Conspiracy Theories

Spiritual Bedfellows : The Norway massacre and the Indian connection

This article is cross posted from here.

On 22 July, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, set off bombs in the heart of Oslo. He then went on a shooting spree on a nearby island where young members of the Labor Party were holding a summer camp. All told, he killed 77 people that day, many in their teens. He targetted Labor Party youth because he saw them as part of a multicultural left-wing cabal that was allowing a Muslim takeover of Norway. In his view, they were ‘category A traitors’ who had to be eliminated to save Europe from Islam.

Even though Anders Breivik alone pulled the trigger, the massacre in Norway was by no means the work of Breivik alone. He is a product of years of immersion in a worldwide web of anti-Islamic ideas espoused by cultural purists and nationalists of all stripes.

India, it turns out, figures quite prominently in this web of hate. So far, the India connection has been limited in media reports to the 100-odd references to India that appear in Breivik’s massive manifesto, including his ringing defence of ‘Sanatan Dharma movements’. The irony of a Muslim craftsman from Banaras embroidering the skull-and-sword badge for his army of ‘Knights Templars’, modelled on the 12th century Christian crusaders, has also evoked much commentary.

But there is a lot more to the India connection than it appears at first glance.


The simple fact is that some of the most revered personalities of the Hindu Right have actively cultivated and nurtured links with the European New Right. We don’t have to go as far back as the Nazi-loving founding fathers of the Sangh Parivar. The Savarkar and Golwalker generation that admired Adolf Hitler for trying to exterminate the ‘Semitic races’ has been replaced by a newer generation of Hindu chauvinists that raves and rants against ‘Semitic monotheistic religions’-Islam, above all. This new Hindu Right has managed to move beyond the old Nazi fixation on racial purity to a new ideology of hate based on cultural and religious purity that is proving to be attractive to ‘crusader nationalists’ such as Breivik and his fellow ‘patriots’ from Europe, North America and Israel.

The new Hindu Right has been honing its radical critique of Islam and Christianity from the perspective of ‘yogic spirituality’ largely through books published by the Delhi-based publishing house Voice of India (VoI), which was founded in 1981 by two ardent Hindu revivalists and anti-Communists, Ram Swarup and his friend, Sita Ram Goel (both now deceased). VoI’s goal is to produce ‘bauddhik kshatriyas’ (intellectual warriors), who will defend Hindu society against the triple ‘threat’ of Islam, Westernisation and Marxism. The signature theme of VoI thinkers is to attribute these three ‘evils’ to ‘Semitic’ or monotheistic religions that are ‘inherently intolerant’ because they believe in One True God, One Truth and One Book.

In recent years, VoI has emerged as the hub where ‘Sanatan Dharma movements’ make common cause with Islam-bashers, anti-Christian pagans, New Age seekers, deep-ecologists/eco-feminists and other disaffected right-wingers from Europe and the US.

Evidence of the global reach of the VoI-school of Hindutva can be found in the 1,518-page-long manifesto titled 2083: European Declaration of Independence that the Norway killer posted on the internet just hours before he went on his rampage. The manifesto makes two references to a Belgian writer, Koenraad Elst. The first time Elst is mentioned is as the authority behind the highly contested claim that Muslims enslaved Hindus and drove them to their death in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges, now in Afghanistan. (This reference appears in an article by Srinandan Vyas, which is reproduced in the manifesto.)

The second reference to Elst appears in his ‘recommendations to the West’ on how to make the life of Muslim minorities in Europe so difficult that they will either give up Islam or leave. Elst is quoted here to suggest that though Islam is in decline, it can still take over Europe before it collapses. (Here Elst is quoted in an article by Fjordman, the anonymous Norwegian blogger well known for his anti-Islamic views and greatly admired by Breivik).

It so happens that Koenraad Elst has one foot firmly in the European New Right and the other foot in the Hindu New Right spawned by the VoI school.

In Europe, he is considered a ‘leading Orientalist’, and writes frequently for The Brussels Journal, a European nationalist anti-Islamic blog, cited repeatedly by Breivik in his manifesto. Elst has also worked with think-tanks and publications suspected of links with Belgium’s far right, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant party, Vlaam Belang.

