Terrorists Are Much Less Scary When They Look Like Us

In the days since a blond, blue-eyed Norwegian neo-Nazii bombed a government building in Oslo, killing seven civilians, and then went on to shoot dead about 80 teenagers at a youth camp near Oslo, the main reaction among the conservative bloggerati has been angry defensiveness. They are angry and defensive because they assumed that radical Islamists were behind the bombing and shootings, and then had to deal with a critical response from political commentators who have not built their reputations on a world view in which Islam and terrorism are synonyms. For these folks, terrorist acts carried out by non-Muslims are isolated incidents of violence committed by deranged individuals, with no connection to the larger problem of global terrorism, which is a phenomenon solely associated with non-Christians who come from Arab countries or countries with large Muslim populations.

In consequence, bloggers and pundits on the right have had their hands full coming up with reasons why terrorism is a serious threat to global and national security when committed by people with Muslim names, from Arab or Muslim-majority countries, and/or whose religious faith is Islam, but not when committed by white supremacists or far right Christian extremists or members of neo-Nazi militia groups. It’s been quite the challenging task for them, as can be surmised from the elaborate and complex reasoning coming from all over the starboard side of the blogosphere.

Here, for example, is Sister Toldjah, quoting herself (underscored text below is mine; I underscored it to distinguish it from ST’s bold emphasis on the words “There is no”):

Isolated acts of “Christian” extremism are typically committed by loner types or small groups of disturbed individuals who have grossly perverted the word of God into something it is not: A call to arms against non-believers. In the Christian faith, there is no “punisher” of non-believers here on earth.  ”The decider” – so to speak – is God Himself.  There is no growing global, thriving network of Christian extremists plotting, scheming, recruiting by the thousands, intimidating, terrorizing, killing so-called “infidels.” On the other hand, the decades-old organized Islamofascism network has a number of “leaders” worldwide – the most infamous of course being Osama bin Laden, and their bases are scattered throughout Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and most anywhere else the Islamic faith prevails, because the Koran specifically gives the green light to Muslim believers to take up arms against non-believers, using any means necessary.

I underscored that section above for the phrase “here on earth.” It’s fascinating to me. The reference here is quite clear, even if indirect or implied: Far right fundamentalist Christians believe that one must ‘accept Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior’ in order to ‘enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Those who choose not to do so (ahem, such as Jewish me) are condemned to eternal Hell fire — or at the least, to eternal life spent outside the presence of God.

I don’t know if ST herself believes this, but she certainly considers it important enough to deal with, in service of her argument that there is no Christian concept of “punishment” for not accepting Christian doctrine. There is, you see, but it’s God who punishes non-Christians, after death, for refusing to accept Christian doctrine. It isn’t done by Christian believers here on earth. Yes, only True Believers in Jesus Christ will be raptured up to Heaven, while everyone else will be slaughtered by the righteous anger of God…. but Christians leave this important job to God, rather than doing it themselves here on earth. And that makes Christianity far morally superior to Islam, whose adherents take matters into their own hands. If some ‘wacko sociopath’ who calls himself a Christian decides to take it upon himself to punish infidels for not accepting Christ, that is certainly not condoned by Christian doctrine.

It’s a fine distinction, isn’t it? Unfortunately for fervent fundamentalist Christians who live in the United States in the twenty-first century, that distinction has been honored more in the breach than in the observance in other places and at other times. The fact that the Crusades happened 700 years ago; and that the Inquisition only lasted at least 500 years, depending on where you place the beginning and end dates (the beginnings of what became the Inquisition go back to Roman times, and continued in some parts of Europe until the end of the sixteenth century C.E.); does nothing to change the reality that for hundreds of years, the “intimidating, terrorizing, [and] killing [of] so-called ‘infidels’ ” very much was an imperative of the Christian faith. Indeed, the organized and officially sanctioned torture and slaughter of non-Christians only came to an end in the second half of the second millennium C.E. because Christianity by that time had actually achieved political and religious ascendancy in most of Europe — that is, had succeeded in either voluntarily or forcibly converting most of the population of Europe.

Sister Toldjah has more to say on this subject, and all of it reeks of the very hatred and religious bigotry she ascribes to Islam.

For example:

Yesterday I hypothesized that this might have been an act of jihad — inspired by Islam. I wasn’t alone in my speculation, as the pattern of the attack fit previous jihadist operations: near-simultaneous attacks aimed at mass casualties (Bali, London, Madrid), the focus on children (Beslan), and a history of Islamic terror threats against Norway, including threats to kill government officials. Violent jihad is central to Islam. And lest anyone say that, even if this were an act of jihad, Islam wouldn’t permit the killing of innocent children, let me point out that Muhammad himself defined “innocent child” differently than we.

