Guilt by footnote association

The initial reports that attempted to paint terrorist Anders Behring Breivik as some type of Christian fundamentalist have fizzled out as reporters have gotten access to his actual manifesto explaining (such as he is able) his actions last week. What is apparent to those of us who have read significant portions of the 1,500-page document is that the terrorist is obsessed with the idea that the political advance of Islam and the multiculturalism of the left have combined to make victims out of traditional European culture. It is from that overarching framework that many of the rest of his ideas can be understood. (For an interesting discussion of the "multiculturalist" roots of both the London and Oslo terrorist attacks, you can go here.)

The document itself quotes widely from a variety of sources including quite a few anti-Islamist essays and works. I've been alternately reading and skimming the entire document but have only skimmed "Book 3" where I believe he attempts to justify his behavior. Books 1 and 2 deal with global history and Islamic movements. I read the document for much of the day on Sunday and found it fascinating and horrifying and it gave me a pretty big headache.

While a lot of it is lifted from other sources and some of it is outright plagiarized from guys such as Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski, other parts appear to have been written by the Norwegian terrorist. He is trying to make the case that Islam is a serious threat and that Europe's system of culture and government is ill-equipped to handle it. So to make that case, he quotes from a wide variety of people who believe that Islamism is a serious threat. Of course, he also quotes from people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Mark Twain. But those are more like individual quotes whereas the anti-Islamist quotes are more extensive or just the lifting of entire essays.

I wrote yesterday that I believed a look into these writings would be more fruitful than the misguided "Christian fundamentalist" attempt we saw earlier. The New York Times did just that in a piece headlined "Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S."

It begins:

The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber.

The suggestion is, of course, that these people are somewhat responsible for the bloodbath in Norway. Later on in the story, that suggestion is made explicit.

What I was hoping for was a better explanation of precisely how they were responsible, exactly. I mean, take this passage:

The Gates of Vienna, a blog that ordinarily keeps up a drumbeat of anti-Islamist news and commentary, closed its pages to comments Sunday “due to the unusual situation in which it has recently found itself.”

Its operator, who describes himself as a Virginia consultant and uses the pseudonym “Baron Bodissey,” wrote on the site Sunday that “at no time has any part of the Counterjihad advocated violence.”

The name of that Web site — a reference to the siege of Vienna in 1683 by Muslim fighters who, the blog says in its headnote, “seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe” — was echoed in the title Mr. Breivik chose for his manifesto: “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” He chose that year, the 400th anniversary of the siege, as the target for the triumph of Christian forces in the European civil war he called for to drive out Islamic influence.

Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism, said it would be unfair to attribute Mr. Breivik’s violence to the writers who helped shape his world view. But at the same time, he said the counterjihad writers do argue that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged. Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”

“This rhetoric,” he added, “is not cost-free.”

OK, that went much too quickly for me. It's not like we deny the historic fact of what happened in Vienna in 1683. And the Gates of Vienna blog clearly argues that the current war against Islamic terror is just the latest phase in a long war. I've got that. But we need much more here to put blood on the hands of this blogger.

To be honest, I don't typically read that blog or any of that genre of blogs. But last night I quickly read the top few posts. They were actually interesting in that they were guest posts by one of the Norwegian anti-Islamist bloggers who was named in the manifesto repeatedly. There were so many of his writings lifted into the manifesto that I just lost count. In fact, the terrorist said that this Norwegian blogger "Fjordman" was his favorite writer. So Fjordman has some words about how disgusted he is by this and renounces the violence of Breivik.

The thing is that there is a difference between asserting something and arguing something. Certainly there exist anti-Muslim bigots who aren't arguing so much as asserting that Islam is awful. But just as certainly there are anti-Islamist writers who argue that Salafism, for instance, is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged. But from what I've read, they do that by being very specific about those teachings or their interpretations of those teachings and how they justify and advocate violence.

I have no doubt that a journalistic argument can be made (or at least an attempt can be made) that anti-Islamist web sites and writings and activists are to blame for the horrific massacre. But it needs to be made, not just asserted.

Pointing out that Vienna triumphed over invading Muslims in 1683 is something anyone could do. The New York Times does it here in its permanent entry on bagels, of all things. (While the New York Times is also used as a source in the terrorist's manifesto, it is not for this bagel entry.)

Now with the repetition of the caveat that much of this manifesto has been lifted or plagiarized and all that, it's true that I have come across tons of footnotes to these anti-Islamist blogs. There are also many footnotes to plain old wikipedia entries or media outlets, but many upon many to various blogs of this movement. And I do think that's worth exploring.

But considering the seriousness of the charge -- that these bloggers were a source of the massacre -- it needs to be handled well. Is the author of the piece suggesting that any criticism of modern Islamic terrorism or the historical aggression by Muslims is somehow related to this Oslo attack? I don't think so. So what is he saying?

Earlier today the New York Times assistant managing editor tweeted a link to the above article with the note: "Fascinating & chilling piece on how #Norway suspect was influenced by anti-Muslim bloggers in US."

It is chilling to suggest that writing about actual historical events or concerns over Islam is equivalent to killing innocents in a horrific terror attack. Perhaps there are more writings from each of these bloggers where they actually encourage people to kill teenagers, attack government officials in terrorist attacks or otherwise engage in violent acts. I don't know. But they weren't mentioned in the New York Times piece.

And why not? Is it because they don't exist? If they exist, they absolutely should have been cited and mentioned. And if they don't exist, than perhaps what's chilling is the moral relativism embodied in this piece or the encouragement for readers to embrace a climate of fear against any criticism of Islam. So political efforts to oppose government policies promoting multiculturalism, to argue against them in the public square, now equals calls for bloodshed?

Mark Twain, Theodore Dalrymple, Melanie Phillips, John McWhorter, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Ghandi and hundreds of other people are quoted in this manifesto. What does that mean? What does it mean that Fjordman has so many of his articles lifted into the piece? Do we just immediately determine that these people are guilty by association? If they are guilty, that guilt needs to be argued and not just asserted.

What questions should be asked before we say that the "cost" of these folks' rhetoric is this massive loss of life? I'd argue that we need to learn more about precisely what they said. Again, are there any calls to violence or justification of terror attacks? If so, lets learn more about them. What else would you like to know before we decide that U.S. bloggers have blood on their hands?

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