Commentary: Is calling Anders Behring-Breivik a Christian terrorist wrong?

The Rock Hill HeraldJuly 29, 2011 

Bill O'Reilly is furious with the media for describing Anders Behring-Breivik as a Christian. O'Reilly no doubt is right that Breivik, an admitted mass murderer, doesn't fit most people's idea of a committed Christian, but I think O'Reilly is missing the bigger point.

Breivik's ghastly attacks in Norway, resulting in the deaths of 76 people, many of them children, should serve to offer some perspective on the nature of terrorism. Namely, this atrocity should sound a note of caution about blaming a particular religion as the instigator of terrorist acts.

Breivik, who admitted in court this week that he committed the mass killings in Oslo, does refer to himself as a Christian. In his 1,500-page manifesto (modeled, by the way, on that of the "Unabomber," Ted Kaczynski), he says he comes from a Christian perspective.

He writes that he does not have a "personal," religious attachment to Christ but believes in Christianity "as a cultural, social identity and moral platform," which, he believes, "makes [me] a Christian."

O'Reilly disputes that: "No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. The man might have called himself a Christian on the Net, but he is certainly not of that faith ... We can find no evidence, none, that this killer practiced Christianity in any way."

OK, I would agree with that. While people generally have a right to attach whatever religious labels they choose to themselves, Christianity and mass murder are fundamentally incompatible.

But O'Reilly rants on. The reason members of the media want to call Breivik a Christian, he said, is that "the left wants you to believe that fundamentalist Christians are a threat just like crazy jihadists are."

Here, I think he misses the point. It's not that we should consider all Christian fundamentalists to be crazy; it's that we shouldn't consider all Muslims to be "crazy jihadists."

O'Reilly is accusing "the media" of tarring conservative Christians with a broad brush while, in the same breath, he insinuates that all Muslims are potential terrorists.

Breivik is the polar opposite of the stereotypical terrorist. He is a monster, but one of the Nordic, blond-haired, self-described Christian variety. Airport security officials profiling passengers who might be possible terrorists probably would give Breivik a pass.

Breivik might well be insane, and it would be insane of us to attribute his actions to Christianity or something he might have read in the Bible. But why can't we give the same consideration to Muslims, most of whom are peace-loving and not bent on murdering Westerners?

Granted, at present, the next terrorist attack in the U.S. is likely to originate in the hothouses of anti-Western hatred in the Middle East or northern Africa. Or it might come from an American with ties to those regions.

But don't discount the possibility of an attack by an American who resembles Breivik more than he does Mohammed Atta. Some analysts see a growing threat from homegrown right-wing extremists.

Right-wing extremist activity surged in 2008 and 2009 after the election of the nation's first black president and the advent of the economic recession. The militia movement also has become more active over the past two years, according to analysts, with many groups stockpiling weapons.

Those same analysts worry that U.S. extremists pose a greater danger because they have easier access to guns, ammunition and bomb-making materials than their counterparts in Europe.

In short, we have no way of predicting with any certainty what the perpetrator of the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil will look like. He - or she - could be a "Muslim" jihadist like Atta or a "Christian" extremist like Breivik.

Chances are, neither religion would choose to claim either one of them.


James Werrell is the Rock Hill Herald's opinion page editor. He can be reached at

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