With news that the man accused of slaughtering 76 people Friday in Norway was a right-wing extremist whose manifesto was littered with quotes from American anti-Muslim bloggers, conservative pundits were put on the defensive again. We say “again” because it’s a scenario that played out six months ago when “tea party” conservatives were blamed for allegedly inspiring the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson by popularizing anti-government views.
It was wrong then, and still is, to attack the purveyors of legitimate if extreme political views for the violent actions of deranged individuals. Yet while we’ll strenuously defend the right even of bigots to express themselves, we do think the horrifying act of terrorism to which Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik confessed Monday provides a welcome opportunity for introspection among Muslim-bashers.
Under particularly withering fire from critics is Robert Spencer, operator of the anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch, who was quoted 64 times in Breivik’s screed. After fielding calls from reporters, Spencer complained on his blog that he felt the way the Beatles must have after Charles Manson said he was inspired by their song “Helter Skelter” to commit murder. Here’s how Spencer distinguished between his writings and those of Muslims: “Islamic texts and teachings, and frequently imams, directly exhort their followers to commit acts of violence. I do not.”
What Spencer failed to address is the fact that his site, and others cited by Breivik such as The Gates of Vienna, make a habit of blaming all Muslims for the actions of a minority of violent jihadists. As an example of Spencer’s thinking, he wrote in November that the Transportation Security Administration should profile and give extra screening attention to Muslim males at airports, because this is the likeliest group to commit acts of terrorism. One could as easily argue that special attention should be paid to white males. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber’s reign of terror, the Tucson shootings and, now, the mass murder in Norway, this population also appears prone to terrorist violence.
Conservative pundits are getting back some of what they’ve been dishing out for years, finding themselves being unfairly blamed for the actions of those who share their ideology but take it to violent extremes. Will this inspire them to treat Muslims more fairly? A defensive post from Pamela Geller, who writes the anti-Muslim Atlas Shrugs blog (also cited by Breivik), points to the answer. While failing to acknowledge an iota of responsibility for spreading distrust of even moderate Muslims, she instead blames the “Sharia-compliant media” for attacks on her and her site. Opportunity lost.