American anti-Islam bloggers aren’t to blame for the Norway Massacre. But their response to the attacks is nonetheless revealing, in that they are now demanding the kind of nuanced analysis of the Norway shootings that they’ve always failed to offer when implicating jihadism or all Muslims for terror attacks.
As the news of terrorist attacks in Oslo broke on Friday, the conservative media were quick to place the blame on al Qaeda even though the details weren’t fully known. Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that the attacks were “a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.”
At first, it wasn’t unreasonable to reach that conclusion. Given the way the attacks unfolded — multiple targets being hit within a short time period — it was reasonable to assume that Islamic extremists were responsible, rather than anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik.
When the truth became known, Rubin, like many others on the right, tried to downplay the right-wing anti-Muslim ideology driving the alleged shooter. She was suddenly far more generic in how she described Breivik’s motive, referring to it as “undiluted evil.”
What’s notable about the response by conservatives to the attack is that their primary worry was that the anti-Islam cause might be tarnished. Bruce Bawer, writing in the Wall Street Journal, was beside himself that “this murderous madman has become the poster boy for the criticism of Islam.” He then casts Breivik’s concerns, if not his actions, as defensible, describing “the way he moves from a legitimate concern about genuine problems to an unspeakably evil `solution.’”
It would be hard to imagine a conservative showing such empathy for Hamas, concluding that while terrorism is evil, they are nevertheless acting out of legitimate concerns about Palestinian suffering. What’s pathetic is not so much their reasoning, but the knowledge that their arguments would be the same in substance, if more enthusiastic, had Muslim extremists been responsible.
The most telling reaction was from the anti-Muslim bloggers Breivik cited by name in his manifesto.
Pamela Geller, who along with Professional Islamophobe Robert Spencer has been active in opposing the construction of mosques in the U.S., wrote: “This is just a sinister attempt to tar all anti-jihadists with responsibility for this man’s heinous actions.” Spencer, for his part, wrote: “as if killing a lot of children aids the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, or has anything remotely to do with anything we have ever advocated.”
Most of Geller and Spencer’s blogging consists of attempts to tar all Muslims with the responsibility for terrorism. At CPAC last year, Geller and Spencer drew a large crowd for their documentary referring to the proposed community center near Ground Zero as “the second wave of the 9/11 attacks.” Yet they’re now pleading for the world not to do what they’ve spent their careers doing — assigning collective blame for an act of terror through guilt-by-association. What’s clear is that they understand that the principle of collective responsibility is a monstrous wrong in the abstract, or at least when it’s applied to them. They are now begging for the kind of tolerance and understanding they cheerfully refuse to grant to American Muslims.
These bloggers are not directly responsible for the actions of Anders Behring Breivik. But make no mistake: Their school of analysis, which puts the blame on all Muslims for acts of terrorism perpetrated by Islamic extremists, has been fully discredited — by their own reaction to the Oslo attacks. While it’s obvious that few if any of them will take this lesson to heart, the rest of us should — terrorist acts are committed by individuals, and it is those individuals who should be held responsible.