Editor’s note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of the new book “The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan.”
(CNN) — The trial of mass murderer Anders Breivik has confirmed one thing so far: He seems quite mad. Looking plump and dumb, with a slightly receding hairline, the Norwegian gave a right-wing salute as he entered the courtroom and smirked his way through CCTV footage of his handiwork.
Breivik claims that he killed 77 people as an act of self-defense against the #Islamification of Norway, that he is a member of the Knights Templar and part of an “anticommunist” resistance to multiculturalism. Reading his insane manifesto, it is tempting to dismiss him as a nut with a gun.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying the political context to what Breivik did. Since 9/11, fringe and mainstream politicians in Europe and America have spoken of Islam as incompatible with Western values. Breivik quoted many of them in his manifesto. This is not to say that he took direct inspiration from those public figures, or that they bear personal responsibility for his crimes. But Breivik’s paranoia does conform to a popular — wholly negative — view of the twin problems of Islam and multiculturalism. Tragically, it is a view that few mainstream politicians have been willing to challenge.
Breivik makes two false claims. The first is that Islam is ethically inferior to Christianity and cannot exist peacefully within the secular democracies of the post-Enlightenment West. That is the open view of the Dutch Party for Freedom, the French National Front, the English Defense League and the Finnish True Finns. It was implicit in Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s aversion to the building of mosques. We might also infer it from much of the testimony presented at Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings into the radicalization of American Muslim youth. King has opined that there are “too many mosques” in the United States and that roughly 80% of American Muslims are radical.