In India, Elst is the darling of the Hindu Right, and is held in great regard as the ‘intellectual heir’ of Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, who practically took him under their wing when he was researching the Ayodhya conflict in the late 1980s. His book, Ram Janmbhoomi v Babri Masjid, was published by VoI and released by LK Advani. VoI has published at least eight more of his books, and he is counted among VoI’s bestselling authors.

VoI has quite a few other European and American fellow travellers apart from Elst. Among the more notable is David Frawley (aka Vamadev Shastri), an American convert to Hinduism, who teaches Ayurveda and Vedic astrology in the US. Like Elst, Frawley follows Ram Swarup and Goel in decrying Islam and Christianity as inherently intolerant and fit only for ‘lower’ intellects. Like Elst again, Frawley tops the VoI bestseller list. Francois Gautier, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, and more recently of Sri Sri Ravishankar, is another VoI author who had a long career with the French newspaper La Figaro, which has been described as the mouthpiece of the French New Right. Gautier is the brain behind the idea of creating a museum showcasing the Hindu ‘holocaust’ at the hands of Muslims. A collection of his ‘Ferengi’s Columns’ has been published by VoI.

VoI, predictably, has also published Daniel Pipes, a well-known American critic of Islam, who also finds many mentions in Breivik’s manifesto. Well-known tracts of anti-Islamic literature, including Sir William Muir’s The Life of Mohamet and David Margoliouth’s Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, dating back to the 19th century, have also been reprinted under the VoI imprint.

In addition to nurturing extreme critics of Islam and Christianity, the founding fathers of VoI also tried to encourage the revival of pre-Christian and pre-Islamic pagan religions on the assumption that these ancient Indo-European religions shared the polytheism and ritualism of Hinduism. Ram Swarup personally mentored neo-pagans from many parts of Europe including Lithuania, Russia, Britain, Ireland, Iceland and Belgium (including Elst himself, who at one time harboured pagan sympathies).

VoI’s overtures to neo-pagans have not been terribly fruitful, as the nationalism favoured by ‘indigenous Europeans,’ who want to bring back pre-Christian gods of ‘blood-and-soil’, has been overtaken by an openly anti-Islamic ‘crusader nationalism’ exemplified by Breivik.


Now that Brevik’s manifesto has revealed the names of anti-Islamic authors, bloggers, websites and groups that shaped his thinking, the great washing off of hands has begun. Just about everyone named by Breivik has issued stern statements distancing him/herself from his violent deeds. Elst himself posted a statement stating that ‘The Brussels Journal never ever carried calls to counter Islam by means of bombs and shoot-outs… It only carried criticism of Islam, but that is a perfectly legitimate exercise.’

In India, the response of the Hindu Right has varied from total denial of any connection, to decrying the violence but supporting the reasons why he did it, to utter shock (as expressed by Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) that anyone would be so “absurd” as to even think of “linking European right-wing thinking with the most ancient Hindu cultural ideology”.

Decrying the violence is necessary but not sufficient, because the agenda of the Islamophobic Right is much larger than spilling blood in the streets. As he made clear over and over again, Breivik’s primary objective was to ‘create a platform to consolidate anti-Marxist forces before Europe is overwhelmed demographically by Muslims’.  In other words, his first priority was to take down ‘cultural Marxists’ or multiculturalists, who are supposedly ‘appeasing’ Muslims. (This must sound familiar to Indian ears. Indeed, Breivik advises his Hindu nationalist brothers to first go after the ‘cultural Marxist government’ and its left-wing sympathisers-‘category A and B traitors’ respectively-and only later resort to ‘counterproductive’ street attacks and the like against Muslims.)

But what exactly do Breivik and his stormtroopers have against these multiculturalist ‘cultural Marxists’? The answer is simple: cultural Marxists say ‘all cultures and religions are equal’. The problem with cultural Marxists, Breivik says, is that they are egalitarian and want to create ‘a society not merely of equal opportunity, but equal condition’. But it is ‘evident’ to him that all people are not equal, because all cultures and religions are not equal. Multiculturalists and cultural Marxists are, therefore, guilty of spreading the ‘politically correct’ but false ideology of tolerance and equality of all faiths and all cultures.

