Media know-nothings first declare Norwegian terrorist Muslim, then Christian

Virginia Mayo AP Flemish right wing party member Tanguy Veys holds his hands over a copy of a manifesto written … Continued

Virginia Mayo


Flemish right wing party member Tanguy Veys holds his hands over a copy of a manifesto written by Anders Behring Breivik at his office in the Belgian Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, July 27 , 2011.

Let us dial back the news cycle to the first reports of the murderous attacks in Norway, which were immediately said to bear the earmarks of al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism.

Then we heard that the suspect was a Christian fundamentalist motivated by far-right Islamophobia. Now, as a result of Anders Behring Breivik’s very own 1,500-page manifesto, we know that Breivik is not a Muslim, a fundamentalist Christian, or a faithful Christian in the any ordinary sense. Jesus is notably absent from Breivik’s Unabomberish diatribe (although I can’t swear to the absolute neglect of the man from Galilee, since I don’t have the stomach to read the document in full). But referencing the Christian savior would be a problem, given that he never said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me so I can kill them.”

Yet religion, not in a spiritual but a political and historical sense, did play an important role in the making of this Viking-manqué terrorist, who writes that he is especially proud of his last name, derived from the the ancient Germanic word for “protected by the bear.” He envisions a new Christian Europe in which all Protestants revert to Catholicism in a united Chuch headed by a “just and non-suicidal pope.” Whatever that means.

Only then will a reunited Christian Europe be able to mount a Crusade dedicated to restoring the hegemony of Christianity in the Balkans and creating three Christian states in the Middle East. The 1999 interevention by the United Nations to prevent Christian Serbia from continuing its massacre of Muslim Bosnians seems to have been a turning point in Breivik’s insistence that Europe must be returned to a form of Christianity that was rejected by his countrymen centuries ago. Protestantism has apparently had its day, and so it’s time to go back to the Church of Rome .

Of course, right-wing Christian fundamentalists are as bent on insisting that their religion has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with a terrorist act committed by a man dedicated to a new Crusade as many liberal multiculturalists (both religious and secular) are on insisting that terrorism has nothing to do with the “real” Islam. Give it up, apologists for irrationality. Non-evidence based ideology, whether religious or ostensibly secular, always has something to do with this kind of pathology.

One element of Breivik’s worldview that fits (though tortuously) with right-wing Christian fundamentalism and with the views of far-right anti-Muslim ideologues is his hatred of feminists. The writer Michelle Goldberg, a contributor to The Daily Beast, is one of the few journalists to note the contradiction in the writings of right-wing authors who simultaneously attack feminists for supporting abortion rights while claiming that radical Islam’s oppression of women is one of their main reasons for viewing Muslim immigration as the major threat to western civilization. In their view, western feminists are encouraging Muslim supremacy by refusing to “breed.”

The manifesto is filled with Breivik’s concerns about his own masculinity and about the “feminisation” of European men. His parents divorced when he was only a year old and his feminist mother married a Norwegian army captain. Breivik said he received a “super-liberal matriarchal upbringing” from his mother and her husband, which “contributed to feminise me to a certain degree.” He blames feminists for his social difficulties, which he attributes to his rejection of the “destructive and suicidal `Sex and the City’ lifestyle (modern feminism, sexual revolution)…In that setting, men are not men anymore, but metro sexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticizing soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.”

Oddly–given the importance of Henrik Ibsen’s
A Doll’s House
(1879) in the international history of feminism-Breivik has almost nothing to say about Norwegian feminism. Instead, he concentrates on the late Betty Friedan, author of
The Feminine Mystique
(1962), one of the founders of the resurgent late twentieth century feminist movement in the United States but a “radical” by no one’s definition.

What is fair to say about Breivik is not that he is a “Christian terorist” but that he is a terrorist for whom Christianity, coupled with worship of the white European ubermensch, plays a vital symbolic and ideological role. He strikes me as an Aryan-Christo-fascist, and in this respect he seems to resemble Adolf Hitler in
Mein Kampf
as much as Ted Kaczynski or Timothy Mcveigh..

