The only response to the two attacks in Norway yesterday is total horror. In the latest update, at least 91 people are dead from a bomb at a suite of government buildings and a gun attack at a Labour Party youth camp on Utoya Island. The suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, was a right-wing nationalist and Christian fundamentalist with a predilection for Pamela Geller and other anti-Muslim, white supremacist websites and writers.
His twitter account, started Sunday, includes just one tweet: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” If anything, we’ve learned that one man with that belief can commit a great deal of damage.
We’ve also learned that, in a post-9/11 world, we’ve become so inured to accept that terrorism is solely an act of Muslims that the jump to conclusions to pin the blame for any attack on them is not met with the proper immediate outrage. Glenn Greenwald breaks down the way these things go now.
For much of the day yesterday, the featured headline on The New York Times online front page strongly suggested that Muslims were responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that led to definitive statements on the BBC and elsewhere that Muslims were the culprits. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote a whole column based on the assertion that Muslims were responsible, one that, as James Fallows notes, remains at the Post with no corrections or updates. The morning statement issued by President Obama — “It’s a reminder that the entire international community holds a stake in preventing this kind of terror from occurring” and “we have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks” — appeared to assume, though (to its credit) did not overtly state, that the perpetrator was an international terrorist group.
These assumptions, cultivated through the last 10 years, are all the more insidious when you consider that, even after the affirmative ID of the perpetrator as a Norwegian nationalist, the NYT still intimated that the attacker somehow “learned” from Al Qaeda. They even intimated that it was OK to consider that “terrorists” would be responsible, as if a Norwegian shooting up a youth camp is somehow not an act of terrorism. They were not alone: the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial, which made it into some early editions of the paper, reflected the assumption of Islamic terrorism.
This is a damaging side-effect of the 9-11 attacks. Ten years later, an entire religious group, representing 1 billion people worldwide, is for too many people synonymous with violence and terror, at total variance with the facts in many cases.
As for how to keep people worldwide safe, the answer lies not in rigid security and warmaking, but in what the Mayor of Oslo said today: “I don’t think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect.”