The Attacks in
Norway and the Price of Fear
Natana J. DeLong-Bas
There are certain events that are so painful and incomprehensible that
they stop us in our tracks and make us wonder what kind of world we live
in. The horrific mass murder of teens and young adults at a summer camp
in Norway on July 22 must make us pause to contemplate how such a thing
Simply blaming the individual as an aberrant case does not help us get
to the bottom of the real issues at stake. Nor does it help us protect
the children caught in the crossfire.
Initial media reports on Anders Behring Breivik’s dual assault on
government buildings in downtown Oslo and the Labor Party summer camp
were quick to link the attack to “Islamic terrorism.” It was eerily
reminiscent of early reporting on the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing
perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh when “experts” were quick to claim that
the attack bore the hallmarks of “Middle Eastern” and “Islamic”
When McVeigh was identified as the bomber, the American media did not
associate his “Christianity” with the attacks in the same way that
“Islam” was initially blamed. Instead, his frustration with his military
service and political grievances were highlighted as the root causes of
his violence. Because Christianity remains the majority religion in the
United States and Western Europe, most Americans and Europeans were able
to see McVeigh’s version of Christianity for what it was—an extremist
and politicized interpretation that had little to do with mainstream
Christianity in the West.
The same cannot be said of Islam, which remains one of the least
understood religions in the United States and Western Europe today. The
majority of Americans, for example, do not know enough about Islam to
recognize how an extremist interpretation differs from mainstream
Instead, sadly, we have seen cases time and again where individuals
equate Islam with terrorism. They express anger about “Islamic
terrorism” and fear of a “Muslim takeover” of the government. Stories
about President Obama’s “secret Muslim identity” continue to circulate
as do accounts of sharia being forced into the American legal system
despite the absence of any concrete evidence supporting either of these
Such a simplistic equation often leads to an exaggerated sense of
threat. It can also lead to violence.
For example, some “concerned” members of the Oklahoma City community in
1995 responded to early guesses about the perpetrators of the bombing by
harassing local Muslims and creating an atmosphere of fear, intimidation
According to early reports, Breivik, fearing Muslim colonization of
Western Europe and the rise of multiculturalism—and allegedly citing the
influence of individuals promoting exclusive and intolerant
worldviews—decided that the time for action had come.
Seventy-six people, mostly children and young adults, paid the price for
his fear with their lives.
Our views of the world are shaped by what we read, see and hear and by
the ideas to which we are exposed. Most people recognize that there is
no justification for such atrocities and that the actions of terrorists
cannot be excused. At the same time, if we fail to recognize and address
the societal factors at the root of such behavior, the cycles of anger,
violence and hatred will continue.
How many more cases of angry responses to fear-mongering and
Islamophobia must happen before we recognize its consistently deadly
consequences? Preaching hatred, racism and bigotry leads to violence. It
is never innocent and without intent. At some point, someone will take
Furthermore, more often than not, innocent children, who know nothing of
the issues at stake, get caught in the crossfire.
May God forgive all of us for allowing any child to live in an
atmosphere where hatred and fear rule the day. The adults of this world
owe children a commitment to learning to listen to and understand each
other so that we can all live in an environment where everyone’s
dignity, humanity and, yes, religion, are respected.
Their safety and their lives depend on it.
* Dr. Natana J. DeLong-Bas is editor-in-chief of the [Oxford]
Encyclopedia of Islam and Women and author of Wahhabi Islam: From
Revival and Reform to Global Jihad. She teaches comparative theology at
Boston College. This article was written for the Common Ground News
Source: CGNews, July 26, 2011, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.