This equality is not acceptable to cultural nationalists: if all cultures are equal, how can they oppose the influx of what they see as inferior cultures? If all cultures are equal, how can they carry on their ‘consciousness-raising’ campaigns against The Quran and Sharia? If all cultures are equal, what is special about their own Christendom?


This resolute opposition to equality of all religions is what unites the European New Right and VoI-school of the Hindu Right.

Unfortunately, we in India are all too familiar with Hindutva sympathisers questioning the loyalty of Muslims, or wanting them to ‘acknowledge with pride’ their Hindu ancestry (as Subramanian Swamy did in his response to the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai). But most standard-issue Sanghis, however prejudiced they may be in reality, still claim that as good Hindus they believe in ‘sarva dharma samabhaav’ (equal regard for all religions) as a hallmark of the tolerance and pluralism of their ancient Vedic faith. Indeed, this mantra has served the BJP and RSS quite well, for they could oppose any concessions to religious minorities as contrary to the equal treatment of all religions, and, therefore, ‘pseudo-secularist’.

What distinguishes the VoI-brand of Hindutva-and pushes it into the global network of Islamophobia-is its staunch opposition to the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, the Hindu equivalent of multiculturalism. Hinduism, they assert, is not any ordinary religion, but rather contains the very essence of religion itself: it is sanatan dharma, the Eternal Cosmic Truth. To equate Hindu dharma, this mother of all Truth, with violent, materialistic and monotheistic ‘creeds’ like Islam amounts to equating dharma with adharma, the ways of devas (gods) with the ways of asuras (demons).

As Sita Ram Goel, the founding member of VoI, put it, “To entertain samabhaav (equal regard) for Islam and Christianity, by giving them the status of dharma is to extend [an] invitation to doom… These ideologies are not worthy of being called dharma in any sense of the word. Contrary to this, they are brimful [sic] of imperialistic expansion.”

Once they got rid of the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, VoI militants declared an open war against Islam. Their new consensus is that rather than ‘appease’ Muslims by pretending to respect their religion, Hindus need to debunk the claims of the ‘false’ and ‘monstrous’ doctrines of Islam. Indeed, Koenraad Elst has himself applauded this new war on Islam. In accordance with the VoI line on Islam being ‘asuric’, he has proclaimed that, “Every Muslim is a Sita who must be released from Ravana’s prison. We should help Muslims in freeing themselves from Islam.”

This is exactly the agenda of the Norway killer-to ‘educate’ Norwegian society, including Muslim immigrants-that ‘Islam is not a religion but a political ideology.’ This is the ‘non-violent’ component of the ‘crusade’ against Islam in Europe: to create an environment so hostile that the practice of Islam becomes difficult and that Muslims have no choice but to either leave or give up their faith.

Indeed, if there were any doubt about the shared ground between the VoI and European Islamophobes, Elst gives the same advice, in almost the same words, to the Norway killer as he does to his VoI admirers. The solution to the ‘Islam problem’ is not to use violence, ‘but to liberate Muslims from the mental prison-house of Islam’.

This war against Islam is the thread that dubiously binds Extremist India with the Norway massacre.

Meera Nanda is a historian, philosopher, and author of books such as Prophets Facing Backward and The God Market. She is a John Templeton Foundation Fellow in Religion and Science.

About the author

Meera Nanda


    • The connections Ms. Nanda makes are not merely ‘parallels’ but an identification of shared wellsprings and shared votaries of ‘cultural nationalism’ in both India and Europe.
      As for the tenuous parallels made by Hedges, he has been called out on his leaps by Dr. P Z Myers here. Harris himself has issued a blow-by-blow response here.

      • When we compare the criticism of Islam by Atheists and cultural nationalists, I think the crucial question that is being asked is

        1) Is it good old fashioned reasonable criticism of ideas (of Islam) OR
        2) Is it bad form of criticism characterized by critics as Islamophobia, hate campaign or racism, etc. that could potentially lead to violence

        Of course both Atheists and cultural nationalists denounce violence and claim that their criticism is of type 1, not type 2.

