In his summary of a massive manifesto written by Anders Breivik, the alleged terrorist who carried out Friday’s horrible attacks in Norway, Blake Hounshell observes that although Breivik wants to purge Europe of Islam, he also deeply admires al-Qaeda. Indeed, Breivik is inspired by the organization’s quest for cultural purity in the Middle East and wishes to do the same in Europe using similar means: “Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of the Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity.” This symmetry is also noted by Spencer Ackerman, who provides a very useful rundown of the intellectual parallels between Breivik and al-Qaeda.
Breivik admires few other terrorist groups, listing al-Qaeda as one of only two successful terrorist organizations. The reason for al-Qaeda’s success, he argues, is that it made other Islamists look moderate in comparison, making it easier for them to culturally gobble up non-Muslims:
Al-Qaeda’s relatively unknown but most important achievement is the fact that they have made moderate Islamist organisations more approachable by expanded [sic] the radical political axis. This legitimised several Islamist groups and therefore changed the very definition of “extreme Islam”. Several Islamic political entities that used to seem radical now seem moderate. As such, they work in tandem with the so called moderate Muslim organisations. They all have the same goal, conquering everything non-Muslim.
Although it is true that al-Qaeda has made some unsavory Islamist groups seem mild in comparison, it is not true that they share the same agenda. (I have an article coming out in a few weeks that explains what I mean, so I won’t steal my own thunder here.) It is also not quite true that al-Qaeda wants to remove religious minorities from Muslim-majority countries; they want them firmly under Islamic rule. Still, al-Qaeda does seek cultural purity in the Muslim world and Breivik sees it as a model for what he hopes to inspire others to do in Europe.
Strikingly, Breivik countenances working with al-Qaeda or other Muslim organizations and states that violently oppose European and American hegemony “if we feel that conventional approaches are fruitless or if the intelligence agencies/system protectors working for the Western European regimes successfully manage to neutralise our long term efforts to liberate our countries.” Under such circumstances, he recommends working with these organizations or states to acquire weapons of mass destruction to deploy in “European capitals and other high priority locations.” (In addition to al-Qaeda, he mentions al-Shabab and Iran as possible candidates.)
Breivik acknowledges two problems with this approach. First, how do organizations or states with profoundly diverging interests agree to give Breivik’s colleagues high-end weaponry for an attack against a high-end target in Europe? Breivik’s answer is that their interests are not that different. He and his fellow travelers do not wish to destroy Islam but “simply to isolate it primarily outside Europe.” He also supports the establishment of a caliphate as long as it does not encroach on Europe. Since the primary interest of Muslim groups and states violently opposed to European and American hegemony is the end of that hegemony in Muslim-majority countries, Breivik believes carrying out a cooperative WMD attack in Europe would go a long way toward accomplishing both sides’ goals.
The second problem Breivik acknowledges is the lack of trust between his colleagues and Muslim organizations or states. This trust can be established, Brevik asserts, by performing a “great sacrifice.” He suggests one of the following options to his colleagues: “surgically remove his penis and testicles and/or execute a fixed number of civilian children.” Such a great sacrifice should be sufficient to convince one’s Muslim interlocutors that he is serious and not a spy. (Or that he is completely insane.)
Breivik admits that collaboration of this sort is unlikely but he believes that if things get desperate enough for his colleagues, they will be willing to entertain such a measure. Both sides need each other. European patriots, he argues, would have an easier time deploying WMD in Europe than Muslim organizations or states would. Conversely, European patriots do not have the safe havens necessary to construct such weapons whereas Muslim organizations and states do.
I have not seen evidence that would lead me to believe that al-Qaeda or al-Shabab could ideologically accept working with someone like Breivik, although stranger things have happened. The more pragmatic Iran may be open to it in theory since it would give them plausible deniability. But in practice they likely have their own agents in Europe who could carry out such an attack, which is itself extremely unlikely unless there is an attack on Iran. Nevertheless, it is chilling that someone as dangerous and heartless as Breivik–a WMD himself–entertained the notion of becoming a proxy for others and that he has urged his radical readership to do likewise–a readership that doubtless now numbers in the thousands, as Breivik had hoped.