Following the July 22 attacks in Norway and first analyses of the writings of accused killer Anders Breivik, a discussion has started regarding his religious beliefs and whether such labels as “fundamentalist” and “Christian terrorist” apply to his actions.
While the media and some scholars described him as a “Christian terrorist,” other scholars dispute suggestions that religion played a key role in his actions. Besides the issues of scholarly definitions that are at stake, the debate and public reactions in various circles also show how the attribution of epithets such as “Christian” or “Islamic” to terrorist activities gives rise to heated discussions. The very first statements by Norwegian police once the identity of the presumed terrorist was established described him as a “fundamentalist Christian,” a label that spread throughout the media; some later used the expression “radical Christian extremist.” And indeed, on his (English) Facebook profile, Breivik had listed himself as “Christian” and “Conservative.”
He was a member of the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Chip Berlet called him a “soldier in the Christian Right culture wars,” while pointing to some intellectual sources of Breivik’s critique of “cultural Marxism” (Talk to Action, July 23). He continued by stating that Breivik’s core thesis was “white Christian nationalism versus multiculturalism” (Talk to Action, July 25). A leading scholar on issues of religiously linked violence, Mark Juergensmeyer, compared the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, with Breivik (the Norwegian actually mentioned McVeigh in a manifesto he distributed electronically just before the attacks), adding: “both were Christian terrorists” (Religion Dispatches, July 24).
Juergensmeyer interpreted Breivik’s actions as a reflection of “a cosmic war, a battle for Christendom.” While Juergensmeyer agrees that Breivik was much more interested in politics than religious scriptures, he suggests that, in the same way that Bin Laden can be called a “Muslim terrorist,” Breivik can qualify as his Christian counterpart.After an intensive preliminary study of Breivik’s writings, European scholars Massimo Introvigne (CESNUR, Italy) and Jean-François Mayer (Religioscope, Switzerland) emphasized to European media that Breivik could not be called a “Christian fundamentalist” by all accepted definitions of the term. Besides being a Freemason, Breivik described himself as “moderately religious” and conveyed a cultural attachment to Christianity as part of the European identity and as a tool for supporting political goals (CESNUR, July 25).
He advocated a monocultural Christian Europe, but one in which the church (after the reincorporation of Protestantism within the Catholic Church) would have no political influence. He wrote that “Christian atheists” were welcome to join the battle and of the importance of science taking an “undisputed precedence over biblical teachings.” In his diary last June he reported that he had “prayed for the first time in a very long time.” Moreover, he disputed the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone), writing that it would lead to “incipient subjectivism,” Julie Ingersoll noted (Religion Dispatches, July 25).
While being a “cultural Christian,” Breivik thus cannot fit the profile of a Christian fundamentalist, and evidence shows that he was guided more by political than religious beliefs. While he claimed to be a member of a new order of Templar Knights, he used the Templar primarily as a symbol of a new crusade against Islam. Breivik had not been a member of a political party for several years, but he appeared to have drawn much of his inspiration and arguments from a transnational Euro-American network of independent bloggers and authors critical of Islam. Websites such as Gates of Vienna, Jihad Watch or Brussels Journal have taken a defensive stance since the attacks, distancing themselves from violence, while sometimes claiming that Breivik’s actions might also have been the result of Europe ignoring concerns about Muslim immigration into the continent.
A debate around the criticism of Islam is likely to unfold after the July 22 events. Meanwhile, Mayer has observed that Breivik in some ways mimetically reacted to jihadist threats, adopting a vocabulary such as “martyrdom operation” for describing his own actions and leaving behind pictures of himself not unlike those of suicide bombers . . .
(Terrorisme.net, July 25) | (Talk to Action, http://www.talk2action.org; Religion Dispatches, http://www.religiondispatches.org; CESNUR, http://www.cesnur.org; Terrorisme.net, http://www.terrorisme.net; Religioscope, www.religion.info)