Norway's worst armed attack since World War II is grim news in the week before Ramadan, which starts August 1 for more than 1 billion Muslims around the world. Investigators' statements and news reports circling the globe claim that accused Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is a Christian terrorist determined to touch off a new Christian-Muslim war that would rival medieval Crusades.
If true, this Norwegian terrorist struck at a horrendous moment in global Christian-Muslim relations, when huge numbers of Muslims around the world say they are suspicious of the Crusader-like violence they perceive among Western Christians. That conclusion is detailed in a major new report from Pew's Global Attitudes Project, "Muslim-Western Tensions Persist."
"Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other," the Pew report begins. "Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical and violent, while few say Muslims are tolerant or respectful of women. Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy -- as well as violent and fanatical."
You read that correctly -- vast numbers of Muslims see Western Christians as the primary threat to world peace. These attitudes vary through the predominantly Muslim countries Pew surveyed in the Middle East and Asia. But, Muslim news media widely reported on the Pew report several days before Breivik's attack in Norway.
In Turkey's Hürriyet, an important English-language newspaper, the headline over the Pew story read, "Muslims and Westerners don't like each other much." The newspaper especially highlighted the stark misperceptions by each side.
The Arab News in Saudi Arabia called the conclusions from Pew's research "unremittingly grim." The Arab News told readers, "More Muslims than ever now say relations are bad ... Inevitably, of those who say relations are bad, the Europeans and Americans blame the Muslims -- and the Muslims the West."
In Pakistan, the influential English-language newspaper The Nation told readers, "For the most part, Muslims and Westerners finger point about the causes of problems in their relations, and about which side holds the high ground on key issues. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West."
This all unfolded in the days before Mr. Breivik unleashed his explosives and automatic weapons. Now, this is snowballing as Ramadan looms on August 1.
For more than 1 billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a spiritual high point each year. It's a month-long fast that is especially demanding in the Northern Hemisphere this year because it coincides with the heat and long days of August. As in the Jewish High Holy Days and Christian Lenten season, Muslims try their best to set aside disputes, forgive past grievances and make peace. ReadTheSpiritmagazine published a more detailed look at Ramadan traditions on Sunday, including a description of Ramadan's crescendo: Laylat al-Qadr. The solemn, peaceful wonderment embodied in that evening -- when Muslims recall the gift of the Quran -- is similar to the spiritual high points of Yom Kippur or Holy Week.
Unfortunately, this year, one headline after another seems to hammer home the extreme challenges of ever achieving global peace. Now, the Norwegian attack places an exclamation point at the end of the sentence.
That's not all. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 looms. The Pew report explains that even the most basic assumptions about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, represent night-and-day differences in public opinion between predominantly Muslim and predominantly Western countries. While most Americans know that Arab-Muslim terrorists attacked on 9/11/2001 -- a large portion of the Muslim world disagrees with that basic truth.
At ReadTheSpirit magazine, like the Huffington Post, we are proud of our wide diversity of readers, including Christians and Muslims both in the U.S. and across Europe and Asia. We wrestled with what advice we could give our readers this year as our small blue planet spins so rapidly toward Ramadan and 9/11.
Here is what we are advising: Do what you can where you live. Do you have Muslim friends or relatives? Show some compassion this year! With record-setting heat in parts of the U.S. this summer, Muslims are bracing for one of the most difficult Ramadan fasts in years. In countries where Muslims are the majority, people tend to sleep or nap during the day -- then they are active through much of the night. That day-for-night reversal doesn't work well in the U.S., of course.
This year, remember to wish our Muslim neighbors, friends and relatives a Good Ramadan. In your community, keep a compassionate watch on Muslim students, athletes and co-workers during those scorching August days. Muslims will need to take more breaks this year.
No one can undo what the Norwegian Christian terrorist has done. He survived the rampage -- so we may be subjected to many months of his anti-Muslim tirades. But, for thoughtful men and women in the predominantly Christian West, we can make a difference one compassionate family at a time.