Oslo, Hip-Hop, and the Fight to Defend Multiculturalism

By now the world is only just beginning to wrap its head round the enormity of the tragedy in Oslo, Norway. Almost a hundred people dead–most of them children at a summer camp–in not one but two different acts of terror on the same day.

This is an act of terrorism. It bears repeating because some news outlets–even supposedly reputable ones–don’t seem to think that acts like these are worthy of the label unless it’s carried out by Muslims. Of course, as we all now know, Muslims weren’t responsible for these events. In fact, they were quite clearly one of the targets.

Anders Behring Breivik hates Muslims, in particular what they have done to his “beloved Norway.” More broadly, he hates the notion of multiculturalism. We all have heard over the past several days about his virulent hatred for any kind of tolerance or inclusion, let alone the kind of anti-racism espoused by the “cultural Marxists” from whom he saves particular bile in his 1500 page manifesto. His links with far-right Islamophobes like Stop the Islamization of Europe and proto-fascist groups like the English Defence League are really the best indicator for what Breivik was trying to achieve.

Perhaps then it’s not such a surprise that among the myriad blights he profiles in this long screed is a music genre with its own history of criminalization: hip-hop.

To those unfamiliar, it may be strange to think of Norway, a country of under 5 million people and typically thought of as lily white, having any kind of hip-hop scene to speak of. More than 200,000 of these 4.8 million, however, are immigrants from Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan or Turkey, along with countless others of mixed heritage. Over the past two decades, Norway’s hip-hop scene had varied from duos like Madcon–whose members are both of African heritage–to the all-white trio Warlocks–because, as we all know, there are plenty of white kids attracted to hip-hop.

One of these kids, believe it or not, was Anders Breivik. In the mid-90s he was apparently a part of Oslo’s insurgent hip-hop community. His best friend was Pakistani, and, if his manifesto is to be believed, the two of them were among the most infamous graffiti artists in the city.

At some point, however, Breivik had a change (or loss) of heart, and now lays the blame for many of Norway’s social ills squarely at the front door of what he now calls the “ghetto/ethnic/multiculturalist lifestyle”:

I personally know of more than 50 individuals who started with hashish and marijuana as a direct result of the hip-hop mentality. Many of these went from light drugs to heavier drugs such as amphetamine and even heroin. I personally know that more than 20 individuals, from my ‘hip-hop community’, have become severe drug addicts and some of them are probably dead today.

Breivik goes on to estimate that around 40% of drug addicts in Norway have been somehow duped into it by hip-hop. It’s a ludicrous claim, bordering on the delusional, but not quite as delusional as Breivik’s overblown, almost self-congratulatory guess at how much property damage he committed as a tagger:

During my two most active years at the age of 15 and 16, I estimate that myself [and his crew] inflicted property damage (through bombing raids – “tagging”) of approximately 2 million Euro combined of which I inflicted aprox. 700 000.

It’s a familiar narrative: pop music produces drug addiction, property damage, and from there it’s only a short jump to all manner of social decay. To Breivik, the sounds of the microphone and turntable, embraced by kids of every race the world over, are little more than the soundtrack of the invading brown hordes.

Anyone, however, who takes a cursory look at Norway’s recent musical history will see a very different picture–one of much more atrocious acts than petty vandalism.

From 1992 to ‘95, probably right around the time Breivik was popping open his first Sharpie, no less than 28 Christian churches across Norway were burned in acts of arson or attempted arson. The culprits for several of these weren’t Islamic fundamentalists, but native born Norwegians Bard “Faust” Eithun and Varg Vikernes, members of the country’s rising black metal scene.

While in prison for killing a fellow musician, Vikernes became a leading figure in what is termed the “estoteric Nazism” movement, a strange mixture of Norse paganism and old-fashioned white power ideology. Eithun was convicted in 1992 of beating a gay man to death outside the Olympic Village in Lillehammer. Both have since been released.

In 2001, Benjamin Hermansen, a sixteen-year-old Ghanaian-Norwegian school student, was stabbed to death in the multiracial suburb of Holmlia; the Norwegian police called it “Norway’s first racially motivated murder.” He was killed by three members of a neo-Nazi gang known as “the Boot Boys,” who had been known to orient to the local street punk and Oi! scenes.

Neither black metal nor punk rock are to blame for these deaths or arson. In fact, the Nazi component makes up barely a fraction of either scene. And yet, according to the logic of Anders Behring Breivik, the punks and metalheads should be just as much to blame as hip-hop is for drug use and urban decay. The only reason they aren’t mentioned is that ultimately, Breivik has a lot more in common with Vikernes and the Boot Boys.

What may be most horrifying about Breivik’s notions on hip-hop is how he believes this particular “problem” can be solved:

“As for the fate of the hiphop industry; banning it altogether is not the optimal solution as it would cause overwhelming short term outcry and it would eliminate positive aspects as well. However, I believe [in] significant restrictions in the rights of media companies which will include censoring negative and destructive lifestyles. An alternative is to limit such marketing to future ‘liberal zones’. Certain positive aspects of the hiphop movement should be allowed to survive such as break dance and positive genres of the music as long as it positively influences the self confidence of European youths and only if it can be re-defined as a European tradition…”

There’s a term for this: apartheid. Perhaps that’s not so surprising considering that Breivik also calls for Israel to “finish the job” in Palestine and for the re-imposition of white rule in South Africa. Ask any Black blues musician what it was like to play in the Jim Crow south, and they’ll likely paint a picture similar to Breivik’s (final) solution.

And yet, here in the States, we’ve heard this basic line before–and not just from the fringe lunatics. We’ve heard Sarah Palin call Common a cop-killer and Don Imus claim that rap was responsible for his own hatred toward women. We’ve heard it from city councils outlawing baggy pants and police chiefs targeting backwards ballcaps.

Likewise, the kind of anti-Muslim hate spewed by Breivik has become a fixture of everyday life. The crusade against multiculturalism is one that runs the gamut from the vile protests against the Park51 community center in New York City to the speeches of David Cameron and Angela Merkel.

As ordinary Norwegians figure out a way to heal from the devastation, the stakes have never been higher. What the tragedy in Oslo and the racist rants of Anders Behring Breivik show us is that the fight for a world of true equality and justice is one that touches every aspect of our lives. If his kind have their way, then this cruel brand of white-bred repression will extend from the halls of power into our schools, our communities, and yes, even our record stores.

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and solidarity activist in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies. He is a frequent contributor to SocialistWorker.org, Dissident Voice, ZNet and the Electronic Intifada. He has also appeared in TheNation.com, Z Magazine, New Politics and the International Socialist Review. His first book, “Sounds of Liberation: Music In the Age of Crisis and Resistance,” is expected out in the fall; you can donate to the project on Kickstarter. He can be reached at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com

Read other articles by Alexander.