On Norway

[I’m told I’m bad with numbers, so treat the following with some caution. Corrections will be appreciated and labelled.]

[Also, I seem to have lost the ability to distinguish between “where” and “were;” thanks, thesis-related stress, so thanks to Aimee Whitcroft for some much needed corrections.]

Just as I was about to write a post which I was going to title “The international Media is as stupid about Norway as we were about Christchurch,” Charlie Brooker essentially beat me to the punch with this piece.

I don’t really have much to add, except for this:

A lot of people have defended their instinctive association of a general act of terror with the specific thesis that it was part of a specific plot by Islamo-facists (or whatever term you want to use to describe “the evil Muslims!”) by saying “Well, it’s what they do” or “It fits the pattern.”


Maybe parts of the media are to blame for the prevalence and reporting of this myth, due to what seems to be an unusual fixation on the evils of Islam (as opposed, to say, the evils of Christianity), but if you look at the statistics with regard to terrorist activity in Europe ((I’m aware that Norway is not part of the EU, but the EU data is still a useful comparison, given Norway’s proximity and relationship to the EU.)), the largest group, the group most responsible for terrorist activity, both successful and unsuccessful, are the Separatists.

And by “largest group,” I mean somewhere about 64% of all successful terrorist activities can be put down to separatists. Islam-related terrorist activity makes up a mere one percent of terrorism attempts in Europe.

Don’t believe me? Fine. I probably wouldn’t accept such an assertion without reference to some data. Luckily, the people who should know about these things have released the relevant data set. Here’s the Europol data for last year (plus some data for the two years prior). It makes for interesting reading.

There were 249 attempts at terrorist attacks in Europe during the year 2010ACE, of which 3 were Islamic in origin and 160 were undertaken by Separatists.


If we look at the number of arrests and the conviction rate (which is a little confusing because this includes arrests after the aforementioned attempted attacks and arrests made before attempts at attacks could be carried out) we get a different picture. There were 332 convictions for terrorism charges in 2010ACE, 60% of which were down to the actions of separatists and 25% (84 in total) were Islamic in nature. Nearly half of these convictions are pending review.

Let’s take France as a particular example, as it has the highest reported incidence of Islamic-related terrorist activity; we find, if we look at the data, that of the 219 arrests made, 94 of the arrestees were alleged Islamic terrorists. Of the 219 arrests made, there were only 40 convictions in total (nearly half the EU number in total), 14 of which were Islamic, the other 26 being Separatist ((Indeed, only 29 of these verdicts are even considered final; 11 of the verdicts are under appeal or being reconsidered.)).

Now, perhaps France is not the country to compare with Norway and we should look at the Netherlands. Things get interesting here; in 2010ACE the Netherlands had 39 arrests under their terrorism laws, with 19 of which being Islamic in character (of the other 20, 19 were Separatist and 1 was unspecified). There were 8 convictions, all final, all of which were Islamic. However, there were no attacks or attempted attacks in Norway in 2010ACE (so either the arrests prefigured the attempts or were on related charges).

The Netherlands does have what seems to be a problem (or, at least, a perceived problem) of a radicalising Muslim youth, which may explain the incidence of Islamic-related terrorism convictions there, but is Norway similar? Whereas it seems that there is a lack of integration between the Islamic and non-Islamic communities in the Netherlands, the Muslim community in Norway seems more tightly integrated.

[Indeed, as Marinus Ferreira has pointed out in the comments thread, we should compare Norway to the even more similar countries of Sweden, Denmark or Finland (I admit to not knowing all that much about the northern European geo-political scene), who have lower incidences of terrorism compared to the Netherlands.]

Which is where the Norway stats come in, because someone could (and probably will argue) that even if I’m right to say that the Europol data does not support the claim that we can assume that if an act of terror is committed, it is most likely Islamic in character, we still need to know the level of terrorist activity in Norway.

Which, admittedly, I don’t know and don’t seem to be able to find out. Between 2000 and 2006 there was one reported terrorist activity, but beyond that, I know nothing.

Which is why I think we should look at the general incidence in Europe as a whole, and if we do, then no matter which way you look at it, Islamic extremism is not as big a threat to Europe as, say, homegrown extremism whose agenda is largely that of an anti-immigration ideology. The evidence, as it stands, does not support the hypothesis that it is reasonable to assume that if a terrorist activity occurs in Europe, then it is likely to be Islamic in character. At best we can say that Islamic terrorism is on the rise; over the 2007-9 period a mere 0.4% of reported attempts were Islamic, whilst in 2010 Islamic terrorist activity made up 1% of known attempts (which probably, given the sample size, is just noise (thanks to James Butler for reminding me to note that). Maybe that is something to be be concerned about, but we should also be concerned that separatist terrorist activity continues to be a problem in Europe, along with left wing and right terrorism, which is also more common than that committed by Muslims.

Lesson ends.


Marinus says:

Why compare Norway to the Netherlands, rather than, say, to Sweden, Denmark or Finland? Even if we don’t correct for the fact that Denmark is a highly conservative and, dare I say it, racist country, the numbers are far lower than for the Netherlands, and the societies are more similar.

Good point. I suspect you can chalk that up to my not knowing all that much about the diversity of Europe.

Edward says:

Thanks for this Matthew, it’s good to have some figures. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the initial reporting of the attack, and we were wondering pretty much the same thing as what you’ve posted up. The figures are even lower than I had suspected, and really do raise the interesting question of why the media reacts the way it does (i.e. it ‘must’ be Islamist extremists).