Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was Al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, “Probably.” Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.
According to the New York Times (NYT), the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind “a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination.” If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century. Anders Behring Breivik was described by police as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. He is said to have been obsessed with guns and the “threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration” (NYT). This was a far cry from the Islamic extremism that I had initially suspected of being responsible for the crime. Honestly, I am ashamed that my immediate assumptions when hearing of an “attack” turned to extremism in the Arab world. This led me to want to learn more about the motivations for the horrible incident and how news media is reporting about it.
In an article from today in Al Jazeera (English edition), Norway’s Mass Murder and the Mass Media, the opening statement says: “When news of the bomb blast and shooting first broke out in Norway, media organizations the world over were quick to suggest that the people behind the attacks were Islamic terrorists.” Apparently I was not the only one. Interestingly, Al Jazeera continues and states that when news organizations found out the attacks were not caused by Islamic extremists, but rather a “white, anti-Muslim Christian” the word “terrorist” was quickly replaced by “extremist”. Interesting. Why? Al Jazeera doesn’t expound, but these circumstances seem a telling reminder of the way many in the Western world view Islam. When westerners (more specifically whites) complete a heinous crime the media tends to write about it differently than if the perpetrator was non-white, particularly if Arab, even more so if they are Muslim. Scores of articles have been written about the growing anti-Arab sentiments in the Western world and the increasingly powerful Islamophobia that is sweeping through “Christian” nations. For example, see MJ Rosenberg’s The New Rhetoric of Islamophobia (also in Al Jazeera). Some of this is certainly an effect of post-9/11… however, I believe this trend should be a cause of great concern.
Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers, writes of Iran’s perspective, blaming Zionism, on the Norway attacks. Haaretz quotes a lead Iranian official: “The world should be on alert of the Zionist regime attempts to create deviation with Christianity and spread Christian Zionism.” I haven’t yet read, nor do I intend to, the more than thousand pages left behind by Anders Behring Breivik further outlining his motivations. I do not know if he is a Zionist. Could be. More importantly, his actions, astoundingly horrific, sadly remind us that extremism exists on all fronts – regardless of Christian, Muslim, or whatever other belief system. May Christians discard our own superiority complex and embrace moderation as we seek peace with our brothers and sisters across religious divides.