The Irrelevance of the Knights in a Global Society

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.

Posted in Islamophobia | 26 Responses | Print |

26 Responses

  1. I don’t think the families and friends of those killed in Norway woukd agree with you in describing the white Christian terrorist as ‘irrelevant’….

  2. Probably just an interesting footnote: “Did an 800 year old organization inspire violence on two continents this week? I doubt anyone thinks these two groups are linked. It’s just a coincidence that they use the same name. Yet, it raises the question of what makes violent ideologues and criminals search the past for inspiration? And what makes two groups so far apart find that inspiration in the Knights Templar?” (link to

  3. Professor Cole, Well done indeed.
    Living in the past seems like a dead end.

    Thanks for your efforts on this blog.

    Peace, Bob

  4. Are you saying that the “history of hundreds of years of European conquest and rule of, and emigration to, the Muslim world” was a bad thing? If so, why is what you’re saying ironic instead of a case of two wrongs making a right?

    • I am saying that Europeans afraid of foreigners coming to their country and influencing them is amusing

  5. Bonjour Juan!
    Actually, the accusation of heresy (along with homosexual sex, spitting on the crucifix in secret ceremonies, etc…) was used by Philippe IV to destroy the Knights Templar so as to get their very large wealth. When you want to kill your dog, accuse him of being rabid!
    Several thousands of them were arrested on the same day throughout France, which is a fair achievement in planning and execution in an era without phone, emails, fax et. al.

  6. This is a great timely post, professor. Thanks. Your students are indeed very fortunate, as are your blog readers.

    • “The group is hosted by an English Protestant, joined by an English Christian atheist, a French Catholic, a German Christian atheist, a Dutch Christian agnostic, a Greek Orthodox, a Russian Christian atheist, a Norwegian Protestant (presumably Breivik himself), a Serbian Orthodox (“by proxy, location: Monrovia, Liberia”), while unable to attend were individuals from Sweden, Belgium and a “European-American.” Breivik does not reveal anyone’s name”

      “There were only 5 people in London re-founding the order and tribunal (1 by proxy) but there were around 25-30 attending in Balticum during the two sessions, individuals from all over Europe; Germany, France, Sweden, the UK, Denmark, Balticum, Benelux, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Austria, Armenia, Lebanon and Russia”

      So, what is a German Christian Atheist, a Dutch Christian agnostic, and a Russian Christian atheist? Must have been a Russian who converted after the fall of the Soviet Union and quickly became an atheist.

      This young man was recruited by someone.

      My interest was peaked when RT quickly intervied one of their own who knew Breivik, Breivik visit to the Czech Republic for arms, and Breivik views on Serbia.

      • This gives me a nostalgic flashback to the heyday of the American militia movement, when in each state a few gun nuts would start stashing ammo and mimic military training. Then the networking began and the little bombs started going off.

        Of course once McVeigh shone a very bright light on the enterprise, things kind of went into the cracks, the leaders forging ties with the Religious Right that the media ignored, waiting for the next crisis in white ocnfidence to move deeper into America’s power structure and pick up those all-important corporate sponsorship bucks.

        Wonder where Breivik’s network is in this process, and whom their sponsors will be.

  7. …and this:

    3. The gunman is a strong advocate for Israel, and stands behind much of the same rhetoric as we hear from the other usual suspects in the Zionist camp. The gunman looks at multi-culturalism as the greatest threat to Europe, and advocates in favour of segregated nation states.

    from link to

    These are notes from one of their contributors in Norway.

  8. The “raping Muslims” meme was used to incite the mobs in Australia a few years ago too.

  9. Bear in mind that “civilization” is one of those words like “sophisticated,” with a wide variety of paradoxical associations. “Sophisticated” used to mean “adulterated,” as by adding “sugar of lead” to crummy wine hiding behind a fake label.

    And “civilization,” apparently first appearing in the Euphrates valley, consisted of learning how to grow food crops that produced a year-over-year surplus. That allowed the development of granaries, which required walls to protect them against residual hunter-gatherers (the “grasshoppers” in the “ants-vs-grasshoppers” fable.) Which required militias and then tax-supported armies to both protect that surplus, and turn it into arms and armor and the gewgaws and ornamentation favored by the inevitable “royal” elites. Armies to also attack and steal the grain and enslave or murder the “they’re not really human” populations of other walled towns. And priests to manage the myths and help keep the servile population in line.

    Seems to me we have already got a “global civilization.” Careful what you wish for, and all that.

  10. Reading Breivik background saying his father a diplomat in London last night, the thought came that Breivik father most likely was left on the political spectrum, given Breivik broke off relations with his father. The year he broke off contact with his father is interesting, (given in the article linked below), as more details emerge on Breivik background a better view of this man will emerge. Right now, he looks like he was good material for recruitment during his late teen-age years and twenties.

    “Breivik said both parents supported Norway’s centre-left Labour Party, which he viewed as infiltrated by Marxists”

    Read more: link to

  11. I must respond to this one. I agree you Dr. Cole. That person in Norway, Anders Breivik, has caused a great deal of harm. My mind of peace, discussion, and engagement, cannot understand why he was blowing up bombs and hunting non-Nordic looking people in a recreation area. He said he “came into contact with like-minded individuals across Europe.” Breivik in his confession says his group formed a “military order inspired by the extinct Order of Knights Templar crusaders.” Breivik reports a Templar goal: to conquer Europe by 2083 in a string of coups. Norwegian police could not say whether the group existed. Breivik wrote in his manifesto that he was a boy when his life’s path began to turn. It was during the first Gulf War, when a Muslim friend cheered at reports of missile attacks against American forces.