Now it appears that a narrative is building that this sociopath acted out of “Christian fundamentalism,” whatever that is. If that takes hold, and I say this as a thoroughly secular person, it would be grossly unfair and a slander against religious Christians because, unlike Islam, their faith forbids just this kind of action and makes it a mortal sin. The Fifth Commandment is, “You shall not murder.”

Of course, God also commands the Israelites to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites, to “show them no mercy,” to “break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire” (Deut. 7, among many other places in the Bible). Indeed, this commandment of God’s, which God reiterates again and again, has been much analyzed and studied by many religious scholars, because it appears to sanction genocide. And the Bible is full of other examples of murder and mayhem, either carried out or ordered by God. But somehow ST is able to ignore these numerous violations of the Fifth Commandment as if they don’t exist, or have no significance at all.

At the same time that ST and other far right bloggers tell the rest of us that anyone who thinks Islam is a “religion of peace” is deluded, that Islam is inherently terroristic and both promotes and sanctions violence as a core tenet, that Islam is a fascistic political ideology (“Islamofascism”) — they also insist that they are not anti-Muslim; they are only anti-Islam. ST says this right here:

Can’t these professional “journalists” ever get it right? It’s not “anti-Muslim” – it’s “anti-Islam.”

Which is just sheer idiocy and nonsense, because Islam is the religious faith practiced by Muslims. “Muslim” is not a nationality. It’s not a skin color or an ethnicity. A Muslim is a person who practices the Islamic religion. So, no, you cannot go around saying that Islam promotes and sanctions violence, that it requires its adherents to murder “infidels,” that it’s a form of fascism, and then declare to people whose religion is Islam — i.e., Muslims — that you are “only” anti-Islam, not anti-Muslim. It’s like saying you are anti-Judaism but not anti-Jewish. or that you are anti-Christianity but not anti-Christian. How well would that go over with most self-identified Christians? Not too well, I’m thinking.

The single-minded focus among right-wing political players (influential and popular bloggers, media figures, think tank policy analysts, etc.) on Muslims and Islam as the source of global terrorism has a significance that goes far beyond the moral heinousness of holding an entire religious civilization responsible for global terrorism. Scott Shane speaks to that reality in a New York Times piece datelined July 24, in which he documents the mallign influence that a decade of anti-Muslim writing, speechifying, and activism has had on individuals like Anders Behring Breivik:

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.

In the document he posted online, Anders Behring Breivik, who is accused of bombing government buildings and killing scores of young people at a Labor Party camp, showed that he had closely followed the acrimonious American debate over Islam.

His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.

Self-named “anti-jihadists,” unsurprisingly, are in an uproar over the idea that 10 years of demonizing all or most Muslims as terrorists, potential terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers, and Islam as a religion that promotes and thrives on violence, could have played any role in encouraging the kind of hatred that led to last week’s attacks.

There is too much of this to fit in one post, but here is a sampling of what I think could be the prize-winners, if prizes were given out for such things.

If they were, John Hinderaker would get the prize for Best Revisionist Analysis of the Terrorist Threat. John explains that there is no validity to the notion that right-wingers equate terrorism with Muslims, for the simple reason that the right has “been saying for a decade, terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. This is why many conservatives have never been happy with the “war on terror.” That people other than jihadists can use violence against civilians to advance their cause, or simply out of craziness, is obvious.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Words fail me. He is not joking. He is serious. He really is.

Next, Pamela Geller confirms her commitment to the very belief system Breivik used to justify killing scores of innocent Norwegian men, women, and children:

This whole exercise is ridiculous. Anders Behring Breivik is responsible for his actions. If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists. If anything incited him to violence, it was the Euro-Med policy.

Does Geller really not see what she is implying here? “Islamic supremacy” is a bogieman; it’s a scapegoat concept that does nothing to explain the causes of global terrorism. But Geller believes that there is this threat out there called “Islamic supremacy” that, if vanquished, will solve the global terrorism problem. It’s not that there are no adherents of the Islamic faith who think that Islam is a superior religion, or the one true religion, and who want to spread that ideology as widely as possible. Of course there are — just as there are Christian supremacists who think the Apocalypse is coming because of all the heathen Muslims and Jews who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. But neither Islamic nor Christian supremacist ideology are the reason for terrorism. They are just the language in which terrorism is (often, though not always) expressed, and if religious fanaticism did not exist and the actual causes of terrorism went unaddressed, then terrorism would continue to be with us and some other extremist ideology would be created to justify it.

