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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Norway Massacres and Religious Violence

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World OrderThe recent killing of approximately 80 Norwegians at the hands of Anders Behring Breivik (and possibly others), was by an individual who, according to early reports, is a fundamentalist Christian who harbors strong anti-Islamist views and considers European multiculturalism a bad thing ("Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S.").

However, his manifesto reveals that that Breivik probably isn't a fundamentalist Christian. He probably doesn't even qualify as an evangelical Christian. In a self-interview (in his manifesto) he writes:
Q: Do I have to believe in God or Jesus in order to become a Justiciar Knight?
A: As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus.
Not exactly a definition that most, if not all, fundamentalist or evangelical Christians would embrace. He goes on to say that a "Christian fundamentalist theocracy" is "everything we DO NOT want," and a "secular European society" is "what we DO want."

Nevertheless, the early misreporting of Breivik's views raised, once again, the specter of religious violence and its causes, and at first blush, they seem to lend support to Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis.  Huntington argues that the end of the Cold War led to the collapse of an geopolitical equilibrium that kept what he calls a "clash of civilizations" at bay. But since that time, "culture and cultural identities... [have been] shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world" (p. 20). According to Huntington, these cultural identities, which are primarily associated with the world's great religions, are best thought of as 'civilizations' (p. 42), and the best way to avoid conflict is to keep these civilizations apart from one another.  Thus, countries should embrace the pursuit of a "single" civilization and by promoting religious homogeneity.

There is a certain intuitiveness to Huntington's argument, but for the most part, the data don't support it.  Religious conflict tends to be lower in societies where there is more diversity, not less. There are, of course, exceptions, and this fact doesn't make what happened in Norway any more bearable. However, it does suggest that individuals, such as Breivik, who think the answer to the world's problems is less diversity, not more, are simply wrong.

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