As the New York Times has reported, it appears that Anders Breivik, the man who carried out the bloody killings in Norway last Friday, was influenced by American anti-Islamic bloggers.
The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber.
Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among Web sites. Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam who runs Atlas Shrugs, wrote on her blog Sunday that any assertion that she or other antijihad writers bore any responsibility for Mr. Breivik’s actions was “ridiculous.”
“If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists,” she wrote.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Last year, when abortionist George Tiller was murdered by Scott Roeder, anti-abortion groups were quick to distance denounce the killing and to shed all responsibility for it. They claimed that they had never called for such violence, that if anyone had incited it it wasn’t them, it was George Tiller himself. Sound familiar?
The anti-abortion groups and media Roeder frequented had for years called Roeder’s victim “Tiller the baby killer,” and had continuously compared him to Hitler and a war criminal. They had even put out fake “wanted” posters calling for his death. Similarly, the anti-Islamic websites and blogs Brievik frequented continuously spoke of the evil of Islam and a global struggle between Christian freedom and Islamic oppression. They emphasized Islamic honor killings and spoke of a “creeping Sharia” that was invading the West.
Slice it however you like, if these websites weren’t sowing hatred then up’s not up and down’s not down.
I’m not saying that these anti-Islamic websites should be prosecuted or held legally culpable for Brievik’s crimes, or that the anti-abortion groups who fueled Roeder should have been held legally responsible for Tiller’s murder. What I am saying is that we need to realize that sowing hatred does lead to violence. These websites and groups may not be legally culpable, but the reality is that they did help to create murderers by spewing hatred. Hatred begets violence.
The fundamentalist religion of my youth fostered a very “us versus them” mentality, and it taught me to see the world through the lens of good (us and other people like us) versus evil (anyone who doesn’t share our beliefs). I was taught to fear and even hate socialists, liberals, atheists, Muslims, and gays. The Catholicism I found while in college fostered a very different view of the world, one in which evil was not so pervasive and other people were at their core just like me. I no longer believed that anyone who didn’t believe just like me was going to hell, and I was able to catch a global vision of humanity hand in hand.
I think that humanity, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof, faces a struggle between “tribalism” and “universalism.” For the purposes of this discussion, tribalism is a mentality in which those who are different are stigmatized, stereotyped, and hated. In contrast, universalism is a mentality in which all humanity is seen as alike on some level, and others are seen not as threats but as allies. Christianity has its tribalists (fundamentalists) and its universalists (liberal Christians). I am willing to bet that Islam does as well, and Hinduism, and Judaism, etc. Even atheism has both tribalists and universalists. I don’t think this division is a religion or lack of religion thing. I think it’s a human thing.
Thus I would argue that the American anti-Islam websites that Brievik frequented are sowing hatred by promoting a tribalist view of the world. We are right, they say, and those Muslims are horrible, awful people who are out to destroy the world. There is no attempt to understand, or to see Muslims as just as human as we are. There is only stigmatization and hate. The same is true of the anti-abortion groups that Roeder frequented, with their dehumanization of Tiller and others like him. Tribalism and hatred of the other go hand in hand, and it is easy to see how they can lead to violence.
If this world is to prosper in an increasingly globalist age, we need to collectively put aside tribalism and embrace universalism. This does not mean compromising our beliefs. Even as I embrace universalism, I still believe that there is no god and that religion is solely man made. Embracing universalism is not about compromising, it’s about putting understanding, acceptance, and love first. We need to join hands with other people of every shape and size and condemn the tribalist impulse, with its hatred and stigmatization of the other, and instead back the universalist impulse, with its altruism and search for understanding. We need to fight hatred with love.