Norway’s Sorrow: Why Is It So Hard For The Religious Right To Denounce Evil?

In retaliation to the growth of Islam and its most radical strains, Christian theocrats want to install Christ in this so-called 'Christian nation' wherever possible.

Last Friday, as you know, Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people with a car bomb in Oslo. He followed this explosion with gunfire at a Labor Party youth camp on Norway’s Utoya Island, which left at least 68 dead.

Breivik claimed sole responsibility for the attacks and handed over a 1,500-page manifesto that details his motives for the massacre. He wanted to signal to Europe that he and the rest of his resistance would not stand for the “annihilation” of “European Christian” culture at the hands of multiculturalism – especially Muslim immigration.

Stateside, as soon as we got word of what was happening, the media’s line was one of anti-violence. Writers – leftist, rightist, wherever – scrambled to be the first to condemn it all as a terrible atrocity.

But then things took a turn. Newsrooms were quick to finger the blame on Muslim extremists. Take five minutes and watch Stephen Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek coverage of just how fast the media jumped the gun, or check out this recap from Media Matters. Without much to go on, the New York Times even reported that an Islamist group called Friends of Global Jihad was taking responsibility for the coordinated attacks, confirming most of our not-so-unspoken suspicions and assumptions.

Soon, however, the truth came to light. We saw photos of the blond-haired, blue-eyed gunman, read psychotic snippets of “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” We understood that Muslims – not unlike the families and friends intimately touched by the violence itself – were, if anything, victims here.

Didn’t we?

Not according to some on the Religious Right, who are clinging to malicious Islamophobia even as Breivik’s religio-political motives become clearer.

Pseudo-intellectual Glenn Beck, for example, compared the kids slaughtered at the Labor Party camp to Hitler Youth for having attended a political summer camp. Beck wouldn’t have said that if Breivik had been some liberal wacko who opened fire on the conservative youth of Norway. He certainly wouldn’t have said it if Breivik had been Muslim.

And the notorious Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association – one of the groups sponsoring Texas Governor Rick Perry’s upcoming (and constitutionally deplorable) fundamentalist Christian prayer rally – wrote that Breivik “correctly observes” that “the presence of so many Muslims in Norway and Europe” is “leading to cultural annihilation.”

Sure, he also sets out to show that Breivik’s interpretation of Christianity was off base, but this is yet another problem with the Right's response. The same folks so quick to say Breivik isn't "Christian," which is to say he doesn't represent the religion's mainstream views, would hardly do the same for Muslims. Just watch this Daily Show segment. And, though of course Breivik isn't your average "Christian," he does draw on its fundamentalist tenets the same way radical Muslim terrorists draw on Islam's. (But let’s not even go on about all the hypocrisy; the comparison between fundamentalist Christianity and Islam is well documented.)

Gee, I wish I could be happy. After all, the Religious Right finally went for empathy over vitriol. But the beneficiary of this understanding is a not-good guy. He’s racist, xenophobic and wants to impose his brand of fascist, theocratic governance on the rest of us.

So let’s be clear: Anders Behring Breivik’s motives were unforgivable – just like his violence was. The man didn’t have a point, and he wasn’t on to something.

And the skittish defense we saw from some on the Religious Right (“Well, of course it’s bad to shoot people, but…”) is part of a seriously troubling trend. In Europe, anti-Muslim parties on the far right have gotten way too much traction. From statements (e.g., Angela Merkel said the experiment of multiculturalism failed in Germany) to policies (e.g., the Swiss ban on minarets), anti-Muslim hysteria in Europe has reached new highs.

The Religious Right in this country is in lockstep. One presidential candidate swears he would keep Muslims out of his administration because of their Nazi-like treachery, while another thinks it’s a-ok to bar the construction of any mosque. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) keeps holding misleading hearings on Muslim radicalization.

The list goes on and on. Right-wing politicians and pundits everywhere have decided it politically prudent to conflate Islamic (of or relating to Islam) with Islamist (of or relating to Islamic militancy or fundamentalism). Or worse: they actually believe this misdirected, misinformed hate.

In retaliation to the growth of Islam and its most radical strains, Christian theocrats want to install Christ in this so-called “Christian nation” wherever possible. To hell with the church-state separation guaranteed by the Constitution, a document they can’t otherwise extol enough.

So, Religious Right, get your act together. You’re making what was already an unspeakable tragedy even worse.

My heart goes out to those affected by Anders Behring Breivik’s senseless violence – as it does to Muslims here and abroad who continue to endure awful discrimination.

Kurt Ostrow -- Brown University '13.5, Religious Studies -- is interning with Americans United’s Field Department this summer.