This manifesto, with its mixture of religion, racism, sexism and its revelations of personal inadequacy–Breivik is the son of an elite Norwegian family but has never managed to hold down a decent job-offers a revealing example of the ways in which ideology mingles with individual pathology in violent sociopathic personalities. I regret that terrorists like the 9/11 attackers or the Madrid and London bombers have not left such journals, because it is entirely possible that Islam plays the same role for them that Christianity did for Breivik–as a necessary but not sufficient force in the making of a terrorist who has no regard for human life. It would be interesting to find out.

The assumption, whether we are talking about a “Christian terrorist” or a “Muslim terrorist,” is that he is motivated by belief in the most literal, retrograde expressions of faith–women condemned to bring forth children in sorrow and pain, martyred men rewarded by being able to pounce on virgins in the afterlife. It just could be that for Islamic mass murderers, as for many mass murderers throughout history, religion serves more as a symbolic justification for unmet personal and political needs. I don’t know. Neither do the many mainstream journalists and bloggers, from the editorial writers for The Wall Street Journal to
Jennifer Rubin, author of “The Right Turn” blog at The Washington Post
, who initially bloviated about Islamist ideology as Breivik’s motivating force. Stephen Colbert, as usual, got it exactly right in his Monday night broadcast when he referred to the “Muslimesque” atrocities perpetrated by Breivik.

A lot of people jumped to a lot of unresearched conclusions in the 24 hours after the attack and a number of writers are still doing it. This time, however, they’re seizing on Christian fundamentalism and Islamophobia as the ideological villains.

It is undeniable that extreme religion-based ideology (most often Islam in the past decade) plays an integral role in the vast majority of terrorist acts. Recognizing that other emotional and cultural forces may also be involved could only aid us in identifying prime suspects before they turn their deadly, irrational fantasies into reality.

Susan Jacoby
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  • thomasmc1957

    I’m still waiting for Christian leaders to apologize for this horrendous terrorist attack.

    After all, that’s what they demanded from Muslim leaders, after 9/11.

  • tomwilliamson

    A fair and evenhanded article. It will be interesting to see how it is received, since most of the media is pouncing on the “right wing Christian fundamentalist” line with amazing tenacity, even as they continue to deny any link between Islam and violence. Western civilization, it seems, beholds only the mote in its own eye, not the mote in someone else’s eye.

    It’s worth noting that there are still “pundits” (both recognized and self-styled) that continue to refer to Jared Loughner as a “right winger” even though he was revealed to be a complete psychotic, totally disconnected from any reality (right, left or anything else). I suspect that the Brevik meme will be just as long-lasting.

  • WmarkW

    The last three political terrorists from culturally Christin backgrounds (Brivik, Laughner, Von Brunn) were all lone actors whose views are mostly known from blog postings. Unlike McVeigh, who did belong to far-right organization, when a lone wolf without connects does something like this, it’s impossible to determine what makes him different from the millions of people who agree with the blogs but not the violence.

    Islamic violence, by contrast, does generally have a specific connect to a Muslim group or religious leader. Nidal Hassan acted alone, but was in regular communication with an imam associated with Al Queida. The Mumbai terror group was directed by a cleric from Pakistan.

    Breivik, Laughner, Hassan, as well as the Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh health club shooters, all made specific references to the lack of female companionship in their lives. It might be time to start taking male loneliness more seriously as a potential societal issue.

    Brevik’s (and I suspect Laughner’s) attitude toward the relationship of feminism to multi-culturalism is, I expect, a common one among Western men. Advance, feminist, societies like Europe, Anglo-America and Japan don’t even have replacement level birth rates, because it appears that given a choice, raising multiple children is not how most women would choose to spend their lives. As a result, those countries end up importing people from pre-feminist societies like the Middle East and Latin America. under such circumstances, it’s not unlikely that men will develop an opinion along the lines of:

    “I don’t have a privileged position as a man, because I live in advanced society that treats women like equals. That’s ok by itself, but then my country has been taken over by the dogma of diversity and multiculturalism, under which I’m supposed to act like the pre-feminist society that’s invading my country is equal to mine. How come I’m supposed to Islamic/Latin culture as equal, when the fact that my culture is superior, is

