First, deepest condolences and sympathy to all who have been personally affected by the recent hateful terrorist acts of Anders Bering Breivik in Oslo, Norway, and to the people of Norway, who have experienced such violent tragedy in their usually peaceful society.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the details, you can read an overview of the attacks and Breivik’s motivations, here.
In an unfortunate case of irony, the bombing and the shootings enacted by Anders Behring Breivik were initially presumed by quite a few people to be the acts of Muslim terrorists, when Breivik’s core motivation is specifically and decidedly anti-Muslim.
In his 1,500 page manifesto, entitled “A European Declaration of Independence“, Breivik outlines exactly why he feels the ‘Islamisation” of Europe has progressed to a point where the only rational option is to begin to engage in “shock attacks” (terrorist acts) against both Muslims and the “traitors” who have allowed Muslims to immigrate to European countries to a point that Europeans’ way of life is threatened.
Where would Breivik get such ideas?
The mainstream news certainly isn’t filled with descriptions of any kind of a Muslim “take over”. There are plenty of news stories, yes, but no governments have been toppled by “Islamists”, in Europe. No European country has experienced any kind of a change in government, which would reflect a “Muslim take over”. In fact, with the exception of people who seem to generally agree with Breivik’s views, most Europeans do not seem to be overly concerned about Muslims, or about the idea of any kind of a “take over” by Muslims.
How, then, did Anders Behring Breivik come to hold this deeply anti-Muslim perspective?
His manifesto gives us a rather glaring set of clues.
In his chapters describing his beliefs about the threats he perceives as being posed by Islam and Muslims, Breivik methodically cites his informational sources, which consist primarily of links to many of the best-known anti-Islam / anti-Muslim websites and authors, among them Jihadwatch (Robert Spencer), GatesOfVienna, Walid Shoebat, AtlasShrugs (Pamela Geller), and BrusselsJournal.com. He is also a big fan of the anti-Islam book Eurabia, by Bat Ye’or.
If there is a defining theme running through the material found on such websites, and written by such authors, it is the false idea that the religion of Islam itself is to blame for the actions of extremists, and that the acts of extremists are merely the surface manifestations of a series of insidious threats posed by Muslims and Islam in general.
The truly tragic aspect of this connection between fallacious anti-Islam / anti-Muslim rhetoric and Breivik’s unspeakable acts is: the threats posited by anti-Islam websites do not actually exist.
All terrorist acts are heinous, and are literally crimes against humanity. In the case of Al Qaeda, as an example, they have come to criminally-distorted conclusions which inspire their acts, about things that have actually happened (harm inflicted upon Muslims by Western powers and Israel, and the ongoing presence of foreign armies in Muslim countries).
In Breivik’s case, he has, as of this writing, caused the deaths of 93 people, many of them teenagers who were attending a summer camp, and brought about untold grief for the loved ones of these victims, and created a horrific societal shock throughout a largely peaceful nation (Norway), and the world, based on things that proponents of anti-Islam views have fabricated or exaggerated.
If we are going to write or speak critically about any group of people, it is only responsible that we diligently verify the accuracy of all related information before publishing it or otherwise stating it as fact. A few people, victims of revenge killings, have tragically died, especially since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, due to the inability of some people to distinguish between extremist Muslims and mainstream Muslims, but never on the horrific, mass scale perpetrated by Anders Bering Breivik.
In his 1500 page Manifesto, titled 2083 A European Declaration of Independence, Breivik methodically and intelligently articulates the anti-Islam “party line”. In fact, it is possibly the most clearly-articulated overview of the anti-Islam argument currently available, and it is as wildly-wrong as all similar material on this topic.
The anti-Islam argument is based entirely in the erroneous and illogical premise that by connecting carefully-selected verses from the Quran and other Islamic writings, and combining that with a one-sided, exaggerated and in some instances, fabricated interpretation with a highly-selective and distorted “history of Islam”, and then positing a causal connection between modern-day Muslim terrorism, the increasing Muslim immigration to Europe and North America, and the extremist reactions of a tiny percentage of Muslims to certain events (i.e. cartoons drawn of the Prophet Muhammad) , that an accurate picture of the “threat” posed by Muslims can be developed.
