03.10.2022

Bjørn ihler, who escaped mass murderer anders breivik a year ago, wants to break new ground in fighting extremism with his centre for free and creative expression

In the fight against terror, two main tools have been used in recent decades: surveillance and the prevention or suppression of riots. However, if one considers the murders of the german terrorist cell nsu or those of the norwegian anders breivik, it seems doubtful that these ways are not the ones that politicians and authorities can most easily use to demonstrate their power.

At least that’s what norwegian social democrat bjørn magnus jacobsen ihler wonders on 22. In july of last year, the social democratic party attended a vacation camp on an island in the tyrifjord, which the mass murderer anders breivik stormed heavily armed and shot dead 69 people. Eight others were killed in an explosive attack he masterminded.

To explore new ways of combating politically motivated violence, ihler and the centre for free and creative expression he founded not only want to strengthen the freedom of speech of artists in authoritarian states, but also to organize discussions in which extremists are allowed to participate. This should help to ensure that breivik’s comrades-in-arms, of which there are many according to the twenty-year-old, choose less socially damaging options for rehabilitation than terror.

According to ihler, the fact that he is willing to discuss with people of other opinions does not mean that he does not have his own political views or that he wants to give them up. But at the top of the list of these beliefs, for the norwegian, is that everyone must have the right to disagree with him without fear of violence. He has in mind not only concrete violence, but also the threat of it, to which, as far as he knows, not only left-wing but also right-wing politicians are exposed "almost daily" but also right-wing politicians. And all he expects from the other side is that they also agree to this rule of the game.

As a key witness for his position, ihler cites the norwegian prime minister jens stoltenberg, who, after the act last summer "more openness" demanded. For the drama student, who currently resides in liverpool, this also means that "we need to talk and discuss more with right-wingers and right-wing extremists, so that they have a chance to articulate themselves and not become violent". He is sharply attacked for this by other arbeiderpartiet members (who believe that their party leader did not mean anything like this with his revision).

Even if, like ihler, you don’t consider free speech to be "core of all human rights" as the basis of any struggle for broader freedoms, its restriction is a double-edged instrument in the fight against terror: namely, it potentially ensures that extremists will "eating chalk", as long as they are not yet at the levers of power. This was evident, among other places, in germany in the 1930s, where excessive newspaper censorship (which affected not only national socialist newspapers, but also the vorwarts and the altottinger liebfrauenbote), while ensuring a moderation in tone, did not prevent hitler’s rise to power or the holocaust.

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