When the first reports of devastating attacks in Norway began to circulate, news commentators immediately jumped to the conclusion that the perpetrator(s) must be Muslim extremists. This turned out to be far from the truth. The suspected attacker, a lone man named Anders Behring Breivik, identifies as a Christian. The horrific bombing in Oslo’s city center, followed by a brutal shooting spree at a youth camp on the island of Utoya, were motivated by anti-Muslim zeal. Breivik articulated his desire to protect white Christians from the encroaching on the rights of “indigenous European peoples” in a 1500-page manifesto, which, to some, is ample cause to label him a “Christian terrorist.”
Other experts, however, questioned Breivik’s knowledge of Christian theology, and speculated that his desire for violence was not grounded in Christian faith, but rather a kind of white nationalism linked to Christianity.
“My impression is that Christianity is used more as a vehicle to unjustly assign some religious moral weight,” to his political views,” Anders Romarheim, a fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies explained in an article for CNN. “It is a signifier of Western culture and values, which is what they pretend to defend. I would say they are more anti-Islam than pro-Christian.”
Many commentators are drawing connections between Breivik and Timothy McVeigh, the architect of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. In a piece for Religion Dispatches, Mark Juergensmeyer uses the comparison to argue that if Osama bin Laden is a “Muslim terrorist,” then both men qualified as “Christian terrorists.” He writes,
“Both were good-looking young Caucasians, self-enlisted soldiers in an imagined cosmic war to save Christendom. Both thought their acts of mass destruction would trigger a great battle to rescue society from the liberal forces of multiculturalism that allowed non-Christians and non-Whites positions of acceptability.”
The fact that Breivik was not a theologian does not matter to Juergensmeyer. He argues, quite convincingly, that regardless of whether Breivik’s views were rooted in a theological reality, they were religiously based fantasies, intent upon preserving cultural European Christianity. Regardless of whether Christians would accept Breivik (and Christians are, of course, not a monolithic entity), he justified his actions using the rhetoric of Christian political dominance, making him a “Christian terrorist.”
Photo from Guttorm Flataboe via flickr.
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