Norwegian right wing Christian terrorist Anders Breivik spoke of being a member of the “Knights Templar,” and if anything is further terrorizing about Friday’s attacks beyond their own horror, it is the possibility that an organization was behind them or that there are other members of it as looney and violent as Breivik himself. Update: : Breivik warned Monday that 2 more cells of “our organization” were organized for further attacks. Is this his “Templars”? The name, of course, refers to the medieval order coming out of the Crusades.
Breivik visited Malta, where the remnants of the real Knights Templar, having turned their resources over to the Knights of St. John the Hospitaller, had run a pirate mini-state for a few hundred years in the early modern period. Breivik, from a Protestant background, advocated a return to Catholicism, but not to the really-existing current church, rather to a pan-Christian revival of a Crusade theocracy.
The Crusade, he insisted, was necessary because in ten years Muslims would be a majority in most of Europe and they were raping Christian girls. The fear of brown men raping Norwegian women is of course the ultimate in iconic racism, redolent of Jim Crow in the Old South.
The myth about rape in Oslo is debunked here. The argument has the form of bad statistics. It is alleged that Muslims are only 4% of the population in Norway but are responsible for almost all the rapes. First of all, the allegation is untrue. But consider this: most rapes happen in big cities, where anonymity affords more opportunity for subsequent escape. Immigrants are mostly in cities and are a bigger proportion of the urban population than they are of the general population. Then, rapists tend to be young, and recent immigrants groups are disproportionately young. Then, rape is more common in low-income areas, and, you guessed it, immigrants are poorer. So if you studied rape among poor urban youth, it may well be that Muslims commit fewer rapes than would be statistically expected, in that demographic group (the relevant one). Moreover, a lot of the victims of rape would also be poor, urban, young immigrant women.
This wicked fantasy that most European rapists are Muslim immigrants is a staple of the far right, and it has contributed to hatred and violence toward European Muslims. This theme, like many Muslim-hating canards, appears to have been started by McCarthyite Daniel Pipes, a far right Zionist who “watches” American academics that do not toe Breivik’s sort of line at an invasion-of-privacy enterprise ominously called ‘Campus Watch’; and given the turn to violence among people of Breivik’s stripe, it is only a matter of time until Pipes’s organization whips some kindred looney into a homocidal frenzy against those liberal, multi-cultural, Muslim-coddling professors– so like the people at the Labor Party meet on Utoya. And why would Pipes be writing about rape in Scandinavia anyway? It is because people who want to steal more Palestinian land think that they can run cover for the often fanatical and violent West Bank settlers by scaring white people into thinking Muslims in general are a threat and should be discounted, and that if they get kicked out of their homes they’re just getting what they deserve.
So back to the “Knights Templar.” They grew out of the Crusades, which was a murderous and unprovoked attack of European, Latin Christians on Byzantine Greek Orthodox, on Jews, and on Muslims in the Levant, involving sordid episodes like the ‘Children’s crusade’ and the slitting of the throats of all Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem when it first fell. (The Muslim riposte under Saladin was considerably more ambiguous, involving Christian alliances and internecine Sunni Muslim fighting).
The Knights ironically fell victim to the very Christian fanaticism that provoked the Crusades in the first place, being accused of heresy by the Inquisition, tried, and largely disbanded. Some off their considerable assets (deriving in part from plunder) were given to a kindred organization, the Knights of St. John the Hospitaller, who eventually were kicked out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire and continued their activities, including piracy, on the island of Malta, which they took over.
I told the story in Napoleon’s Egypt of how the Knights of St. John on Malta met their demise at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, who took the island on his way to conquering Egypt.
Bonaparte made Malta into a French-style Republic, declared the Rights of Man, dispossessed the Church, including the Knights, most of whom were repatriated to Europe and some of whom joined the Republican army. He freed some 2,000 Muslim slaves held on the island, who had been kidnapped on the high seas by the Knights, and he wrote to the Bey of Tunis boasting of this favor he had done for Islam.
Bonaparte was the rhetorical originator of Breivik’s nightmare, a proposed alliance of Enlightenment, Reason with an alleged pure, democratic, Deist-style monotheism of Islam. The general even hinted around that he had converted or would convert to Islam, along with his troops, in an attempt to win the clerics of the al-Azhar seminary over. (The clerics were not that gullible).
Two things were going on here. It would be wrong to dismiss the universalism of the French Republic. The French memoirs of Egypt seldom doubt that Egyptians are perfectly capable of becoming modern Republicans, and there were even plans for Egyptian units in the Republican army. It was assumed that they would delight in the Rights of Man once they were liberated from the tyranny of sultans and slave-soldiers. Enlightenment ideals of individual rights and liberty, which included a liberty to practice Islam under French Republican rule, were part of the reason for which the sullen sectarianism of the Knights had to be abolished.
A less idealistic second cause was at work. Liberal European imperialism, which aimed at dominating the Muslim world, had to have at least correct relations with Islam and Muslim authorities. That is another reason that the medieval Crusading knights admired by Breivik had to go. It isn’t practical to continue to flail about with Crusades when there is money to be made by cooperating with people in Cairo and Jakarta. There is a less pathological, post-colonial version of this motivation for tolerance, which is simply global commerce that (properly regulated) can benefit everyone on the planet, and global cooperation on common challenges such as climate change.
Most European colonial authorities in subsequent decades were hostile to Christian missionaries and wanted to persuade the locals that they were not in fact being ruled by Christian white people, though the locals appear never quite to have been convinced. Christian Europeans went on to conquer and rule over almost all the world’s Muslims– the Dutch in Indonesia, the British in Malaya, what is now Bangladesh (1757-1947) and Pakistan and India (now 12 percent Muslim), the French in most of Muslim North and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
This history of hundreds of years of European conquest and rule of, and emigration to, the Muslim world is what makes it so ironic that people like Breivik now are driven to homocidal rage by 170,000 Muslims being in Norway, and fear that they may influence European law and custom. Yet most law, administration and other aspects of life in most Muslim countries have been decisively shaped by Europeans very much of Breivik’s background, in some instances for centuries. In fact, the Europeans actually did do to the Palestinians in British Mandate Palestine exactly what Breivik bizarrely fears Muslims will do to Norwegians in Norway, and most Palestinians haven’t even replied with violence.
Breivik’s medieval romanticism, his artificial European nativism, his pan-Christian vision, his hierarchical, racist view of society, all belong to bits and pieces of past dark episodes in European history. It is as though he has picked through the trash heap of history and attempted to resurrect broken icons, toys and ruined weapons. The Knights, both Templar and Hospitaller, came to an end because fanaticism eats its own children, and because a new world was imagined by American and French revolutionaries and later on by people like Goethe and Ralph Waldo Emerson, in which sharp divisions between Self and Other of the medieval variety were replaced by a global, modern Self. As Walt Whitman put it, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Breivik and his Knights are small, and hateful and isolated. The rest of us are building a global civilization.