A.B. Breivik and Religious Terrorism

Reasons for the recent attack and murder of dozens of people in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik are slowly but surely coming to light. If you’re really assiduous and interested, and indeed wise enough to bypass commentary from the media’s talking heads about what happened, you’ll go straight to the source, Breivik’s 1500+ page manifesto, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence (read it here). No doubt some enterprising sociology or religious studies grad student somewhere has already digested most of it and is preparing a dissertation prospectus based on it.

The academic don of all things religious and terrorist, Mark Juergensmeyer, has already scripted a piece on the striking parallels between Norway’s Breivik and the U.S.’s McVeigh over at Religion Dispatches. Check it out and report back, dear reader(s).

What I’d like to point out in this blogamarole is some news I recently came across about Breivik that really drew me in. Namely, the following two articles present some very interesting material for anyone interested in the long and winding historical relationship between religion and politics across the Indo-European world, Indo-Aryan invasion theories and, more generally, religious terrorism:

“Norway massacre: Breivik manifesto attempts to woo India’s Hindu nationalists,” Christian Science Monitor (25 july 2011) 

“Varanasi, Hindutva link in Norway mass murderer’s manifesto,” Star News Bureau (26 July 2011)


The India connection revealed in these articles comes as no surprise. Breivik clearly had been closely following the history of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) rhetoric and violence against Muslims in India, and he has no doubt bought wholesale the long ago debunked Indo-Aryan socioracial theories championed by (mainly, but not exclusively) northern Europeans in the 18-20th centuries that could lead any unwitting blond-haired, blue-eyed übermensch from Scandinavia to the Himalayas. Having taught some of this history to college students over the last few years, it’s always a challenge to get young folks new to South Asian Studies to understand how the linguistic and religious histories of places like Iceland and India can be related. Breivik presents us with a case in point, a tragic one, to be sure, and one unlike I’ve seen in recent history. I do not want to give this guy a virtual podium from which to spout his hate speech and fascist rhetoric, and I’m highly dismayed by the massive growth of religious extremism in northern Europe over the past two-three decades, some of which has become institutionalized in the political machines of that land’s “progressive” countries.  And yet, I also recognize that from a strictly academic perspective this event is so historically significant. It will be be brought up in classrooms and in publications on religion and politics and cultural studies for a long, long time.  

3 thoughts on “A.B. Breivik and Religious Terrorism

  1. wildbillyscircusstory

    Sorry – I’ve been busy with un-fun stuff, but I’ve been meaning to reply to this post for some time. Please pardon me if this rambles a bit.

    Juergensmeyer purports to establish Christianity as “a” proximate cause (as opposed to the higher standard of “the” proximate cause) in these attacks; based on the evidence produced, it is tenuous. Indeed, the author himself poses the question toward the end of the article: “Is this a religious vision, and am I right in calling Breivik a Christian terrorist?” He offers little regarding Breivik’s purported Christian motivations other than his fondness for an ancient religious war. Instead, we learn Breivik’s aims are solely cultural and unrelated to salvation through Christ or advancing the Gospel.

    So let’s start with the obvious: Breivik, McVeigh and bin Laden share one trait: they are homicidal maniacs with serious psychological flaws. The impact of religion in nurturing these pre-existing traits is a worthy debate, but the religion itself was not the cause of their violence; misappropriation thereof qualifies as a better argument. Breivik embodies the anti-Muslim fever sweeping Europe. In the past year we’ve seen France ban the burqa (!) and German Chancellor Merkel declare the “Multikulti” an “utter failure”. The poor economy, the near – and possibly pending – collapse of the EU and, yes, Muslim immigration awakened a nascent, neo-European nationalism that fueled Breivik. (Hey! Fervent European nationalism…what could go wrong?)

    Nationalism forms the basis of Breivik’s modern “crusade”, not religion. His outreach to India strengthens the argument: this isn’t about religion – otherwise why reach out to another faith? The outreach to India is about “shared enemies” – the Muslim. There are many Indian immigrants in Europe, but they differ from their Muslim counterparts in their willingness to assimilate to their new culture, Their willingness to adapt qualifies them as “allies” in Breivik’s crusade; he aims to maintain “Europe”.

    Indulge me in an analogy. Hitler was a committed socialist. He was arguably history’s biggest war-monger and perpetrator of the signature evil of modernity. So – does socialism cause genocide and/or war? Was he a “Socialist Terrorist”? There are plenty out there who argue such, but short answer: no. Juergensmeyer’s syllogism has the same flaw: idealogy as “cause” rather than a “condition” leading to the occurrence.

    In its simplest interpretation, Juergensmeyer’s syllogism is accurate: Breivik was a Christian, Breivik was a terrorist, therefore Breivik is a Christian terrorist. But let’s bring back our old pal, Herr H: Hitler was a vegetarian, Hitler was mass-murderer, ergo Hitler was a vegetarian mass-murderer. These arguments are technically accurate, but I think the “vegetarian” example (sorry, not implying anything there buddy) highlights the absurdity of the logic.

    These three chaps, Breivik, McVeigh and Hitler were all motivated to commit horrific crimes in spite of, and likely in contradiction to, their religions and idealogies. These fellows sought the preservation of a traditional Europe, a less intrusive federal government and an Aryan Reich respectively. But converting non-believers to Christianity or socialism had little to do with their methodology or purpose. What did Freud say? “Sometimes a deranged lunatic is just a deranged lunatic.” Or something like that.

  2. Peashoot

    Very nice, Wildbilly. The folks over at Religion Dispatches need your solid, eminently competent critique. One of these days you really ought to write to the editors, mon ami!


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