This, as is likely apparent to most readers, is not at all a logical or balanced way to develop any kind of a fact-based overview regarding any subject. Any person or group can be easily maligned via a combination of exaggeration, fabrication and out-of-context information (see: President Obama, Birthers). It is, however, a very logical approach if the goal is to inspire and motivate hatred and distrust of a target group.
In fact, it is the only type of approach that can inspire and motivate hatred and distrust of a target group, because no extremely large group (i.e. Christians, Muslims, Americans, Europeans, etc.) has enough people whose views and behavior are generally threatening to anyone else, for a fact-based and logical approach to yield the information desired by the people making the anti-Islam (in this case) arguments.
And, tragically, as intelligent as he obviously is, Anders Behring Breivik fell for it, with the horrific results described above.
Lesson #2 It is important to analyze not only the information being presented, but the approach used to draw related conclusions. This is especially true with information, such as anti-Islam arguments, which can have far-reaching, tragic consequences. Just because the presented information is articulated in an intelligent and organized manner does not mean that it is true or accurate. The flawed approaches used to draw the conclusions presented by anti-Islam proponents are not used anywhere in mainstream academia, and the anti-Islam view is not taught anywhere in mainstream academia, for exactly this reason.
One thing that shines through clearly and disturbingly in Breivik’s writings is his sincerity. In terms of his overall profile, Anders Behring Breivik is essentially a mirror of Osama bin Laden, whom he resembles in many ways.
Both Anders Behring Breivik and Osama bin Laden display (or, in bin Laden’s case, “displayed”) the following characteristics:
- Sense of heroic mission
- Willingness to die for their cause
- Sense of injustice
- Sense of “no other option” (than to initiate a program of extremist attacks).
- Delusions about useful responses to perceived problems (i.e. they both wrongly concluded that terrorism can yield desired results).
- Desire to initiate a global “holy war” against the perceived evils and enemies destroying their culture and people.
- Error-based conclusions regarding the actual nature of the people they posit as their enemies.
- Willingness to murder due to the perceived “righteousness” of their cause.
- Deeply-felt personal commitment to their religion. The need to fight for their people and religion against a massively-threatening enemy.
- Ability to present information in an intelligent and articulate manner.
- Ability to distort cultural symbols in order to attempt to motivate others, etc. (i.e. bin Laden distorted the teachings of the Quran to help would-be terrorists self-identify as heroic “martyrs” engaged in a “holy struggle”; Breivik distorted the teachings of Christianity, and of European societal ethics, to suggest that anti-Muslim terrorists are actually “Christian Knights”, etc.).
- A sincere religious faith that is utterly at odds with the teachings of the mainstream religion they claim to follow, and which is utterly at odds with the views and morals of well over 99.99% of the members of the religion they claim to follow (and of the rest of humanity, religious or non-religious, as well).
Per Anders Behring Breivik’s resemblance to bin Laden in the ways described above, hopefully people who are not familiar with the mainstream teachings of Islam, will be able to understand that extremists never represent the mainstream religion, or its teachings, despite what anyone might say to the contrary. How can we know this is an accurate view? By simple and sincere observation.
- Just as most Christians are not at all extremist, neither are most Muslims.
- Just as mainstream Christians have no particular connection with extremist Christian groups with political agendas, such as the Irish Republican Army, or with seemingly-lone extremists such as Anders Behring Breivik, so mainstream Muslims have no particular connection with extremist Muslims or extremist Muslim groups.
- Just as the vast majority of Christians lead normal, essentially non-violent lives, so the vast majority of Muslims lead normal, essentially non-violent lives.
- Just as the mainstream teachings of Christianity do not support the views or actions of Christian extremists, so the mainstream teachings of Islam do not support the views or actions of Muslim extremists.
- Just as anti-Christian information is always distorted and never accurate, so anti-Muslim information is always distorted, and never accurate.
Lesson #3 No large group of people is anything like its small percentage of extremists. Despite intelligently-presented yet always error-based arguments to the contrary, extremists and extremist views are always a tiny percentage of the overall population to which they belong. Extremists’ views, arguments, statements and actions tell us about those extremists, and not about the mainstream population, be it Muslims, Christians, Americans, Europeans, or anyone else.