    It is right to be alarmed to find anyone cheering bombings and missile attacks. However, Brejvik wants to be a vigilante, Ku Klux Klan style, instead of engage in discussion for understanding. If he knew and respected the values of modern day Templar organizations, he would not have done this evil awful thing.

    In York Rite Freemasonry there is a group called the Knights Templar. This American encampment has the sole purpose of charity. This modern order’s mission is particularly the Templar Eye Foundation for medical research of the eye. This group has a great desire is to bring Light to the blind of the world.

    What did modern Masons and Masonic Templars gain from the original Crusader Knights? That would be an important lesson. The Crusader Knights were destroyed by the greedy despotism of the French King, Philip the Fair, and the bigotry of Pope Clement V. This is very similar to the troubles Jesus faced with the despotism of Rome, and the bigotry of the Sanhedrin.

    This major lesson, free thinkers everywhere should pay close attention, as expressed in the American and French Revolutions, for people everywhere of any religion, or any country: resist “unbridled authority,” and bring the Light of peace and understanding to the world. The press attempting to relate Breivik to any modern Masonic or Templar activity disgusts me. I wish they could report the truth. Breivik suffers from his own personal delusions unrelated to any modern Templar or Masonic ideal.

    Just me,
    Warren Lunsford

  12. Various media reports indicate Anders Breivik belonged to an ultra-right-wing fundamentalist group named, “The European Military Order and Criminal Tribunal (the PCCTS –
    Knights Templar).” That group bears no relation philosophically or by affiliation to any Masonic group or to The International Order of the Knights Templar, known throughout the world as Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani (OSMTH). OSMTH and regular Masonic fraternal groups both desire to share Christian Love by doing good works.

  13. Congrats to the Norweigens for their restraint in jumping to conclusions and for their diligent professional way in handling such a horific tradgedy. I don’t think our sensationalist media and public personalities would show the same reservations of judgement.

    I know the water-cooler talk befoe any details were released was about “Islamic” terrorism. I hope those who jumped to that incorrect assumption realize that their (amusing / irrational) fear, is not so different from from the gunmans. How many more tradgedies must the “right” create before we assume it’s some right wing nutjob instead of some brown person… (Hint: it’s when the m.s. media figures it out.) Hopefully the downfall of Murdock will hasten this important ideological shift.

  14. The irony is that, even if there were no immigrants in those countries, people with such mentality would find some other things to cling to and do their devilish deeds.

  15. Maybe in those interesting rehabilitation prisons of Norway, they will screen Ridley Scott’s *Kingdom of Heaven* for Breivik. The Templars come off pretty badly in it, while Salahudin is represented as a successful negotiator, who doesn’t mind dwelling in paradox — a good lesson for binary thinkers like Breivik. (Interestingly, American audiences were lukewarm about the film while Europeans understood it perfectly.)

    • I am about as Yankee Doodle red white and blue American as you can get. I can report that I not only understood Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” I enjoyed it and know that spark of Christian and Muslim brotherhood, working together for the greater good for peace and prosperity is still with the good people of the West, the Near East, and the Far East.

      You should have seen the class I was teaching at Florida Metropolitan University. It was International Management. I had students from Libya, Palestine, Pakistan, India, China, Haiti, Jamaica, and Japan as well as two American citizens. The students were Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim. The two from China did not claim a religion, but knew in their heart something is greater then an individual’s activities. The Japanese student was very interesting with a syncretic mixture involving Shinto and Buddhism. The diverse background of my students was extremely beautiful, and now more normal for American cities. This student base of this college was reflective of the cultural diversity of Central Florida in South Orlando.

      Now I live in Western North Carolina. The cultural diversity is not here. However, the majority of local citizens desire to do good works, and share the good life with everyone. There are people of good will of every religion everywhere.

      The crimes of people like Breivik is a sad ten steps backwards into the evil of world history’s checkered past.

  16. “most rapes happen in big cities”

    I’m no expert, but I believe that is part and parcel of the popular misconception of rape. Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, including friends, relatives, and nuclear family members. Throw in date rapes, and then you see that those rapes where someone yanks a girl off a sidewalk into a dark alley is actually a small percentage of the crime. Most rapes are most likely still not reported. I’d like to see any kind of analysis that points to city populations being any more rape prone than rural populations. Also more likely, a Muslim man is more likely to rape a Muslim female than a non-Muslim female, going by what I just mentioned. Anyone want to hazard to guess whether or not Mr. Breivik has committed rape in his past and what race the victim was and whether the victim would have reported it? Of course, having gunned down scores, complaining about others raping is simply the ultimate depth of pathetic.

  17. The Irrelevance of the Knights in a Complex Society

    Breivik yearns for return to a simpler black is black and Norway is white. That’s not going to happen.

    Fossil fuel extraction and combustion, does Norway have a hand in this and did Breivik benefit, has changed the climate. Peoples will migrate, many habitats will be lost while fewer will be gained, and the ones whose progeny survive to the next century will be the ones capable of embracing change and dealing with complexity.

    Recent research has shown that in the US, “conservatives” have mindsets less capable of dealing with complexity than liberals. Makes sense, that’s why they oppose changing perceptions even though their collective stupidity causes greater changes than liberals ecological conservation. Paradoxes galore, enough to make your brain hurt, and if your name is Breivik, enough to provoke a fantasy driven murderous rage.

    Irony 101 Final Exam:
    (True or False) The ability to embrace complexity and adapt to global ecological conservation will limits unavoidable anthropogenic changes that mandate adaptation to greater changes.

Comments are closed.