Norway shooting shows extremism in all faiths

With most of the facts surrounding the events of the July 22 Norway shooting and bombing now well-known, attention has turned to the motives and profile of the perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik.

While reports of Breivik’s 1,500 page manifesto have been convoluted — his writings are frequently described as rambling — one aspect has appeared to strike a nerve in the United States: Breivik as an example of Christian extremism.

The 9/11 attacks solidified for Americans the association of terrorism with suicide bombers and jihad. Terrorism, a term previously encompassing home-grown attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing, has become defined as essentially foreign and particularly Muslim.

Breivik, however, is a blonde-haired, anti-Islamic nationalist, and a self-described Christian.

Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, recently brought what many Americans may be feeling into the public realm. A few days ago, O’Reilly commented on the New York Times headline, “As Horrors Emerge, Norway Charges Christian Extremist.”

“Breivik is not a Christian, that’s impossible,” O’Reilly said. “No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder.”

O’Reilly would do well to remember the Crusades, a series of Pope-sanctioned military campaigns against “infidels” living in the Holy Land, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. But the horrors of the past should not create false equivalency between a religion and its current practitioners. The interpretation and dogma of one subgroup does not, by extension, reflect the motives of the entire group. Religious practice can be very nuanced, and it is hard to even say if every “fundamentalist” is an “extremist.”

After 9/11, many Muslims expressed such views about Islam, that it is a religion of peace perverted by al-Qaida, but their statements were frequently brushed aside.

While discussing the building of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero on an October edition of “The View,” O’Reilly exclaimed that “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” prompting hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to walk out on him until he reluctantly added “extremists.”

O’Reilly is clearly an over-the-top example. But many Americans today focus on “Islamic” instead of “fundamentalist,” while at the same time hesitate to pair “Christian” with “extremist.” There is a double-standard.

At the same time, Breivik reportedly is not even overtly religious, so the constant analysis over whether he has “Christian” motives for expelling Muslims from Europe may say more about what we choose to focus on than what he actually believes.

Many, like O’Reilly, are uncomfortable with assertions that Breivik’s actions reflect on Christianity, but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the prior hypocrisy of exclusively linking other terrorism with Islam. O’Reilly and his ilk assume the actions of a white Christian man will be spun the same way the actions of Muslim men were in 2001, and their defensive posturing should tip all of us off to the fallacy of their thinking. Their double-standard must change.

All religions are susceptible to extremism, but that fact doesn’t need to undermine religion. Breivik is not proof that Christianity is a violent religion, just like al-Qaida does not represent mainstream Islam.