Now that we know the Norwegian killer was a Christian and a white male, which storyline are we more likely to see in the media?

Option one: Lots of stories asking, “Is Christianity inherently violent? Is Christianity compatible with democracy and civil society?”

Option two: Lots of descriptions of the killer’s pathological tendencies, violent inclinations, and eccentric habits, showing that he was a dangerous madman from the beginning (and that he acted alone).

Thanks to Russ McCutcheon and Craig Martin for framing the issue this way for me. 

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13 Responses to Now that we know the Norwegian killer was a Christian and a white male, which storyline are we more likely to see in the media?

  1. Rod says:

    I’d personally like to see stories on Euro-centrism and Free masonry, since he was a free mason. but we arent ever going to get that convo, at least not in the U.S.

  2. Given the choice between the two, hopefully (a)… but likely (b).

  3. Freemasonry? Freemasons are about as malevolent as the Rotary Club…

  4. Deane says:

    The implied analogy here is that Bin Laden and Breivik are Islamic and Christian versions of the same type of religious believer (popularly called the “fundamentalist” or “militant”, of course, but a more academically rigorous label might be found). What is important to note is that we must assume the validity of this analogy before we can rightly object: why does the media not, then, treat them in the same manner?

    But on closer examination, the place of religion in the lives – actions and beliefs – of Bin Laden and Breivik have little in common. Bin Laden is/was “very religious” (religion infuses the way he conceives of all he does, provides his primary ideological framework for responding to material circumstances, etc). Religious motivations, the desire for the religious purity of a Saudi Arabia free from the taint of American infidels, is in all his writings. It is there clearly, for example, in the 9/11 manual given to Mohamed Atta. By great contrast, Breivik is a disaffected extreme right-winger who uses religion (already itself, of course, tied up with maintenance of European identity, etc) as a tool in his neo-fascist toolbox. Breivik’s religiosity has its obvious analogue in the barely informed cross-waving gestures of the BNP in England or Aryan Nation in the U.S. – religion is handy because of the knowledge that it has been used in the past to attack the Islamic other.

    The media, of course, grossly mispresented the sincere religious commitments of the 9/11 bombers, making them out to be lunatics rather than principled religious strategists, “evil-doers” in Bush’s phrase. On no account could they be seen as having an ethically good aim within the particular Islam which they practised. However, the media representations of Breivik as “Christian fundamentalist” are also false, just as the “weird loner” picture (true to an extent) understates his right-wing political affiliations and influences. Even for the media, the picture seems confused, his motivations not clear – and so we cannot justly accuse the media of failing to rehearse the essentialist argument of a “violent Christianity” just as they did and continue to do for Islam following 9/11, sometimes in the more nuanced distinction of “militant Islam” versus “good Islam”. Such an accusation becomes impossible when we understand Breivik’s opportunistic employment of Christian symbols for racist-nationalistic ends, which has no parallel to the 9/11 bombers.

    So, to answer your question, both options miss the salient point: Breivik is a neo-fascist. Option two – Breivik as nutob – is partly true, but misses the political dimension which is not hard to find in “peace-loving Norway”. The positing of option one assumes some analogy between Breivik and Bin Laden which is simply false.

  5. cmartin says:

    I’m not sure the sincerely/insincerely religious distinction you’re implying is workable. Doesn’t the distinction in the end look a little too much like an authentic/inauthentic distinction?

    • Cris says:

      Sincere and Not Sincere certainly has the feel of an authentic/inauthentic distinction and forces us to mind-read in ways that can be hazardous. While I understand the need for emic perspectives, in the end our understanding (if any) will require an etic analysis.

      • BY says:

        Download the man’s manifesto; it’s everywhere. Read what he writes and how he writes. He doesn’t think like a fundamentalist, he doesn’t posit fundamentalist solutions.

    • Deane Galbraith says:

      Nothing to do with “sincerity” (each are “sincere” in their own way, if you like), but with their very different religious views. Bin Laden is fundamentally a fundamentalist. Breivik is fundamentally a fascist. Their “sincere” religious beliefs simply work differently.

      With 1500 pages of writing, you can get a fair idea of how he ticks.

  6. Evan says:

    I’m out of my league here, but I think bin Laden was using religion as a convenience in the same way Breivik was. Especially useful in the manipulation of the poor schnooks who blew themselves up. My understanding is that the majority of his writings were about economic and cultural concerns rather than some Islamic idealism. So the two a very similar.

    • BY says:

      The majority of OBL’s sermons are about social and cultural concerns, but they’re grounded in fundamentalist religious belief. His key objections are that Islamic societies are being polluted by the presence of western armies and that so-called Muslim leaders (like the house of Saud) are apostates. Plus, religious language and scriptural references saturate OBL’s work. ABB’s writings are very different and more compartmentalized as Deane says above. It’s not fundamentalist thinking and he doesn’t posit a religious solution to the problems of his society as OBL does. Also, ABB writes that he’s happy to allow “agnostic” and “atheist” Christians to join his crusade.

      This isn’t a question of judging authentic/inauthentic belief, but basic characteristics of fundamentalism and taking the guy’s own writing seriously.

      Also worth pointing out you can download the whole manifesto from plenty of places online; just google 2083 manifesto pdf or similar. It’s up on Scribd, too.

      Finally, in regards to the comment about ABB being a Freemason. That’s about as relevant as finding out that OBL was a member of the Jeddah polo club.

  7. Chas says:

    Rod’s desire for a study of Breivik’s “esotericism” (or “eso-terrorism” to use a neologism) is being met elsewhere.

    And we should understand that European Freemasonry, if I may paint with a broad brush, has at times been politicized in a way that American Freemasonry never was—except perhaps for a brief time in the early 19th century.

  8. Anders B Breivik was not Christian! He called himself a Christian on Facebook. But he said that he was not driven by religion and that his religion was restricted to believe in one God. He had never had any affiliation to the true Christian church or community! He used Christianity only as a basis for cultural heritage against Islamic infiltration. He believed that he was at it would get more fans an if he only called himself Fasist.

    He was also under the influence of several drugs during the killing actions that day. Everything he did that day and wrote in his manifesto was characterized by the fact that he was not Christian. But his concern above Islamization and degradation of our country’s culture is shared by the majority of our population.

  9. Shoebutton says:

    I think Christians are sometimes way too hard on themselves.The man obviously had some mental health issues. And since “crazy ain’t stupid” he twisted his beliefs to justify his actions , and convince himself that he was doing a positive thing. This should have no bearing on Christians nor Christianity : this is a man deluding himself . If it wasn’t religion, I’m sure he would have twisted some idea to convince himself that he was right in his actions.

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