When Norway was hit with two coordinated terrorist attacks on July 22, the media (and possibly law enforcement) were quick to assume a jihadist link. That isn't surprising. In the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, the authorities checked area airports for men of Middle Eastern origin. Fortunately, those early assumptions (in both cases) did not prevent the capture of the true culprits.
It is human nature to divide people into Us and Them, and to attribute evil to Them rather than Us. We draw the bluntest dividing line possible. It is easy and obvious to define foreigners and Muslims as Them.
However, Anders Behring Breivik is neither a foreigner in Oslo nor a Muslim. He is as Norwegian as Vidkun Quisling and a professed Christian who was inspired by the crusades. It is chilling how closely his crimes and motivation parallel the September 11 terrorist attacks carried out by Al Quaeda. While the number of victims was far fewer than on September 11, 2001, there were 19 terrorists who carried out those attacks rather than one lone bomber/gunman. The body count per terrorist is remarkably similar.
It seems to me that the real motivating force we should worry about is not Islam but rather intolerant fundamentalism. In the early 21st century, Islam harbors more intolerant fundamentalists than Christianity or Judaism, but that was not the case a few hundred years ago. A couple centuries before its revolution, France was torn apart by sectarian warfare between Protestants and Catholics. Heretics were burned in 16th century England, and witches were hanged in Massachusetts a hundred years later. These atrocities eventually led western European nations in a more secular direction, forcing mainstream Christianity to get along with its neighbors.
Islam is only beginning that journey. It can be seen most strongly in Indonesia, a country that has been mostly left alone by U.S. foreign policy. The Indonesian people have transitioned to democracy and moved away from Islamist rule to a more secular government, because that is how they wish to live.
Conservatives have pointed out a recent poll showing that 40% of British Muslims want to see shariah law enacted in the U.K. The obvious corollary is that 60% -- a comfortable majority in any election -- do not want shariah law enacted.
We should be making moderate Muslims feel welcome among us and make it easy for them to assimilate into western society rather than treating them like outsiders, so that they only find welcome among the jihadists.
If I must draw a line defining Us and Them, I want to draw it so I am on the same side as Muhammed Ali, Aasif Mandvi and Fareed Zakaria, rather than Fred Phelps, Eric Rudolph and Anders Behring Breivik.