Thoughts from Norway

On Friday, over ninety people died, victims of terrorist attacks. Eighty-five of these victims were teenagers who had gathered for a youth camp on a scenic island. To some extent, such happenings have become commonplace. Buses bombed in Spain, subways in England, hotels in India. Except in this case, the perpetrator was not a Muslim, but a Christian.

Immediately after the attacks occurred, the media was quick to point a finger at Islam. When the news came out that the perpetrator was actually a right-wing Christian extremist, the media quickly backpedaled.

Why do we do this? Muslim extremist = Islam is evil! Christian extremist = but but but the problem isn’t religion! I’m sorry, what? The Washington Post pointed out this doublethink with an insightful quote:

After Breivik’s capture, police brought him ashore in a small boat. “He looked unaffected, quite cold, like it was a normal day,” said Anders Nohre Berg, 34, who lives nearby. “I think a lot of people are happy it’s just one crazy guy, not a terrorist group or al-Qaeda or something like that.”
Sigrid Skeie Tjensvoll, who had come out to see the bomb damage in Oslo, agreed. “If Islamic people do something bad, you think, ‘Oh, it’s Muslims,’ ” she said. “But if a white Protestant does something bad, you just think he’s mad. That’s something we need to think about.”
I think this is an important point. Why are we so quick to defend Christianity from  extremism and at the same time equate Islam with extremism? The L.A. Times, I think, pinpointed the problem we face:

Within the Muslim community, there was a sigh of relief that it wasn’t someone connected with their religion, but also a sting at being initially scapegoated — not unlike what occurred immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing by right-wing American extremists in 1995.

“This is predictable and something that we have come to expect, but it is sad,” said Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America. “For most Muslims, it is a confirmation of how they already feel, that they are guilty until proven innocent.”

He said despite the perception of Muslims being always at odds with others, the fight is actually between the mainstream and the extreme of every religion.

This I think is the key point. Every religion has its mainstream and its extreme fringe. That fringe is generally predisposed to oppression (especially of women) and even violence. Judaism has its extremists too, and I’m pretty sure Hinduism and all the rest have them as well. Even politics can generate extreme fringes.

Therefore, I would argue that rather than disassociating Christianity from killers like this, Christians need to admit the unsavory fringes their religion and denounce them. Similarly, rather than denouncing all of Islam when Islamic extremists commit acts of terror, we need to join mainstream Muslims in denouncing the extreme fringe of their religion. And at the same time, moderates of every religion need to keep up the fight against the fringe. Yes, that means you!

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