  • Susan_Jacoby

    WMarkW writes, apropos of Breivik’s anti-feminism, that “it may be time to start taking male loneliness seriously as an issue.” Yes, I’m sure it must be the fault of modern women (feminist or not) if a man like Breivik couldn’t find a girlfriend. One thing we do know about terrorists, whatever their ideology or religion, is that they seem incapable of forming close human relationships of any kind. This is hardly surprising, since the prerequisite for the commission of mass murder is a complete lack of human empathy. “Society” is never responsible for this kind of sociopathy. The fault is not in the stars, independent women, or immigrants but in ourselves.

  • Susan_Jacoby

    And thank you, Tom Williamson. I have no doubt that the reaction to this column will be quite negative, from all sides. I’ve already received a number of personal emails from people excoriating me, as an atheist, for saying that this pathetic guy was not a believing Christian.

  • WmarkW

    But September 11 was the work of 19 people whose obvious link was Islam. The Norway attack was the work of one man, who differs from billions of other cultural Christians in the countless ways we’re all unique individuals.

  • persiflage

    Susan is spot-on here. Breivik is an anti-social loner with paranoid delusions that happen to be focused on Muslims, and with that whole racial superiority thing going on. His narcissism is probably a quality that stands out among people that have known him. Breivik’s murderous fantasies and secret grievances surely had nothing to do with religion or religious belief.

    The people that he slaughtered happened to be white Christians, but they were ‘necessary’ amd considered collateral damage in order to get his message out. This guy was cool and calm when he was apprehended.
    No remorse equals total psychopathy.

    For this, he gets a maximum of 21 years with deluxe prison accomodations – which he certainly took into account beforehand. He’s uncommon for a mass murderer in that he planned things out so thoroughly in advance, and had no intention of sharing the same fate as his victims.

    As far as his motives go, I don’t see any signs of religious contamination here myself.

  • daniel12

    Political future of the world?

    I grew up the son of American Foreign Service parents–travelled the world. Learned about many cultures. Also became extremely confused. I was forced into taking an interest in artistic matters to preserve sanity, to overcome culture shock, to deal adequately with multiculturalism before such became a common political view of the modern left in America.

    I also studied politics, history, psychology, literature (currently reading Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone which has a beautiful passage about how young Mr. Franklin, a character in the book, was both enriched and psychologically divided by his multicultural unbringing…). The point is this: Artists of all sorts not only enrich civilization, they give us in their development an insight into how civilization developed and continues to develop. The process of tribes gradually coalescing into nations and small religions becoming the larger and more inclusive ones was and still is a process which is as likely to work out as not.

    If a chemist I would say the process of trying to mix this with that and add a pinch of that other thing is as likely to result in a failed experiment as a success. Which is to say we have on one hand right wing elements of various types and mixtures mixing it up with left wing types that dream of some solution beyond what they dislike and neither seems to grasp just how hard it is to make some sort of viable synthesis between various elements. Although it must be admitted that right wingers in their perverse attempt to preserve and even reverse things have an idea that disaster may be around the corner.

    Let me give some obvious cultural observations anyone should be able to observe and learn from. There was a band called the Beatles; there was a band called Led Zeppelin; we also had the Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Musicians all and in common syntheses of what previously were considered diffferent kinds of music. The point? Those syntheses were immensely difficult to achieve

  • scottNV

    When most of us long for the good old days, we think of a time and place like the 1950’s America; Breivik thought back to the 15th Century Northern Europe.

    When someone starts off with the premise so different as those times were better than any intervening time up until today and he is going to do his small part to restore that way of life, no one can possibly get inside of that person’s head.

    This wasn’t about religion or feminism or mutliculturalism or any phobia, this was hyper-nostalgia. It is his belief that as unhappy as he is today, he would be that happy and more had he lived then. So if only he could get everyone to change back to the behaviors of that time, he would be happy. That is a truly unique perspective.

