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Christian or Muslim — Still a Terrorist

There is a direct line between radical beliefs and the fear-mongering provocateurs who specialize in demonizing “the other.”

In the last issue, we warned about the dangers of Islamophobia and profiled 10 activists who have mounted a reckless campaign to convince Americans that Muslims — a tiny sliver of our population — will somehow destroy our culture and impose upon us a caliphate governed by Islamic religious law. 

This idea seems so far-fetched as to not merit attention.

But it is precisely the kind of fear that motivated Anders Behring Breivik. Envisioning himself as a Christian crusader — a member of the Knights Templar (which actually disbanded in 1312) — he acted on his fantasy by bombing a government building in Oslo, Norway, and then calmly shooting Norwegian children at an island retreat. At the end, 77 people were dead.

The atrocity was intended to jolt Europe into recognizing what he viewed as the threat of multiculturalism and into stemming the tide of Muslim immigration.

As in many other cases of terrorism and hate violence in recent years, there is a direct line between Breivik’s radical beliefs and the fear-mongering provocateurs who specialize in demonizing “the other.” In this case, Breivik left a 1,500-page manifesto in which he admiringly cites U.S.-based anti-Muslim activists dozens of times. He particularly enjoyed the work of Robert Spencer, one of the people we profiled in the last issue. There can no longer be any doubt that the words of these Islamaphobes have consequences. The irony is that while these activists demonize all Muslims based on the actions of a few terrorists, the same case could be made about Christians. After all, wasn’t Breivik a self-declared Christian? Didn’t the Ku Klux Klan cloak its violence in Protestantism and the Bible?

The truth is, Islamic terrorists and their ideological sympathizers do represent a threat. Hence, our cover story in this issue focuses on homegrown Muslim extremists — many of them U.S. citizens and some of them alleged terrorists — who became radicalized while living in this country. We cannot afford to ignore this threat, just as we should not ignore the threat from right-wing terrorists like Breivik or those who bomb abortion clinics while invoking God.

Unfortunately, as we also wrote in the last issue, the Department of Homeland Security has drastically cut back the resources it devotes to non-Islamic domestic extremists. This is a serious mistake. We’ve urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to reverse course immediately. As we studied the 10 Muslim extremists profiled in this issue, we discovered a commonality: All spent many hours imbibing extremist rhetoric on the Internet, typically during the process of their radicalization. The same appears to be true with Breivik.

Just as globalization and its offspring, migration, are fueling the rise of nationalism in the U.S. and Europe, advancing technology is giving extremists the tools to spread their poisonous ideology far and wide. When these ideological extremists portray their culture and their civilization as facing an existential threat — and when mainstream politicians and media figures take up the banner — is it any wonder that someone like Breivik will act?

Unfortunately, some U.S. commentators, like the white nationalist Pat Buchanan, have found common cause with Breivik. Buchanan says that Breivik’s views “may be right.”

That is wrong. And it’s the kind of talk that breeds further hate and violence.

Speaking out against such Islamophobia is particularly important as we mark the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, an event that changed America in many ways.

Jihadists were responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 — a fact that should never be forgotten. But the idea that Muslims are dangerous because they are Muslims — pushed by the likes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who compared all Muslims to Nazis, and other public figures who support the banning of mosques in this country — is false.

Not only that, it is un-American. John F. Kennedy had that right in his famous 1960 campaign speech taking on bigoted anti-Catholic critics.

“[T]his year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker — or a Unitarian — or a Baptist,” the future president said. “Today I may be the victim — but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”