At least 92 people were reported dead in Norway, after a bomb blast and shooting spree on 22 July. There has been an outpouring of sympathy across the world for the victims, many of them young, and their families, and horror at this atrocity.
The full details are yet to be known. But the police seized the gunman, allegedly Anders Behring Breivik, an extreme rightwinger aged 32. Though the threat of far-right terrorism is often ignored, it has claimed its share of victims, for instance in Bologna in 1980, Oklahoma City in 1995 and London in 1999.
The suspect apparently described himself on Facebook as a ‘Christian’. This is an odd claim. How could one possibly believe in Jesus – who was Asian, Jewish, founded a world religion and taught love even for one’s enemies – and commit such atrocities in the cause of white supremacism?
He also seems to have quoted John Stuart Mill on Twitter. Humanists may be indignant that the words of a champion of liberty should be so bizarrely misinterpreted.
But some people use concepts such as defence of ‘Christian’ or ‘Western’ civilisation or values as a cover for prejudice against those of other ethnic or cultural groups. The vast majority of these would never condone mass murder, but obviously there is a risk that those drawn to extremism might find, in such views, an apparent justification for violence.
Politicians, too, who play the ‘race card’ in an attempt to win votes might want to think very carefully about the possible consequences. This is not to say that issues such as immigration and religious pluralism should not be discussed, but this should be done in a balanced way that recognises the contribution which different groups make to society.
In addition, at times of economic hardship, the effects of government policies on young people, and risks of intensifying alienation among some, should be considered with care. In this case, many of the victims were teenagers at a summer camp. Youth can be among the most vulnerable when prejudice and extremism are not effectively challenged.
© Savi Hensman is a Christian commentator and writer. An Ekklesia associate, she also works in equalities and social care.