A Double Standard on Religious Violence

When the news of a bombing in downtown Oslo, Norway, was closely followed by the shocking mass shooting at a teen youth camp on the island of Utøya, major news outlets were quick to pin the blame for the attacks on Muslim extremists. The New York Times briefly reported that a terrorist organization called “Helpers of Global Jihad” had claimed responsibility, while the British newspaper The Sun declared that the events were “Norway’s 9/11.” Hours later, it was clear that these early reports that the violence was related to religious extremism were correct, but the religion with which they associated the violence was wrong. The perpetrator turned out to be a blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who publicly identified himself as Christian on his Facebook page and also posted online a 1500-page ideological manifesto in which he declared himself to be a “cultural Christian” crusader standing up for Europe’s “Christian culture” against the forces of “Islamization.”

This revelation re-opened a fundamental question: are those who carry out acts of violence in the name of a religion true followers of that religion, or not? A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute, and a new joint report by PRRI and the Brookings Institution, reveals that Americans literally apply a double standard when answering this question, depending on whether the perpetrator is Christian or Muslim. More than 8-in-10 (83 percent) Americans say that those who commit violence in the name of Christianity are not truly Christian. On the other hand, less than half (48 percent) of Americans extend this same principle to Muslims and say that those who commit violence in the name of Islam are not truly Muslim.

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