Sorry, extremists — multiculturalism is no longer debatable. It is simply nonsensical to consider the 21st century world as something resembling a medieval kingdom of homogenous fiefs.
The sickening crimes of Anders Behring Breivik bring to a breaking point the paranoia that increasingly clouds modern societal and political perceptions.
Norway, a nation known for its open and active democratic dialogue, has been tagged with what many are calling a “loss of innocence” in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks. Speaking to BBC correspondents, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reflected that “[Norway has] never experienced anything like this before. We had to go back to the Second World War to find any kind of violence that is similar to what we experienced on Friday.”
Perhaps equally alarming as Breivik’s violent crimes was the rhetoric put forth by news agencies in the wake of the execution-style attacks. News outlets and pundits alike did not hesitate to suggest that a terrorist organization associated with extremist Islam was behind the killing spree. Doubtlessly, the revelation of a Norwegian native claiming to be a member of the Knights Templar and spouting a hate-filled manifesto has raised more than a few eyebrows.
But why should it? Enough is enough with religious and cultural profiling. The actions of Wahhabist extremists represent the true teachings of Islam roughly as much as Breivik’s Nazi-laced manuscript characterizes the passive tenants of Christianity. In both cases, individuals have manipulated and deformed peaceful religious teachings into twisted battle cries.
“My impression is that Christianity is used more as a vehicle to unjustly assign some religious moral weight” to his political views, commented Anders Romarheim, a fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. Other experts, having studied Breivik’s manuscript, confirm that it reflects a fundamental ignorance of Christian theology. On these bases, I would hesitate to make reference to Breivik purely as a religious extremist; his obsession with religion instead reads as a litany of intolerance (specifically anti-Muslim) toward the European immigrant and multicultural population, as well as the European Union. Nevertheless, Breivik’s own misguided notions should not masquerade the fact that his appalling actions were intended and executed as a terrorist attack towards a specific group of individuals.
Cowardice and political posturing of this type crop up again and again in acts of terrorism within the last century, from the Unabomber (the writings of which were plagiarized into Breivik’s manifesto) to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11th attacks — all of which have been continually referenced throughout last weekend’s news proceedings. Rightfully so: the parallels between the four cases are striking.
The sad fact remains that although Breivik’s actions were motivated by anti-multiculturalist sentiments, he chose to layer them under a religious veneer. Thankfully, although he professed that his actions are rooted in Christian teaching, the religion as a whole will not be judged for Breivik’s manical extremism. “He was a flaky extremist who might as well have claimed to be fighting for the honor of Hogwarts as for the cause of Christ,” quips Philip Jenkins, a Pennsylvania State University professor whose expertise centers on global religion and politics.
It is an unfortunate commentary on our culture that this courtesy is rarely extended to the Muslim population, who are too often judged on the crimes of madmen espousing their own warped and perverse misinterpretations of a theologically peaceful religion.
While Breivik’s attorney claims that “he wanted a change in society, and from his perspective, he needed to force through a revolution. He wished to attack society and the structure of society,” the overall effect instead smacks of a whining child in the midst of a temper tantrum. It is indeed an unfortunate indictment of society that multiculturalism has become the target of politics of hate. The underlying concerns and tensions of the changing dynamics of European society will not be appeased by rallies, lunatic manifestos, or acts of terrorism.
Instead, global onlookers should take this opportunity to restore proper focus to encouraging peaceful, rational, and unilateral dialogue that neither marginalizes immigrant communities nor grants them special privileges. The incorporation of religion into modern multicultural debates is at best a cowardly and distorted scapegoat. An honest discussion with the intention of resolving conflict and strengthening society cannot exist in the presence of prejudice.
The path forward from this tragedy should not include additional persecution or inappropriate criticism of religious groups. The purpose of government is not to target any ethnic, cultural, or religious faction, but to protect citizens from violence and harm. Imam Khalid Latif, chaplain for NYU and Executive Director of its Islamic Center correctly affirms that “Our focus should be the safety of all citizens in any country from every act of violence or terrorism. By cultivating a narrative that says Islam is the problem, we keep ourselves from maintaining that focus. All terrorist acts stem from an idea that it’s OK to resort to violence in order to get what you want; that it’s OK to kill to get the kind of world that you would like; that if we disagree, we cannot co-exist peacefully.”
Anders Breivik’s massacre should remind us that terrorism is not limited to a pre-determined profile, to a region, or to any one ideology. We cannot hope to successfully combat intolerance and hate by upholding a narrow definition of who is targeted by persecution or what constitutes a terrorist. Economically, politically, and socially, our best interest is to coexist. The sheer volume of information available through digital media lends a heavy accountability; there no longer exists a viable excuse for ignorance.
From this tragic event, youth around the world should take one paramount message: the existence of a peaceful and successful global society begins with the achievable challenge of acceptance, tolerance, and mutual respect among nations, cultures, and religions.
Love, do not shoot, your neighbors.