        You seem to be suggesting that while the criticism by Atheists is of type 1, that by cultural nationalists is of type 2. One problem in accepting this suggestion is that there are some fundamental similarities between criticisms of Islam from both camps.

        For example, one such similarity is indicated by the concluding paragraph of this essay. Elst advises to liberate Muslims (without violence of course) from Islam because it is a prison. Is it not similar to what at least some of the Atheists say?

        Does not the name Nirmukta suggest liberation? Liberation from what? Religion of course.

        • Of course both Atheists and cultural nationalists denounce violence and claim that their criticism is of type 1, not type 2.

          There’s a minor irritating fact you left out. Nobody who shares the ideology of Dawkins, Myers or Hitchens ever went out and actually committed violence. But the cultural nationalists actually did. Now how about you factor in that fact and ask them profound questions again?

      • From the link of Dr. P Z Myers you have given-

        “What? Muslims riot over cartoons, Breivik massacres young people in the name of reactionary Christian nationalism, and Hedges blames the atheists? Madness. Pure madness.”

        I agree. Allow me to present my own version here-

        “What? Muslims riot over cartoons, Breivik massacres young people in the name of reactionary Christian nationalism, and Ms. Nanda blames Hindutva? Madness. Pure madness.”

        Of course, I don’t expect you to agree.

        • Ms. Nanda does not ‘blame Hindutva’ to the exclusion of all other causes and not at all at the cost of letting other fundamentalisms off the hook. Note how she implicates ‘ideas espoused by cultural purists and nationalists of all stripes’. ALL STRIPES. If the sectarian tiger some of our compatriots are gleefully riding unmindful of the consequences can change its menacing stripes, tread less stridently and mute the hypernationalistic roars, then perhaps the likes of Dr. Nanda would be less anxious and spare you these articles that so exercise you. The onus of proving her anxieties unfounded is upon those of you who feel compelled to serve as pro bono apologists for an ideology whose hazards to the safety of citizens have repeatedly been demonstrated.

  • Poor Breivik- He has been denounced as a racist by left-wingers, Zionist by right wingers, and now as a Hindutva sympathizer by Indian atheists.

    Seems like the dude can be linked to any group you can imagine from around the world by craftily concocting some tenuous connection or the other.

    • “Racist by left-wingers?” Is it only left-wingers that denounce the Norway shooter as racist? Even some of the staunchest Norwegian right-wingers have been shaken to their senses after this ghastly incident. Not you apparently!

      “Zionist by right-wingers?” Since when did Zionism become a bugbear for rightwingers? The Religious Right in the US can be more rabidly Zionist than the Zionists!

      And as for ‘craftily concocted connections’, there was no need for any painstaking craft by ‘Indian atheists’ because Breivik did the needful himself by generously quoting from Elst’s work in his 2083 (as Dr. Nanda references above). Wonder why ‘poor Breivik’ receives so much gushing sympathy from you though.

      • Agreed. Now looking forward to the next excellent analysis of Ms. Nanda on how Hindutva is responsible for the recent UK riots.

          • If Breivik used to listen to the Beatles on his iPod, that makes John Lennon and Paul McCartney responsible for the massacre as well, right? Going by the logic used by Ms. Nanda, the answer would be yes.. I will leave it to others to decide whether that would fall into the category of spoofs or not.

          • John Lennon and Paul McCartney don’t preach hatred and intolerance. You need to brush up on your logic as well, man.

          • Even if they did, it *still* does not make them responsible. What you are implying here is guilt by association. Go through this page-

            What if Breivik had a copy of ‘The Selfish Gene’ in his study? Richard Dawkin’s hatred for Islam is well known, so Dawkins will be responsible for the massacre as well, right?

            It is clear who really needs a study in logic here.. And while at it, you might want to invite Ms. Nanda as well for a joint study session.

          • Dawkins attacks religion as an idea. He doesn’t want to attack people. He doesn’t advocate bigotry. He is a secular humanist of all things. Now someone like Swamy or Tagodia, they would just love to trample basic human rights of anyone who disagrees with their worldview. How murky does one’s perception have to be to think that Dawkins advocates intolerance and bigotry like some right-wingers do?

