How the West's leftist elites exploit the Norway attack to chill free speech.
January 10, 2012 was a big day for terrorist Anders Breivik, the diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic (but now being reevaluated), who on July 22, 2011, bombed the Norwegian Prime Minister’s office and, soon after on that same day, gunned down seventy-seven Norwegian teenagers at a political camp near Oslo. The Norwegian justice system will now permit him to receive visitors, ending almost six months of isolation. This will allow Breivik to give interviews to the media to expound his wild theories justifying his murderous actions, and even entertain adoring supporters. Undoubtedly, the resulting attention, stories and interviews will create outrage among the still grieving Norwegian population. And undoubtedly, the leftist, politically correct Norwegian elite will use this public outrage to continue their campaign to restrict, or even shut down, all speech they perceive as “Islamophobic.”
Brevik’s horrendous mass murder has already been used by Norway’s liberal elite for political gains. Shortly after the attack, the Prime Minister’s Labor Party used it to smear the party’s main political opposition – the Norwegian Progress Party – as a bunch of hate-filled, Breivik sympathizers. The Progress Party’s only real connections to Breivik were: 1) that he used to be a member of their party before ditching them for their unwillingness to resort to physical violence; and 2) that they, like Breivik, oppose multiculturalism and unrestricted immigration. In the Norwegian local elections on September 10, the elite’s strategy was shown to be hugely successful, as the Labor Party received a large sympathy vote over the Progress Party. Simply put, Norwegians were shamed into voting against the party that had been “linked” to the mass murderer.
The political ramifications of the Brevik attack are not unique to Norway. In nation after nation in the West, the elites have used Breivik’s attack as a way to restrict debates regarding Islam-related issues (i.e., topics including Islam, radical Islam, terrorism, and terrorist funding). They have done so in one of three ways: 1) as previously illustrated, as an electoral club against anti-immigrant, anti-Islamist, “right wing” political parties; 2) as a call to push new legislation to restrict free speech concerning Islam-related topics; or 3) as an attempt to shame certain leading commentators and scholars from speaking about Islam-related topics. Unfortunately for proponents of universal free speech rights, these leftist elites have had increasing success by all of these methods. Several European nations besides Norway have used this smear in political campaigns – see Finland; see Sweden; see Denmark; see Germany; and see – of course – the Netherlands. Some others, such as Austria, have used it to justify the strengthening of their “hate speech” codes; where in October of 2011 the Austrian Parliament passed the Terrorism Prevention Law.
In the United States, the cultural liberal apologists have used the Brevik attack to both shame and silence those commentators and scholars who work on Islam-related issues. There are essentially two arguments that the PC elite media have advanced here. First, they have claimed that the criticisms of Islamism (or of Islam) made by the counter jihad movement actually “fostered” Breivik’s terrorist actions. Second, the elite media has made the argument that since their foes have acted irresponsibly with their own language and have some of the same positions as Breivik on Islam-related issues, they must also be somehow at fault. A frequently used tool to connect Breivik and a specific counterjihadi is the “cite and numbers game” in Breivik’s manifesto e.g., “Breivik, in his manifesto, cited scholar X 12 times, which must mean that scholar X fostered, or is associated with, the terrorist attack.” Since Breivik’s manifesto is over 1500 pages long, it has been relatively easy for members of the press to find connections in it to a number of prominent bloggers, among them: Mark Steyn, Fjordman, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Bruce Bawer. Finally, after making the connections, the elite media then demand that the counterjihadi activists need to be shamed into reining in their criticism of Islam-related topics to prevent future terrorist attacks.
This entire guilt by association campaign is extremely disturbing to us at the Legal Project at the MEF. Maligning one side of the debate here does not empower or enable an unfettered dialogue on Islam-related topics. Instead, it shuts it down. In addition, this guilt by association campaign against the counterjihadis is also not a particularly persuasive argument.
- The claim that various counterjihadhis “fostered” the Norway attack seems, in some cases, to be impossible, and in other cases, just extremely unlikely. As Robert Spencer has pointed out, according to Breivik’s own manifesto, Breivik chose to turn to violence way back in the 90’s, before Spencer, or many of the other counterjihadis, were blogging, or were famous for their blogging about Islam-related issues.
- To accuse someone of fostering the violence of another person, or of being dangerously similar to a violent individual, would seem to require that the person either: 1) writes specifically, or, by implication, in favor of violent action, or 2) writes or implies that non-violent action on this topic is useless. Yet, few of the counterjihadis smeared have come out in favor of violence.
- Another problem with accusing the counterjihadis of fostering the Norway attacks, or of being fellow travelers with Breivik, is that this starts a ridiculous precedent. In the manifesto, Breivik linked to the writings of a diverse group of authors that also included such figures as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Naomi Klein, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and Mohatma Gandhi. Are all of these people also to blame for fostering his violence, or for being fellow travelers of Anders Breivik? Of particular note, there is former President John F. Kennedy, whom Brevik quotes as saying, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” (Breivik’s Manifesto, Pg. 559) Did this quote prompt Brevik’s decision to turn to violence?
It is unfortunate that many in the Western elite media are so resistant to having an honest discussion about Islam-related topics. But they are certainly entitled to avoid such a debate. What they are not entitled to do, however, is to use the terrorist attack in Norway as a way to stop this discussion. And that is exactly what they are trying to do now.
Adam Turner serves as staff counsel to the Middle East Forum's Legal Project. He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security law. Visit legal-project.org.
To get the whole story on why the Left silences criticism of our totalitarian enemies, read Jamie Glazov’s book, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.