So basically, what Geller is doing here is validating Breivik’s own reasoning for mass murder. That is obviously not the same as validating mass murder, but she is suggesting that he was “driven” to extreme action by an Islamic threat that is real and justified. Given that, Geller can hardly argue that her and others’ constant verbal and written attacks on Muslims and on “Islamic supremacy” had nothing to do with creating an atmosphere in which Breivik could do what he did.

At National Review, David French has a truly extraordinary piece urging conservatives to double down and rededicate themselves to singling out, for vilification and persecution, the entirety of one of the world’s three major religions and its billions of adherents:

Friday’s horrifying and depraved murders do not change a single thing about the jihadist threat we face, but they could make our fight against jihad more difficult by granting the other side a series of potent rhetorical weapons — including patently false claims of moral equivalency and incitement. How do we respond? With the truth:

First, we have to acknowledge the horror. One of the troublesome habits of Islam’s more radical defenders is their nearly inexhaustible capacity to excuse, minimize, and rationalize jihadist violence. Conservatives (at least the ones I’ve read) have not rationalized Friday’s evil acts [Note from KK: See everything I have written and everyone to whom I have linked above this quote and decide if you think French’s claim is accurate] , and America must do all that it can to help Norway track and destroy any additional affiliated terror cells. It’s a shame that Norway did away with the death penalty, because justice demands that Anders Breivik pay the ultimate price for his depravity.

Second, we must continue to expose the extent and reality of the “Grand Jihad.” Anders Breivik’s crime does not change a single fact on the ground in America, Europe, the Middle East, or Southwest Asia. It is still true that Europe has a large and growing problem with an unassimilated Muslim minority; it is still true that jihadists command tens of thousands of fighters and control all or part of Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Gaza, Lebanon, Sudan, and Pakistan; it is still true that a fundamentally anti-Semitic worldview grips much of the Muslim world; and it is still true that the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to take advantage of the Arab Spring in Egypt.

Third, we must hold the line on tactics. It is simply not incitement to advocate all the actions that Andrew McCarthey, Mark Steyn, and others have advocated in the decade since 9/11 (indeed, even longer). Calling for creative use of law enforcement, skillful and firm use of diplomacy, increased public awareness, and decisive application of military force consistent with the laws of war is not incitement. Anyone who equates, say, support for drone strikes, Gitmo military commissions, or hearings into the prevalence of jihadism with a call for vigilante violence is simply not to be taken seriously.

Donald Douglas gives us some purple prose, preceding a nice lengthy roundup of leftie bloggers who have written about the right’s pity party at being called to account for their irresponsible, hateful rhetoric over the last decade:

It won’t matter much to the left, but the truth is supreme and righteousness floats to the top. Amid the cloud of death that still hangs, the debate will rage on the culpability of influence. So for what it’s worth, here’s a little round-up of those exploiting the dead to destroy their political enemies:

* Adam Server, “In response to Norway attacks, right-wing bloggers suddenly demand nuance.”

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

* Booman Tribune, “Pam Geller Compares Herself to John Lennon.”

* Charles Johnson, “NYT: US ‘Counter-Jihad’ Bloggers Heavily Influenced Oslo Terrorist.”

* Daily Kos, “Norway killer found inspiration in American anti-Islamism.”

* Dean’s World, “Atlas Shrugs Blogger Pamela Geller an Inspiration for Terrorists.”

* Roy Edroso, “Rightbloggers Discover the Real Victims of Norway Mass Murderer Breivik: Themselves.”

* William Saletan, “If Muslims are responsible for Islamic terrorism, are Muslim-bashers responsible for the massacre in Norway?

Here is one more excellent commentary that Douglas missed (via Glenn Greenwald).


Filed under Breaking News, International, Media, Politics, Religion, Society

2 responses to “Terrorists Are Much Less Scary When They Look Like Us

  1. Hi,

    In the quote beginning: “Yesterday I hypothesized…” That’s me. I co-blog at Sister Toldjah’s (“ST”) and have my own blog, to which you linked. (And thanks for that.) Just so the attributions are right.

    • Phineas,

      I have approved your comment, so readers will see that you wrote the piece from which that interior quote was taken. Just as a point of clarification, I do know that Sister Toldjah the blogger has co-bloggers and guest posters from time to time, but “Sister Toldjah” is the name of the blog as well as the person who writes it. So technically it’s not really wrong. Not that I’m trying to deny or quibble with your point; your wish for proper attribution is entirely reasonable.

      Thank you for reading my post, and for commenting.

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