          • Since the entire case made by the author hinges just on two references made by Breivik to one Koenraad Elst in his 1500-odd page manifesto (which itself makes me wonder if there are others of equal relevance the author has deliberately left out, including Dawkins or Marx, who knows?!), and as someone who had no clue about him, I looked him up on Wikipedia.
            I am quoting a bit of what I came across-

            “He has also criticized fringe Hindutva writers for claiming that the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple, or for claiming that the Vedas contain all the secrets of modern science.”

            “Elst argues often that “not Muslims but Islam is the problem”

            Whoa!! Isn’t the second point the exact stance regarding Islam that Dawkins takes? Yet, Dawkins is the role model for a lot of atheists here while Elst is evil personified. Talk about fairness!!

            And what about the first quote? It seems like Hindu bashers will eagerly agree there with Elst’s assessment..

            Yeah, the guy had a thing or two for Hinduism and probably believes in its superiority, so what? Doesn’t Richard Gere have a lot of admiration for Buddhism despite being born a Christian? But then, isn’t he widely regarded as a pacifist? So does liking Hinduism automatically make a person evil? For that seems to be the logic taken by Ms. Nanda.

            And please quit telling me that atheists are humanists and compassionate. Francis Galton and his protege, Karl Pearson, atheists and Darwinisists were firm advocates of eugenics. At least with Togadia, a Muslim guy can continue to live if he converts to Hinduism. With Galton, the guy would have no such way out- you cannot convert to a different race, can you?

            While I am no fan of Hindutva types, I find that the militant atheists are as guilty as them of cherry-picking their facts in a disingenuous manner to further their agenda.

          • My comment was a response to your defending of Hindutva by making an invalid comparison of two cases (Brevik and UK riots). HIndutva has a proven record for hatred and bigotry. None of the counter points you gave can be spoken of having anything resembling to what Hindutva has and as such don’t hold water. And don’t try to pull some statements on Elst and use it as a proxy for Hindutva. Elst is not the entire Hindutva. Also I didn’t say all atheists are humanists. I only said that Dawkins is a secular humanist. There really is quite a lot of difference between those two statements which you, it appears, have willfully ignored.

          • Satish- My idea was not to attack you or Dawkins specifically (indeed I have a lot of respect and admiration for him), but just brought them up to show that the author has constructed strawman arguments to make her case.

            Like someone below has pointed out, Breivik can be linked to atheists as well in this rather weak manner. A mention of the connecting guy Elst just twice in a 1500 page manifesto doesnt really mean much. I am sure there are many other names of people throughout the political spectrum which have appeared in that manifesto more number of times than that. I haven’t read it, so I cannot say for sure.

            Unless one goes through the entire manifesto (not something most would want to do anyway), you cannot really make a fair case one way or the other.

            That’s my point. Already spent too much time here, I dont want to comment on this article anymore.

          • While you offer gratuitous advice to anyone here to ‘brush up on logic’ you will also have to contend with the absence of ‘logical pathway from atheism to wickedness’. I am not holding my breath, since your project seems to be to perpetuate denial of this conspicuous absence, but strangely enough, also let religious demagogues off the hook for the crimes of their more psychopathic readers.

            Supposedly moderate spokespersons of sectarian outfits rely on this sort of manufactured deniability when they make utterances like ‘If jagged rocks arise from the sacrificial grounds, the ground must be levelled’ and when things go out of hand, feign complete naivete and say, “Oh! I didn’t know the footsoldiers would go THAT far!”

            Online firebrands after much fire-and-brimstone writings, after their readers go on a shooting spree, turn around and say, “But I did not mean THAT!” If only they, and you, realize that ideas get a life of their own when unleashed upon the world and this does not absolve the originators’ collective responsibility of their consequences!

            Now as Dr. Nanda says, a ‘great washing off of hands’ has begun and we can see how you too feel compelled to try and impress us with your performance of a very public hand-washing ritual on this comment trail. How about trying not sullying those hands in the first place, and trying not to muddy the waters any further?

