Anders Behring Breivik

Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

The terrorist set out to massacre Muslim believers as they gathered for Friday prayers in their mosques.

He covered his weapons with names of others who committed similar mass murders and military leaders that he claimed fought for the same cause.

The terrorist left behind a hellish manifesto built on themes common among radicals who hate immigrants, especially Muslims, and weave in virulent anti-Semitism themes, as well (BBC explainer here). He claimed to have “been in contact” with sympathizers of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people — most of them children — in 2011.

1. Religion story of the week. The gunman’s motives may have been pure hatred, with no twisted links to any world religion, but it’s clear that the New Zealand massacre is the religion story of the week — because of the faith of the 49 victims and the faith statements of millions of people that are offering prayers and help in the wake of the attack.

The gunman labeled his own motives, as seen in this New York Times report:

Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. …

In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes. Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.

The Washington Post noted:

The 74-page manifesto left behind after the attack was littered with conspiracy theories about white birthrates and “white genocide.” It is the latest sign that a lethal vision of white nationalism has spread internationally. Its title, “The Great Replacement,” echoes the rallying cry of, among others, the torch-bearing protesters who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Also this:

Video on social media of the attack’s aftermath showed a state of disbelief, as mosque-goers huddled around the injured and dead. Amid anguished cries, a person could be heard saying, “There is no God but God,” the beginning of the Muslim profession of faith.

Please help us spot major religion themes in the waves of coverage that this story will receive in the hours and days ahead. Meanwhile, with Bobby Ross Jr., still in the Middle East, here is a tmatt attempt to fill the rest of the familiar Friday Five format.

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London mosque attack: Are journalists covering a 'van driver' or a 'white Christian terrorist'?

London mosque attack: Are journalists covering a 'van driver' or a 'white Christian terrorist'?

So, what are reporters supposed to call the driver of the white van that veered into a crowd of worshippers as they left  a mosque in north London?

That's a logical and totally appropriate question for journalists and multicultural activists to be asking, as the coverage digs deeper and deeper into the facts surrounding England's latest terrorist incident.

A "terrorist" attack? Obviously. This certainly appears to have been the work of an anti-Muslim terrorist who was reacting to previous attacks on civilians by terrorists preaching, in word and deed, a radicalized brand of Islam.

The New York Times team noted that a rather prominent writer -- J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter fame -- has spoken out on this topic. In a tweet that was later deleted, she opined: “The [Daily] Mail has misspelled ‘terrorist’ as ‘white van driver. ... Now let’s discuss how he was radicalised.”

To which I say, "amen" on the radicalized question. Still, I advise -- as in the past -- caution and some basic research before journalists start throwing labels around.

Does anyone remember that hellish 2011 rampage in Norway by Behring Breivik? People started using the term "Christian fundamentalist" before facts emerged that pointed in a radically different direction. As I wrote at that time:

... What are journalists looking for? ... We need to know what he has said, what he has read, what sanctuaries he has chosen and the religious leaders who have guided him.
Also, follow the money, since Breivik certainly seems to have some. To what religious causes has he made donations? Is he a contributing member of a specific congregation in a specific denomination? Were the contributions accepted or rejected?

In other words, journalists (and law officials, for that matter) need to ask the same kinds of questions when a terrorist attacks Muslims that they should be asking when radicalized Muslims attack those (Christians, Jews, secularists, other Muslims) who oppose their approach to Islam.

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Breivik the liar

The news that Anders Behring Breivik has written a letter to the Norwegian media stating his protestations of Christian faith, pro-Israel opinions and anti-Nazi convictions were a calculated lie has left me stunned. Breivik now says his manifesto and early statements were a bluff designed to focus public and media outrage on Christians, Jews and conservatives by tainting them with his actions. His early denials of being a racist or hyper-nationalist were false, Breivik writes. He lied in order to protect the good name of the neo-Nazi movement (Yes, I find that to be incredible on several levels, but that is what he said.)

What is one to believe? It is easy to dismiss this latest prison epistle as the ravings of a madman. Save that he is not mad (according to psychiatrists). Does being merely evil make them less credible?

On July 22, 2011 the 32-year old Norwegian detonated a bomb outside an Oslo government building killing eight and then proceeded to shoot to death 69 people,  mostly teenagers, attending a Worker’s Youth League (AUF) camp on the Island of Utøya. The Oslo District Court rejected Breivik’s insanity defense and on August 24, 2012, found him guilty of murdering 77 people. He was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment, but is likely to serve a life term as he can only be released if the courts determine he is no longer a danger to society.

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