Media Reacts to News That Norwegian Terror Suspect Isn't Muslim

Yesterday's first reports on the massacre in Norway suggested that there was a link between the horrific attacks, which left 92 dead at latest reports, and Muslim extremists. Only later was the news released that the suspect taken by police, Anders Behring Breivik, was apparently a conservative, right-wing Christian with strong anti-Muslim and anti-immigration beliefs. Many in the media were left reeling over the fact that others were so quick to report and comment that Muslims were involved, before there was clear evidence. Rupert Murdoch's newspaper The Sun had as a headline on the front page, "Al Qaeda Massacre: Norway's 9/11." The Wall Street Journal posted an editorial on the bombings that begins with references to Islam. It starts:

When cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad appeared in a Danish newspaper in the fall of 2005 and sparked a full-blown jihadist campaign against Denmark, then-Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded with a telling remark. "We Danes feel like we have been placed in a scene in the wrong movie," he told the German newsweekly Der Spiegel."

Joe Weisenthal, deputy editor of Business Insider, tweeted: "It is pretty bewildering that the first 3 paragraphs of this WSJ editorial on Norway are about Al-Qaeda/Islam." And Eric Umansky, a senior editor at ProPublica tweeted: "You can almost see the tracked changes in this WSJ editorial blaming Islamists for Norway attacks."

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The most controversial piece, however, seems to be a blog post* at The Washington Post by "Right Turn" blogger Jennifer Rubin, who quoted the Weekly Standard that:

We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra. Prominent jihadists have already claimed online that the attack is payback for Norway’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

She added, in her own analysis, that:

Moreover, there is a specific jihadist connection here: “Just nine days ago, Norwegian authorities filed charges against Mullah Krekar, an infamous al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist who, with help from Osama bin Laden, founded Ansar al Islam – a branch of al Qaeda in northern Iraq – in late 2001.”

This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.

The editorial remains up on the Post, "sixteen hours after its claims were shown to be false and hysterical, it's still there, with no correction or apology," according to James Fallows at The Atlantic. Fallows responded to Rubin's piece, in a blog post titled, "The Washington Post Owes the World an Apology for this Item," writing that:

No, this is a sobering reminder for those who think it's too tedious to reserve judgment about horrifying events rather than instantly turning them into talking points for pre-conceived views. On a per capita basis, Norway lost twice as many people today as the U.S. did on 9/11. Imagine the political repercussions through the world if double-9/11-scale damage had been done by an al-Qaeda offshoot. The unbelievably sweeping damage is there in either case.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in another blog post at The Atlantic, echoed Fallow's comments on Rubin's piece:

As for this case, my golden rule is that as terrible as it is to be wrong, it many times more terrible to pretend that wrong is right. As of this wring, Rubin has issued no correction in any form. That is shameful.

Glenn Greenwald took issue not merely with Rubin's editorial, but also with a statement by President Obama that suggested, in Greenwald's interpretation, that an international terrorist group was responsible, and the New York Times coverage, which attempted "to pin some form of blame, even ultimate blame, on Muslim radicals." Greenwald writes:

Al Qaeda is always to blame, even when it isn't, even when it's allegedly the work of a Nordic, Muslim-hating, right-wing European nationalist... we've seen repeatedly: that Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target.  Indeed, in many (though not all) media circles, discussion of the Oslo attack quickly morphed from this is Terrorism (when it was believed Muslims did it) to no, this isn't Terrorism, just extremism (once it became likely that Muslims didn't).

Furthermore, Greenwald took to Twitter to point out another turnaround, this time by John Podhoretz, who wrote a post for Commentary Magazine yesterday where he said that the attacks "have stirred in me a kind of rage I haven’t felt this viscerally since the days after 9/11... If we respond with dispassion, we are ceding to them part of the animating force that makes us human." Then, Greenwald noted, Podhoretz seemed to dramatically shift his tone, by tweeting: "Brevik appears to be precisely whom the left wanted Jared Loughner to be."

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In an op-ed at Jadaliyya, Shiva Balaghi calls the events a "Tragic Day for Norway; Shameful Day for Journalism." She summarizes her own view of the reports:

I read a story in the New York Times that squarely pointed to jihadi groups angered at the war in Afghanistan...The Financial Times was no better. From the start, it reported allegations of Islamic terrorism, continuing with this view well into its evening reporting by which time an arrest had already been made in the case... Judy Woodruff’s interview with a Norwegian journalist that aired on PBS’s Newshour followed a similar scenario.

In this 24/7 news cycle driven even more mad by terror experts who conduct research using google and tweet a mile a minute, journalists should exercise caution... Perhaps today the neo-Nazis in Europe count Muslims among the problems that drive their madness. But to a large degree, these right wing extremist views shaped twentieth century Europe.

Additionally, Ibrahim Hewitt writes an editoral at Al-Jazeera, where he observes that once media outlets noted that the suspect was not Muslim, they disassociated connections between the suspect's beliefs and his alleged violent actions.

...the perpetrator was a "blond, blue-eyed Norwegian" with "political traits towards the right, and anti-Muslim views." Not surprisingly, the man's intentions were neither linked to these "traits," nor to his postings on "websites with Christian fundamentalist tendencies." Any influence "remains to be seen"; echoes of Oklahoma 1995. Interestingly, this criminal is described by one unnamed Norwegian official as a "madman."

...Anyone who claims therefore, that the perpetrator's "right-wing traits" and "anti-Muslim views," or even links with "Christian fundamentalist" websites are irrelevant is trying to draw a veil over the unacceptable truths of such "traits" and expecting us to believe that right-wing ideology is incapable of prompting someone towards such criminality. Of course, that idea is nonsensical. Right-wing ideology was behind the Holocaust; it has been behind most anti-Semitism and other racism around the world; the notion of Europe's and Europeans' racial superiority - giving cultural credibility to the far-right - gave rise to the slave trade and the scramble for Africa leading to untold atrocities against "the Other"; ditto in the Middle and Far East.


*This story originally referred to Jennifer Rubin as a Washington Post columnist. While she works under the purview of the editorial page, the paper classifies her writing as a blog.