        • And I’m looking forward to the day when your reading comprehension skills improve to the point where you can distinguish between an ideology partly inspiring a crackpot to kill people vs a riot happening for entirely different reasons than what you have imagined to read here.

  • Guilt by association is not sufficient to convict anybody. It is sad that intelligent columnists like Meera Nanda succumb to this bait when it is offered by a psychopath such as Brevik.

    By similar analogy, one can fault Muslims as a whole for the massacre in Mumbai. Of course, it is nonsense. Murderers kill because they like to murder. Everything they spout is an excuse to submerge the guilt, whatever they might suffer from.

    This is especially true of loners like Brevik. His long online treatise is a conundrum of contradictions. Trying to make sense of it is useless. The more basic questions that we need to ask are

    (a) why does a psychopath like him get access to guns and firepower to inflict the damage he did ?

    (b) how are we as a society failing to notice loners like him and provide him the social support and opportunities to remove the darkness of their thoughts, before they plunge to depths from which no recovery is possible ?

  • I feel,that,instead of entering into Hair-splitting arguments,these guys who criticise Meera Nanda,should go visit rural towns and villages to see– to what depth Hindu masses have sunk. The Brhamin Priests and astrologers have totally influenced hindu mind to be servile,corrupt and fatalistic.There are Hundreds of Gods –stone Idols- and each god has created a good market- share for himself post globalisation.

  • Breivik extensively quoted from all the prominent Conservative authors across the world like Wafa sutan, Ali Sina, Geert Wilders, etc. But these authors never incited violence in their writings. In fact, many of these writers were quick to denounce Brevik and condem this massacre strongly.

    A rebuttal to this article.

    But the likes of Meera Nanda never wirte an essay against Quran and MUhammad even though the Islamic terrorists quote from the Islamic sources regularly. Intellectual dishonesty at worst!

    • Those who are under the impression that Meera Nanda’s intent is to leave Islamism off the hook would do well to read this and those who think that it is the intent of Indian atheists in general, this. It also needs to be said that those who fail that India’s ‘fundamentalist mix’ is composed of more than one kind of fundamentalism and choose to look the other way when it comes to wholly indigenous homegrown fundamentalism, are themselves not particularly intellectually honest.

      • There is no pleasing these certificate demanders. Only unconditional hatred of muslims and unconditional love for Hinduism will satisfy them.

    • The article is hollow and shallow in conjunction to Oslo Bombing. Argumentum ad populum.
      Maybe Nanda loves Beef-biryani the most.

  • It was Jiddu Krishna Murthy told the large American audiance sometime in 1984 that there is vaccume in the western mind. The Indian ‘Guru-s ‘ fill the vaccume with their Rubbish. Perhaps that OSLO man was influensed by one of Hindu Guru’s so called spiritual discource. Find out which Guru was going to Oslo very often recently.Adward Luce in his Book ” In spite of Gods “has revealed that this Guru is a RSS front.

  • This is a weak argument.

    If resisting islam is the same as binding Hindutva and Breivik (somehow implying an equivalence) and somehow discounting legitimate criticism of Islam, then in the same vein of intellectual dishonesty, atheism is responsible for the horrors of communism.

    Islam is an immediate threat to the civilized world causing it to plunge headlong into very, very dark depths.

    Cultural nationalism is not a bad thing. Not that I’m saying hindu culture is superior or anything, but it is a culture that stands to be destroyed by other aggressive and condescending cultures.

    All cultures are NOT equal. Some cultures ARE inherently superior to others. The American libertarian culture is SUPERIOR to the Taliban.

    “Islamophobia” is a dishonest word.

  • Fundamentalism of any religions is bad for the society at large. It becomes a problem when one group is criticised while the other is allowed a free hand. Look at what happens in India. Hindu fundamentalists are often bashed but when it comes to the Islamic fundamentalists nothing much is done. So much so its kind of fashionable to be pro-Islamic. For example, Hindu fundamentalists make sure that M.F.Hussain never return to India. (which of course was wrong). This got best of the media coverage but when similar things happen with Taslima Nasreen almost nothing happens. I think, in India Hindu fundamentalism has risen because of the long time appeasement of the islamic fundamentalism.

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