamic groups in the schools, the high schools, universities and work life.” Hagen’s comments came just a day after an Islamic extremist gunned down a Jewish security guard in Copenhagen.
Three students writing in newspaper Aftenposten Thursday accused Hagen of spreading fear and stigmatizing an entire group of people because of the actions of just one person. “Violence, terrorism and intolerance is nigher an Islamic, Christian nor Buddhist tendency,” they wrote. “They are human actions that unfortunately are often anchored in religion.”
Christians not blamed for Breivik’s terror…
Like many others including Prime Minister Solberg, they stressed that “we didn’t associate (mass-murderer) Anders Behring Breivik with the Progress Party (Breivik was once a member) … The enemy came in the form of a single individual, not the religion he represented.”
Per Anders Langerød, a survivor of Breivik’s attacks on July 22, 2011, reminded Hagen that Breivik was a “Christian, immigrant-hating, right-wing extremist … who taught us that an immigrant, a mosque or a hijab are no more symbols of terror than a cross.” Hagen’s own party wasn’t blamed for Breivik’s extreme actions, so why, wondered Langerød, should Muslims be blamed because of the actions of individual extremists?
“It wasn’t Islam that killed in Paris and Copenhagen, no more than it was Christianity that killed 77 people on July 22,” Langerød wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen. “The terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen are no more Islamic than Anders Behring Breivik’s attacks were Christian.”