[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
“I prayed to God,” wrote Anders Behring Breivik, in his 1,500-page manifesto, to “ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail.” Soon, he went on his terrorist mission, which ended with the ruthless murder of more than 70 innocent souls.
The Norwegian terrorist was also obsessed with the crusaders, including the legendary Templar Knights, which he saw as defenders of Christendom against the Islamic enemy. He thus explicitly defined himself as a “Christian Knight,” and put a big crusader cross on the cover page of his manifesto.
Symbolism such as this has led some to define him as a “Christian fundamentalist.” But I think that definition is wrong, and can lead us to miss the real problem that we are facing regarding both Breivik and his “Islamic” mirror images.
Identity vs. faith
A closer look at Breivik reveals not much of a Christian faith, let alone a fundamentalist one. “I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie,” he wrote in his manifesto. “I’ve always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment.” He also referred to Darwin many times, and his concept of “struggle for survival,” which is not really a “Christian fundamentalist” theme.
In fact, Breivik describes himself in his manifesto explicitly as a “cultural Christian,” a term which he explains at one point as the same thing as a “Christian atheist.” His “Christianness” in other words, has very little to do, if any, with theology. It is all about identity.
Marcus Buck, a political science professor at Norway’s University of Tromso, seems to have got this right. “[Breivik] doesn’t seem to have any insight into Christian theology or any ideas of how the Christian faith should play any role in Norwegian or European society, he was reported as saying by CNN. “His links to Christianity are much more based on being against Islam and what he perceives of as ‘cultural Marxism.’”
Therefore, I agree with the Christian writers who have been objecting to the links made between their faith and the Norwegian monster.
But, alas, this is the same thing we Muslims have been saying about al-Qaeda and most of its terrorists: Theirs was not a genuine expression of the Muslim faith, but a highly politicized, paranoid and fanatical expression of Muslim identity.
The most crucial common point between these two opposing cases of terrorism – Breivik versus, say, the late Osama bin Laden – is the perception of a civilization under siege. For bin Laden, this was the “umma,” the global Muslim community, which was politically, militarily and culturally attacked by the West. His basic themes were the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine or Kashmir, and the corruption of Muslim societies by the penetration of Western culture.
War of ideas
For Breivik, and the likeminded, the picture is just the opposite: They think that Islam is on the offensive against the West – demographically (via immigration), militarily (via terrorism) and culturally (via multiculturalism). The only way, they conclude, is to fight back.
You can say that Breivik attacked left-wing Norwegians rather than Muslims, and that complicates the picture. But al-Qaeda, too, attacked many fellow Muslims – the ones that it saw as Westernized and thus degenerate.
Breivik also carried his fight to a shocking extreme, which probably reflects his personal pathologies as well, but the ideology that radicalized him is unmistakable: It is the anti-Islamic ideology dished out by various politicians and pundits on both sides of the Atlantic.
No wonder Mario Borghezio, an Italian member of the European Parliament and a far-right figure, said he liked the ideas, if not the acts, of Breivik. “Some of the ideas he expressed are good,” he said. “Some of them are great.”
Well, I rather think that none of the ideas promoted by Breivik are great. I am certain that they are actually terrible. I just wonder whether “moderate Westerners” will now wage a “war of ideas” against them.