July 31st, 2011
02:00 PM ET

What is the Knights Templar?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

The group has come to everyone's attention because of Anders Behring Breivik's killing spree in Norway, now just over a week ago. He claimed in his rambling manifesto to represent a modern-day "Knights Templar".

But who are they?

The name might ring a bell, especially if you've seen The DaVinci Code or National Treasure or one of any number of recent films. But these are, of course, all fictional. What are the facts?

The Knights Templar were a Christian military order founded in the early 12th century. Its members were said to be elite warriors who wore distinctive white mantles with a red cross. They made their reputation by winning a series of battles in the Crusades.

Ironically, the Knights' first headquarters were in a mosque - the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem - because they believed it was built on top of the ruins of Solomon's Temple. Their name, templar, comes from that legendary temple.

The Knights' main job was said to be protecting Christian pilgrims from Muslims (amongst others). To this day, the site of the mosque and the temple mount remains one of the most heavily disputed place on earth.

The order of the Knights Templar was dissolved in 1312, but its legacy lives on. Rumors still swirl that the group exists in total secrecy and guards the Holy Grail.

From what sounds like fiction, back to fact: We know that Brevik saw himself as a Knight Templar.

But get this: Halfway across the world from Norway, a new drug gang has recently arisen in Mexico. They call themselves quite simply "The Knights Templar".

And they claim to live by a religious code, a copy of which the Associated Press recently obtained. It says the drug-dealing knights will "defend the values of society...against materialism, injustice and tyranny" and that its members will be "honorable", "noble", "courteous" and "honest".

So they are "honest" drug dealers, selling marijuana, cocaine and whatever else in the name of God?

Anders Breivik's fascination with the Knights is less bizarre - in fact, he's part of a larger movement. People like Breivik are trying to resurrect the idea of a modern-day Crusade, a real clash of civilizations against what they see as an Islamic invasion of Europe.

In fact, Muslims make up only about 3 % of Europe's population and are likely to rise to between 5% and 8% by 2025 and level out at that point. But that doesn't change the reality of the anger, hatred and violence.

Ironically, in Breivik's nostalgic view of the medieval world, the Knights Templar resembles nothing so much as al Qaeda, a terrorist organization that is fundamentally opposed to the modern world.

We still don't know if Breivik's boast that there are more lone knights like him waiting to act is true. But if his depiction of the knight as a self-sacrificing assassin on a larger holy mission sounds familiar, it's because it too is mirrored in Islamist terror. That's exactly what a suicide bomber is: A lone fighter, often acting in the so-called interests of a larger movement and willing to kill innocents to draw attention to the cause.

While we have all focused on the dangers of radical Islam and of Muslim terror, the attack in Norway should remind us that there is actually a pretty large problem of other sources of terrorism in the West.

The European Union's 2010 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report has some fascinating findings. It showed that of the 294 terror attacks committed in Europe in 2009, only one was conducted by Islamists. That's a third of one percent.

The most recent statistics show there were 249 terror attacks in Europe in 2010. Only three of those attacks were carried out by Islamist terrorists. Again, that's about one percent. Most of the attacks were by separatist groups or anarchists.

So perhaps that's the lesson we can learn from the events in Norway. Islamic radicalism is a real problem and Islamic terrorism a real threat. But if we ignore other kinds of threats we're likely to be blindsided by another Gabby Giffords shooting or another Virginia Tech massacre.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and bookmark the Global Public Square.

soundoff (328 Responses)
  1. Carrinw Quintenv

    It’s really a cool and useful piece of information. I am glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

    July 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  2. Kar Fenn

    I like the article, but wonder just how stupid some people can get, is it really sanity to suggest what took place in
    Norwy has anything to do with knights templars, I fail to see why the ramblings and atctivities of a mad man, should
    be used to damage the name of order from the 11th century because he decided to go on a mass murder spree, it is
    of course accepted the BNP and groups like them are using the symbolisim of the Knights Templar, however they
    use anything in order to gain a few votes, I might say that those of you who condem the templars now would certainly
    not have done so, during the time of the crusades, cowardly to attack history in that way, especially after what the
    templars did for europe at that time. May I suggest if you intend to attack the templars do so in a logical way backed
    up by evidence, don't use the crimes of some sick poor individual and the sorrow of their relatives to do so, stop being
    such a pathectic stupid lot, you make yourselves look if you have the I.Q's of chimps.

    September 29, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  3. Michael Blount

    I disagree, but I will say I am sorry this nut killed those poor children using the TEMPLER name . If you do your research the templers even though fought the Muslims they both grew to understand and respect each other.
    I pray for the died this evel demon of Satan killed. As far as the Mex drug dealers I think they use to much of what they sell and watch to many movies. And think they are something they are not. To put it Blountly I think his article is BS!
    Thank You
    May who ever you pray to bless you
    Go In Peace

    December 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Reply

    Solomon Post
    This is final connection
    I Send you all my love and blessings
    Namoh brahmin devay
    Om shanti om

    March 5, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
  5. Yo daddy

    I see some of you get your History lessons from video games or print. believing if it's printed it must be true.

    June 4, 2013 at 2:50 am | Reply
  6. Sir Thomas Cooke KTJ, ROS

    Believe it or not we are still here as a Witness to Christ's Glory and the Evolving Prophecy written in The Holy Bible. We Vow to do no harm to "Believing" Christians and also hold the Jewish People in High regard. The Hebrew People are the Apple of God's Eye and are favored over all others. But the Believers in Christ Hold Special Favor and are being prepared a Special Place that we All shall dwell with Christ very Soon. We (Templars) are involved in Every Major Prophetic Event foretold in Biblical Scripture. We are the True Witness to God's Magnificent Glory. I'm no nut case or Mental Patient, just a Passionate Lover of Jesus Christ. You can be a lover of Christ also and "rise" to the occasion yourself by accepting Christ into your Heart right now, don't delay, for the time is short....very short. Make your decision no later than September the 12th, 2015.

    July 16, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  7. Lan

    Thanks for this informative article. I did not know that muslims make up only 3% of the population in Europe. It does not sound like a muslim invasion. So, no need for a new crusade. I am happy, and I don't live in Europe.

    March 7, 2016 at 12:26 am | Reply
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  9. Scott

    Fareed. This is a stretch. There are all kinds of people claiming to be templars. I could declare myself to be a Hippopotamus and massacre a thousand innocent Arab, or some other racial group, school children. Would you conclude that actual hippos were racists and murderers. Please check your own racial biases and your historical facts.

    March 13, 2017 at 9:24 pm | Reply
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