The federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. At the time, I was in the middle of trying the Blind Sheikh and his underlings for waging a terrorist war in which they bombed the World Trade Center, plotted to bomb other New York City landmarks, and promised a never ending series of bombings. As coverage speculated that Islamists were behind the Oklahoma City attack, lawyers for our 11 defendants immediately sought to have the jury sequestered even though we were many months from the conclusion of trial.
The motion was denied. Judge Michael Mukasey reasoned that we didn’t know what the ultimate outcome of the Oklahoma City investigation would be. For months, our jurors had diligently followed the court’s standard instructions not to allow themselves to be influenced by outside events and press reports. The potential for jury prejudice could be handled by questioning the jurors and instructing them to avoid and disregard news about Oklahoma City. As usual, the judge was right. But that didn’t mean the defense lawyers had been wrong to make the motion.
It was only natural under the circumstances to suspect that Islamic terrorists might be involved. They had already carried out one bombing and were brazenly promising to hit more targets — in particular, government buildings. It was entirely reasonable for the lawyers to surmise that Muslim terrorists might have been involved and, even if they weren’t, that future reporting would include supposition about their involvement. The lawyers were not acting out of “Islamophobia.” Like others in the public eye, they didn’t have the luxury of keeping their thoughts to themselves. They had a professional responsibility to act on the basis of what was known and what it was rational to suspect. A phobia is an irrational fear, and — as the thousands of jihadist atrocities in the ensuing 16 years confirm — there was nothing irrational about the suspicions in question.
This memory moved to the front of my mind the last several days, as it always does when there are reports of another terrorist atrocity. That’s why I began my first post about the Norway attacks on Friday by saying it was “important to be cautious in drawing conclusions when the attacks just happened and the facts are still coming in.” And when I defended profiling in my second post (the media by then — around 7pm — having resorted in defense of Muslims to the very profiling they routinely condemn when it disadvantages Muslims), I noted that the appearance of a blond, Norwegian, non-Muslim suspect certainly did cut against the likelihood of this being an instance of Islamic terrorism. But I also discussed a number of facts that cut in the other direction: a jihadist organization had reportedly claimed responsibility; al Qaeda had tried to attack Oslo last year; al Qaeda is notorious for going after the same target repeatedly; al Qaeda had been looking for American and European recruits because it is easier for them to defeat surveillance in the U.S. and Europe; Mullah Krekar had appeared to threaten attacks against Norway if legal action were taken against him — which it had been just days earlier; and (though I neglected to mention it) the two Norway attacks were nearly simultaneous, another al Qaeda hallmark.
The point was to emphasize that it’s essential to let investigations play out, not to condemn anyone prematurely. There is nothing wrong with analysts engaging in reasonable speculation about what investigators must be thinking, or with the media’s responsibly reporting such theories. But it’s wise in the very early stages after an event to be mindful that we don’t know what has happened, and that we should avoid prematurely convicting individuals or groups.
That’s not enough, though, for James Fallows, the former Jimmy Carter speechwriter who now writes for the Atlantic. He tut-tuts that the Washington Post owes the world an apology because Jen Rubin’s post right after the attack assumed that the Norway attacks were incidents of violent jihadism. (Fallows, naturally, has never apologized for sliming conservatives after Jared Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, among several others.) But Rubin has nothing to apologize for. Yes, she might have been clearer that we did not know exactly who was responsible. But she relied (as I did) on a post by FDD’s Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard which emphasized that we did not yet know who perpetrated the attack. Moreover, the facts she cited gave just cause for suspicion. And her essential point was correct: any act of terrorism demonstrates how ruinous these acts can be, and therefore we need to remain vigilant, not let our guard down. As Jen writes in a follow up post, all of us should bear in mind that early reports are often wrong — we need to be cautious. That ought to be enough said.
Anders Behring Breivik, the deranged savage who committed mass-murder in Oslo last Friday, is a severe critic of Islam. His targets, though, were not Muslims. They were his fellow Norwegians and Norway’s government. As Mark Steyn keenly observed this morning, it is patently absurd that Breivik’s attitudes about Muslims have come to dominate coverage of a horrific episode that appears to have little or nothing to do with Muslims — such that those actually killed become, as Mark puts it, “mere bit players in their own murder” while the legacy media shrieks about “Islamophobia.” As Bruce Bawer pointed out in his trenchant post this weekend (at Pajamas), we are now looking at “a double tragedy for Norway. Not only has it lost almost one hundred people, including dozens of young people, in a senseless rampage of violence. But I fear that legitimate criticism of Islam, which remains a very real threat to freedom in Norway and the West, has become profoundly discredited, in the eyes of many Norwegians, by association with this murderous lunatic.”
If we are to remain free and secure, that cannot be allowed to happen. And that starts with not apologizing for the entirely rational fear that future terrorist attacks will be fueled by Islamist ideology, just as thousands of past attacks have been. Prominent Muslims are forever making the most unfounded, most offensive pronouncements, and yet they never have to apologize. Right after 9/11, MPAC’s Salam Marayati told a Los Angeles radio interviewer, “If we are going to look at suspects, we should look at groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the State of Israel on the suspect list.” Before becoming a top Obama aide and envoy, Rashad Hussain excoriated the Bush Justice Department’s prosecution of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian as a “politically motivated” “travesty of justice” that fit a “common pattern … of politically motivated prosecutions,” by which the U.S. government exaggerates the “threat to American security” — al-Arian later pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge. CAIR has made a career of rushing to the nearest microphone to discredit the investigation of Muslims who are later found guilty of terrorism. The list goes on and on; only the words “I’m sorry, I was wrong” are never uttered — and never demanded.
We all have a duty to exercise caution if we are going to comment before the facts are fully known. We have no duty to apologize, however, for well founded suspicions and for recognizing the threat Islamism poses to life and to Western liberalism. Our obligation is to remain vigilant — responsibly vigilant, but vigilant nonetheless. In addition to what’s been said here, that message has been repeated by Michelle Malkin, Quin Hillyer, Glenn Reynolds, Aaron Goldstein, John Hinderaker, and Scott Johnson, and it is most welcome.