Who’s to Blame for Terrorism?
The New York Times exploits an atrocity to attack its ideological opponents.


Clifford D. May

Who deserves the blame for the terrorist attacks in Norway? My answer would be the perpetrator and no one else — unless it turns out there really is a modern Knights Templar or some other organized movement that sent him on his mission of mass murder.

But there are those who disagree, who see this atrocity as part of a wider conspiracy — or, perhaps, as a convenient stick with which to beat their political and ideological opponents.

One example: The New York Times last week ran an editorial arguing that Anders Behring Breivik was “influenced by public debate and the extent to which that debate makes ideas acceptable.” The “broader” issue, says the Times, is that “inflammatory political rhetoric is increasingly tolerated.”

Which raises the questions: Who decides what constitutes inflammatory rhetoric? And if such rhetoric is unacceptable and intolerable, who should censor it and by what means? (Memo to young readers: Back in the day, great newspapers were defenders of free speech, including that which some would see as inflammatory.)

The Times editorial adds: “Even mainstream politicians in Europe, including Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have sown doubts about the ability or willingness of Europe to absorb newcomers. Multiculturalism ‘has failed, utterly failed,’ Mrs. Merkel said last October.” The implication is clear: If these European leaders have doubts about the worldview and policies the Times and other avatars of progressive opinion endorse, they should take the opportunity to shut up about it.

A few days later, the Times brought in reinforcements, publishing an op-ed (memo to young readers: Back in the day, op-eds opposed rather than echoed newspapers’ editorial positions) by two Norwegian commentators, Jostein Gaarder and Thomas Hylland Eriksen. They asserted that “the hatred and contempt from which [Breivik] drew his deranged determination were shared with many others throughout the international right-wing blogosphere,” which they characterized as “Islamophobic” and consisting of “loosely connected networks of people — including students, civil servants, capitalists, and neo-Nazis. Many do not even see themselves as ‘right-wing,’ but as defenders of enlightened values, including feminism.”

Gaarder and Eriksen’s meaning is plain too: Those concerned about such issues as gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, honor killings within Muslim communities in the West, and the genital mutilation of Muslim girls are, objectively, on the side of neo-Nazis and therefore they also should put a sock in it.

Exploiting atrocities to settle political scores through guilt by association is a nasty game, but if we are going to play it, I’d look elsewhere. I’d start with Reuters or, more precisely, what we might call the Reuters Doctrine. After the attacks of 9/11, there were individuals and groups (emphatically including the policy institute I head) making the case that terrorism should be defined as the use of violence against civilians to further a political cause, and that expressing a grievance by intentionally killing other people’s children is never justified.

We argued that civilized people, of whatever religion or nationality, ought to be able to agree on this principle, and, if they did, then those who target innocents would be seen only as terrorists, unequivocally condemned by the “international community.”

Reuters disagreed. The global news agency took the position that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This expression of moral relativism was embraced by many in the media, on the far left and far right, in academia, government, and transnational organizations. And that may indeed have paved the way for Breivik — who unquestionably fancies himself a fighter for European freedom — to believe he could use terrorism to focus attention on his grievances without de-legitimizing those grievances. If it works for militant Islamists, why not for a militant Norwegian?

In his rambling 1,500-page “manifesto,” Breivik lists the names of many individuals whose writing he has read and who are therefore now being accused of membership in the “Islamophobic blogosphere.” Among them: Mark Steyn, Theodore Dalrymple, Melanie Phillips, Bruce Bawer, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Bat Ye’or, Andrew Bostom, and Pamela Geller. (And he cites Foundation for Defense of Democracies reports and congressional testimony on such topics as terrorist financing and Islamist oppression of Christians in the Middle East.) Anyone familiar with these sources knows that the views they hold vary widely — and not one advocates terrorism.