  • daniel12

    Part two:

    My political view of the world is that the left with its multiculturalism is leading us straight into disaster, that the world rather than rising up to some sort of global outlook will founder on a variety of nations and cultures contending for resources and power–a six or seven way World War. The Left will blame the right for “not just giving up the past”. The right will point out that the left has no great synthesis in mind which can do justice to various cultures as individual artists have occasionally done justice to a variety of influences. Take the Led Zeppelin album “Physical Graffiti”. That record is blues, Celtic music, Western scales in general, Arabic and Indian music and Hawaiian music. What left wing political view is comparably broad?

    None that I know of. So we are in a possibly fatal situation. There will be right wingers of all types emanating from this culture, religion, race, nation and that. There will be as many left wingers whose only recipe seems scorn and rejection of this view and that in the name of progress. In between people hopefully such as myself who recognize that now we all must be as artistic as possible, try to make as many worthwhile syntheses as possible between this and that. I am reading Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone. I just learned Freddie King’s Hideway on guitar. Day by day the project…

    Hope against the worst…

  • persiflage

    Mark, always be sure to marry a white woman. That’s my advice to you.

  • persiflage

    ‘Those syntheses were immensely difficult to achieve and tension and psychological and drug problems were common to each band.

    But just think of the money, the sex, and the gosh darned fun those guys had and are still having. Fact is, almost every musician you mention is about as left-wing and liberal as humans can possibly be – so the point?

    Recommend early Stevie Winwood and Dave Mason with Traffic – now those guys were good even as teenagers. J.J. Cale was an inspiration even to Clapton – ‘After Midnight”, etc. etc. etc.

    When are you taking up the acoustic guitar? Got to love those old country blues guys………..slide player Mississippi Fred McDowell was an early inspiration to Bonny Raitt and Clapton owes a huge debt to Buddy Guy………….

    You’re going to have to vote democratic if you want to hang with the guitar gods…………….

  • daniel12

    Hi Persiflage, I play only acoustic guitar–have eight of them now. And yes, I’m heavy into acoustic, early blues–I do acoustic Tin Pan Alley and Dirty Pool by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Born under a bad sign by Albert King, T. Bone Walker Stormy Monday, Robert Johnson Love in Vain…need to work on Steady Rollin Man by Johnson…another good song is Otis Rush “All your love (I miss loving)”. I do little slide work though–mostly string bending and various types of vibrato. I use a slide when I do Jeff Beck “Cause we ended as lovers” (which is a Stevie Wonder song) because on acoustic strings cannot be bent as a high as on electric–I slide up to the right note in other words rather than string bend on that song. I do Jeff Beck version of “Goodbye Pork pie hat” which is a Mingus song upon the death of saxophone great Lester Young. I try to learn songs in all keys…Of course most of the songs I mentioned were not originally done on acoustic but I play on acoustic in spirit of early acoustic blues and definitely want to learn more early blues. Also more Spanish guitar–i do Santana Europa and Samba Pa Ti. I want to learn Eastern scales too–I have a couple books on the world’s scales. Japanese and Indonesian Gamelan music are interesting. I really should have begun guitar as a boy. I should have been a musician and just died young. Music is a noble calling. Listened to Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher last night–a truly underrated musician. A person should dabble in one art at least…

  • persiflage


    I can recommend two of my favorite early acoustic inspirations – Englishman John Renbourn (nice version of the Mingus tune) and Scotsman Bert Jansch………they were fantastic as solo players or as a twosome – but perhaps best known as the group Pentangle. You can catch them both on youtube…….

    Renbourn did some remarkable Elizabethan era music on steel-string guitar on several albums: ‘ The Lady and the Unicorn’, ‘The Hermit’, & ‘Sir John Alot’ to name three. Englishman Martin Simpson was the following generation – preternaturally clean acoustic guitar – if you like flawless playing (not that everyone does necessarily). My acoustic guitar collection is pretty eclectic, from delta blues to British Isles, but I stopped collecting ten years ago when I realized that it was long past the end of an era.

    And now there are fabulous acoustic players without end………but there’s derivitive, and then there’s the original stuff.

