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Mustafa Akyol Headshot

From Jihadism to Crusade-ism

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Since it became clear that the culprit of the horror in Norway was not a Muslim jihadist, but a self-proclaimed "Christian Knight," the popular perceptions of terrorism are being questioned -- as they should be.

First of all, as a Muslim, I should note that I agree with the Christian commentators who object to the depiction of the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, as a "Christian fundamentalist." This term implies a strong belief in the tenets of the Christian faith, but Breivik describes himself, in his manifesto, "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," as a shaky believer at best. "I'm not going to pretend I'm a very religious person as that would be a lie," he notes, and goes on to define himself mainly as a "cultural Christian."

Yet he is very obsessed about that particular culture to the level of seeing multi-culturalism -- the idea that different cultures can live together peacefully -- as treason to Europe. He believes that all Muslims will yearn for imposing the all-oppressive Islamic law everywhere they go, especially in Europe where they replenish and multiply, and this will lead to a thoroughly Islamized Europe. With long excerpts from various Islamo-sceptic writers, almost all pages of Breivik's 1,500-page manifesto reiterate the same theme: Europe is under a heinous attack by Islam.

As a final solution, Breivik wants to expel all Muslims from the old continent -- a bit like the Reconquista in medieval Spain, which he doesn't shy away from exemplifying: "Let us hope that the US (Democratic and Republican party) allows us, their European cultural and economical crown vassals," he even writes, in an Islamophobic passage with an anti-American subtext, "to liberate ourselves and deport the Muslims without them militarily intervening."

Now, here is a key point: The reason why the not-so-religious Brevick turns himself into a "Christian Knight" capable of committing unspeakable crimes is not any theology, but his analysis of the current affairs of the world. That analysis gives him a sense of siege, and that's why he digs deep in his culture to find elements that he can use to foster a counter-attack. The Crusades are the best thing he can find, and that's why he wants to revitalize them.

"Crusading is not just a right," he states, citing medieval texts, "but a duty according to Canon Law." He then rejects all the pacifism in the Christian tradition as naïveté, asserting: "The Church must be anti-pacifist in the manner that it actively preaches self-defense and even support preemptive strikes as a mechanic to safeguard either Christian minorities in Muslim dominated areas or even Europe itself."

Now, do you realize to whom all this sounds very similar?

To the late Osama bin Laden, of course. The Muslim terrorist leader was a more devout believer than Breivik, but his call for militant jihad was based on the very same premise with that of Breivik's call for militant crusade: An analysis of the current affairs of the world, which made bin Laden believe that his civilization was under a heinous attack, this time by the West. His famous call for jihad began with telling how Muslims have been humiliated, oppressed or killed by non-Muslims (led, supposedly, by the United States) in different parts of the world, and then reminded: "[Scholars] have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the Jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries."

Both camps in question share a sense of cultural siege as well. For the jihadists, Muslim women who embrace Western mores, and wear tight jeans or mini skirts, are hated symbols of corruption that need to be eradicated. For the ideological mentors of Breivik, a similar disturbance comes from the burqa, which is banned in France and Belgium, partly thanks to their efforts.

Similarly, Mohammad Atta, one of the culprits of 9/11, is known to have deplored how modern skyscrapers disrupted the traditional skyline of Islamic cities such as Aleppo. Likewise, the "anti-Islamization" groups in Europe are protesting the mega-mosque project in Cologne these days, saying that it will distort the German city's Cathedral-dominated skyline.

Of course, I am not saying that the groups and individuals within the "anti-Islamization" movement would condone Brevik's appalling terrorism, let alone repeat it. But the Breivik case shows how the fear they pump can have horrible consequences on the fringe. Jihadism, too, after all, is the violent edge of a non-violent, anti-Western ideology that has some appeal in Muslim societies.

A few lessons should be drawn from all this:

First, anti-Islamic fanaticism (aka "Islamophobia") should be taken seriously as a treat to global peace and security, as Islamic fanaticism is.

Secondly, we should focus more on the current events, and how they are interpreted in both civilizations, than what is written in medieval texts. What made al Qaeda retrieve the doctrine of militant jihad, and Breivik the ideas of crusade and reconquest, is a sense of siege. So, we should help both Westerners and Muslims get rid of that sense, by easing their political tensions and by fostering dialogue between them.

Finally, as I explain in my just-released book, "Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty," believers on both sides should claim their religion from those who embrace it only to find a basis for a seemingly holy war. Our traditions speak of not only jihad and crusade, but also similar values emanating from a common God. If we can put our loyalty to Him above the loyalty to our respective cultures, then not just multi-culturalism, but also all the hybrids it would breed, can flourish.

Around the Web

Anders Behring Breivik - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Norway massacre: the real Anders Behring Breivik - Telegraph

Norway attacks: Was Breivik a Christian terrorist? - CSMonitor.com

Norway top cop: Breivik lone wolf, "total evil" - CBS News

Anders Behring Breivik | 2083 A European Declaration of ...

Breivik and His Enablers - NYTimes.com

Anders Behring Breivik Identified As Suspect In Norway Shooting

Stephens: What Is Anders Breivik? - WSJ.com

Who's to Blame for Breivik's Ideas? | Stephen M. Walt