Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Norway massacre

July 25th, 2011

Tim Denee illustration - norway massacre
Illustration by Tim Denee –

As the work of a homegrown right wing dissident, the Norway massacre clearly has more in common with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing carried out by Timothy McVeigh than with the jihadist attacks launched on 9/11. Unfortunately, the lack of any links to Islamic extremism didn’t stop the New York Times and Washington Post from initially attributing the attacks to Muslims – and when the perpetrator became clear, the NYT then did its best to blame al Qaeda anyway, by way of alleged imitation.

The outrageous piece of join-the-dots and make-it-up-as-you-go reasoning by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin is here. The bizarre reasoning by the NYT that if it wasn’t Islamists, it was anyway – by imitation – is here.

And a hat tip to Glenn Greenwald of Salon for noting the crucial NYT paragraphs :

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

Right. So even if the perpetrator is a right wing Christian fundamentalist motivated by a hatred of Muslims and Marxists, the culprits are the Muslim activists he is allegedly imitating. (As for the NYT expert’s point about automatic weapons, this is wrong, too – news reports indicate that the automatic weapon used in Oslo was fired in careful, single shot mode, and not to spray bullets into crowds.) In reality, Anders Behring Breivik had imitated Timothy McVeigh – not Muslims – in that the initial explosion at the government building in Oslo was caused by a car bomb packed with the same kind of agricultural fertiliser used by McVeigh in his attack on the FBI building in Oklahoma City.

There is a further strand in the reportage by Greenwald that is worth quoting in full. Namely, the media reports carried the meta-message that if it was terrorism, it was caused by Muslims – and if it wasn’t Muslims, it wasn’t terrorism. Here’s how Greenwald unpacks this extremely dodgy bag of goods, starting with the NYT’s defensiveness about its original reporting :

…. Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

There was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible.

“In other words,” Greenwald comments, “now that we know the alleged perpetrator is not Muslim, we know – by definition – that Terrorists are not responsible; Conversely, when we thought Muslims were responsible, that meant – also by definition – that it was an act of Terrorism. As Richard Silverstein put it:

How’s that again? Are the only terrorists in the world Muslim? If so, what do we call a right-wing nationalist capable of planting major bombs and mowing down scores of people for the sake of the greater glory of his cause? If even a liberal newspaper like the Times can’t call this guy a terrorist, what does that say about the mindset of the western world?

“What it says,” Greenwald continues, “is what 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).”

And where does that leave New Zealand’s response? President Barack Obama was in PM John Key’s company when he first responded to the US media on the Oslo attacks, and the contrast between the responses by the two leaders was quite striking. Obama said that the international community had a stake in co-operating to prevent acts of terror around the globe. After adding that the U.S. still didn’t have all the facts about the attack, Obama explained: “We have to work cooperatively together both on intelligence and in terms of prevention of these kinds of horrible attacks.”

Key however, went one step further and – without any evidence of linkage –used the Oslo attack to put in a plug for New Zealand’s presence alongside the Americans in Afghanistan:

If it is an act of global terrorism then I think what it shows is that no country, large or small, is immune from that risk,” Mr Key said. ”And that’s why New Zealand plays its part in Afghanistan as we try and join others like the United States to make the world a safer place.”

Just how New Zealand helping the Americans to fight Muslim nationalists in Kabul might deter an anti-Muslim Christian fanatic in Norway was left unexplained. Making the world a safer place, it would seem, is a far more complex task than merely taking signals from the Pentagon about where our troops are to be deployed, and for how long.


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