    We can and should admire the past, because we’ll never go there again…….particularly with the fabulous music and the one of a kind musicians that can’t ever be duplicated.

  • daniel12

    Thanks for recommendations Persiflage. I have heard Bert Jansch stuff, but not Renbourn. And I do like pretty clean guitar playing, although by clean I mean mainly let the guitar speak for itself without trying to drive too many effect pedals through it as so many electric guitarists do. With acoustic you are forced to deal with the woman, so to speak, as she is constructed…Some electric guitarists have a real clean approach I admire though–Peter Green and the earlier Jeff Beck. As for acoustic guitarists, i like a lot of them, but the one thing that bothers me is if the musician is too metronomic in playing–I like it when a guitarist intelligently retards and speeds up time. I hear even the healthy heartbeat is somewhat irregular and a too metronomic heartbeat is a sign of potential heart problems. Again, thanks for recommendations. I have a high degree of trust in musicians–I can plainly hear the success they have had in making syntheses between various types of music–which means bridging cultures. My trust is not so great in politicians.

  • persiflage

    It’s always been interesting to me just how powerful and appealing music is, while being among the most transitory of phenomena. The emotions, visual imagery, and memories that can be envoked by music is kind of a mystery. Religious rituals have always used certain kinds of music to accompany and/or induce trance states. As an example, I love Gregorian chants – although have escaped the hypnogogic state so far………

    And like religion, music has always been with humans……but is generally far more agreeable as a pastime Something in the DNA??

  • Rustylizard

    I think your fifth paragraph sums things up beautifully, but when you say, “a faithful Christian in the any ordinary sense,” it is not useful. It is like trying to build a sculpture out of air. Christians can’t even do it. Is a Mormon a Christian in the ordinary sense? How about Christian Scientists or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Catholics are not Christians, according to some Evangelicals and vice versa. Ask Bill O’Reilly, and he will probably exempt all serious criminals from the Christian umbrella (obviating the concept of Christian sin and forgiveness). Things have gotten so muddled, there is no “ordinary sense” that makes any sense at all.

  • akhtarman

    This was an act of fanatical Christian terrorism. The guy used a Cross like a Christian. He used the Templars sign like a Christian. He quoted the Bible like a Christian. He called for a Crusade against unbelievers (Muslims, Left and Others) like a Christian. He was a rabid Zionist like a Christian. He even called himself a freaking Christian!

    Look, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and calls itself a duck, it is a Christian Terrorist. End of story!

    Still, it is pathetic how Christians, Jews and others demanded Muslims to apologize yet won’t do and demand that Christians do it when one of theirs does terror.

    I disagree with Ms. Jacoby when she states most of the terrorism has been done by Muslims. If she were to talk to somone in Af-Pak, Iraq, Iran, Yemnen and Somalia, she would dscover that many people believe that most of the bombings/terrorist attacks have been done by her United States- and I would agree with them!

  • daniel12

    Hi Persiflage. I consider music to be extremely important. I was shocked when I heard the linguist Pinker describe music as “ear candy and nothing more”. How can a linguist denigrate music when music, like language, is sound? Recent medical research even shows that people with musical training are more likely to preserve their hearing because they are more attuned to sound in general–which of course helps them with language. I find music one of the easiest and best ways to get a young person to grasp the organic process of developing a thought. My experience is music bears strongly on the development of thought and language. It could even be the failure of language is that it neither is as conceptual as it might be nor able to make up the ground that is music. Many meditations can be made on the relationship of music to language. The relationship of music to religion is also complex and important. Probably religion will endure and music be connected to such for some time to come for the simple reason that music seems better able to communicate ecstasy and sorrow than language. In fact I would say people often mistake progress in language and thought for what is actually a flattening, an avoidance of ecstasy and sorrow, thus inadvertantly strengthening music and religion. I would say Pinker is wrong about music until the day language can do what music does, if ever… I say all I can say with language and then turn to music to say even more…

  • usapdx

    The nations of the world would be better off not haveing religion in government. A church nation like the Vatican should not be a nation in the first place but a church only. All people of the world should have the right to religion of only their own choice if they want a religion. Just review history.