The Breivik blame game
ABC News, 27 April 2012
Some people seem to believe that because Anders Behring Breivik quoted them in his mad manifesto, journalists like Mark Steyn, Melanie Phillips and Jeremy Clarkson bear some responsibility for the massacre he carried out on the island of Utoya last year.
So convinced are some liberal observers that these right-wing journalists stirred Breivik’s seething cesspit of a mind, making him go out and kill, that they’re now demanding that such hacks “tone down” their rhetoric.
In this week’s New Statesman, Peter Wilby says the similarities between Breivik’s mindset and that of mainstream right-wing writers are “striking”.
Breivik was a fan of writers who opposed mass immigration and who are critical of certain aspects of Muslim culture, Wilby points out. So surely it is now incumbent upon such writers to “mind both their language and their facts”.
In short, journalism can be dangerous, especially strongly worded, right-leaning journalism, the kind that brings decent-minded folk out in hives. And if such journalistic excess is not reined in, says the New Stateman’s editorial, we may well see more of Breivik’s kind.
But hang on - if Steyn, Phillips et al bear some moral responsibility for Breivik’s crimes, is Noam Chomsky to blame for 9/11?
Osama bin Laden loved Chomsky. In 2006, he described him as “among the most capable of those from your side” and praised his theories on the “manufacturing of public opinion” and his “sober words of advice prior to the war [in Iraq]”.
What about Robert Fisk, the left-wing Middle East correspondent for the Independent who is loved by radicals? His words also moved and inspired bin Laden.
In 2004, bin Laden advised people in the White House to read “Robert Fisk, who is a fellow [Westerner] and co-religionist of yours, but one whom I consider unbiased”.
In fact, he “dared” the White House to “interview [Fisk], so that he could explain to the American people everything he has learned from us about the reasons for our struggle”.
Wow, OBL was clearly a close follower of Fisk’s writings. Maybe Fisk should tone down his rhetoric lest it inspire further Islamist terrorism?
Or maybe American author William Blum should be held accountable for Al Qaeda violence.
“It is useful for you to read [Blum’s] book The Rogue State,” said bin Laden in 2006. Bin Laden made it clear that he had imbibed Blum’s theories about America being the real rogue state, talking about the “war merchants” who “supported Bush’s election campaign with billions of dollars”.
Alongside Blum, Chomsky and Fisk, bin Laden was also influenced by Western think tanks (he favourably cited the Royal Institute for International Affairs) and Western environmentalists.
In 2002, he said one of the reasons he hated America is because “you have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto Agreement.”
You could read the same words in any respectable newspaper on just about any day of the week. So maybe greens should “mind their language and their facts”, since it seems pretty clear that they are giving ideas to anti-Western, anti-modern terrorists.
Of course, it would be barmy to blame Islamist terror on Fisk or Chomsky. Just as it is crazy to blame Utoya on Steyn or Phillips.
Individual terrorists, the men who press the buttons on their bombs and pull the triggers on their guns, are solely responsible for what they do, not the writers whose articles they happened to have lapped up.
There is something deeply censorious in the demand that right-wing writers curb their rhetoric in order to prevent “another Utoya”. It is a kind of emotional blackmail, where writers whose views are unfashionable in chattering-class circles are effectively told that if they carry on criticising Islam or ridiculing multiculturalism then more neo-fascists will rise up and gun down innocents.
The New Statesman’s editorial says that so long as the “mainstream press” keeps “fuelling Islamophobia through misinformation and distortion”, there will be “more of [Breivik’s] kind”. Given bin Laden’s reliance on the writings of Western leftists, you could just as easily, and just as crazily, have said in 2005: “So long as the respectable press keeps arguing against the war in Iraq, al-Qaeda will keep blowing things up.”
But that is the striking thing: no-one held Chomsky and Co. responsible for Al Qaeda outrages, whereas there is now a palpable rush to hold Steyn and Co. responsible for Utoya.
There is an extraordinary double standard here. When terrorists cite leftist writers, it’s downplayed. Yet when terrorists cite right-wing writers, it is held up as hard proof that certain political ideas lead directly to violence and therefore those ideas must be urgently rethought and watered down.
In fact, the double standard is so enormous that where respectable commentators now rush to condemn Breivik’s rantings and all those who are allegedly responsible for making him think that way, in the recent past they embraced bin Laden’s rantings. The media, especially the liberal media, frequently pored over and even empathised with Al Qaeda’s rants.
The Guardian once published a bin Laden statement on its actual op-ed pages, raising it from the level of terrorist rant to respectable commentary. The leftist publishing house Verso published a collection of bin Laden’s statements, beautifully bound, under the title “Messages to the World”. In the introduction, bin Laden was described as a “rational man”, while enthusiastic broadsheet reviewers of the book described him as an “eloquent preacher” and a “wonderfully briefed” politician.
I invite you to imagine the stellar fury that would be unleashed if the Daily Mail published Breivik’s words on its comment pages. Or if a publishing house released his rantings in book form. Or if a commentator described him as “eloquent” and “wonderfully briefed”. The intellectual elite would go beserk.
This double standard makes it pretty clear that the real reason illiberal liberals are now linking Breivik’s violence to writers such as Steyn and Phillips is simply because they hate those writers’ ideas, and they long to squish them through a process of post-Utoya fearmongering about “bad journalism” giving rise to fascist killers.
But the ideas propagated by Chomsky and Fisk? They like those ideas, and so they don’t mind if they occasionally inspire the odd bit of terror.
Read more of my articles for ABC News and other publications here.
- brendanoneill posted this