The irony is, had Anders Behring Breivik merely posted his manifesto without killing at least 76 innocent children and adults in Norway, he probably would have emerged as a rising star among the anti-Muslim activists he so admired.
As it happened, America’s most fanatical anti-Muslim activists quickly retreated behind walls of denial upon discovering that the perpetrator of Friday’s stunning act of terror was committed not in the name of Islam, but in response to their own mission: Whipping up paranoia about Islam.
Breivik on Monday admitted responsibility for the attack, telling a court that he did it to “save Europe” from Islam. His 1,500-page manifesto, which he posted on the Internet shortly before launching the rampage, confirmed his motivation in no uncertain terms. But in the aftermath of the tragedy, the very people whose anti-Muslim polemics Breivik admired and studied were pathetically incapable of any introspection whatsoever regarding the influence their inflammatory anti-Muslim paranoia might have had on Breivik.
When the news first broke Friday, along with an early, unsubstantiated report that a Muslim terrorist group had claimed responsibility, Pamela Geller, executive director of the anti-Muslim hate group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), prepared to indict all of Islam for the carnage.
Her first post, at 12:57 p.m. Friday was headlined, “Jihad in Norway?” Mocking her critics, she wrote, “But remember, jihad is not the problem. New York's 911, London's 7/7, Madrid's 3/11, Bali, Mumbai, Beslan, Moscow … is not the problem. ‘Islamophobia’ is the problem. Repeat after me as you bury the dead, ‘Islamophobia is the problem, Islamophobia is the problem.’”
Islamophobia, it turned out, was the problem. The news broke that the attacker was a blue-eyed Norwegian who not only was no jihadist, but was one of Geller’s ardent admirers. Suddenly, in Geller’s view, the suspect was now a lone wolf who represented nothing larger than himself.
On Saturday evening, Geller unleashed a nearly incoherent denial of responsibility. Breivik, she wrote, “is a murderer, a mass murderer. Period. He's not anything else. He is sick, sick to death and he has aided the enemy in so many ways it defies comprehension. Anyone who would kill children is insane. And if he's a right winger who hates Muslims, how does that translate into killing a bunch of political youth party Workers’ Youth League? … [H]e started planning this attack nine years ago. I wasn't blogging back then. I despise savagery and inhumanity in any [and] all instances. Period. This abject loser lowered himself to sub-human status. And he has done this wholly on his own. Nowhere does Christianity or the counter jihad movement call for violence of any kind. Whatever he says doesn't square. He's a bloody murderer. Period. He is responsible for his actions. He and only he. There was no ‘ideology’ here.”
Geller on Sunday was still scrambling to deflect blame and to isolate Breivik as a lone madman unconnected to her cause. Breivik had made only “one passing reference” to her, she insisted (Geller ignored Breivik’s 12 references to her blog, however), and a mere 55 mentions of her SIOA co-founder Robert Spencer, which Geller described as “mostly quotes from Muslim scriptures.” (The New York Times counted 64 mentions of Spencer; Geller also disregarded Breivik’s “nomination” of Spencer for the Nobel Peace Prize.) But in an almost surreal bit of legerdemain, Geller suggested that blame could lay with Charles Johnson, proprietor of the website Little Green Footballs, who, after initially being part of the anti-Muslim chorus, became appalled at the level of hatred and bigotry the movement represented and by 2009 had turned against it. Breivik, Geller wrote, “includes a long diatribe against Charles Johnson, whom he clearly admired until he felt betrayed enough to snap. The killer speaks about Charles Johnson obsessively and wrings his hands about Johnson's turn to the left. Could this perhaps have been the provocation? Could this have been what caused him to snap?”
Thoughtful readers would likely wonder if they’d misread the logic there: Breivik was motivated to murder innocent children because Johnson rejected bigotry? But Geller made clear she was deadly serious: “Anders Behring Breivik is responsible for his actions. If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists.” There it is: In Geller’s view, either Breivik was a crazed lone wolf, or Muslims drove him to kill some 76 fellow white people. In Geller’s warped world, the only parties truly free of any responsibility for inspiring Breivik’s rampage are those who happened to believe exactly what he believed. Go figure.
Contrary to Geller’s casual dismissal of Breivik’s references to Spencer, the accused mass murderer was a rapt follower of Spencer’s work. “About Islam I recommend essentially everything written by Robert Spencer,” Breivik wrote in his manifesto. That should reignite a long-running debate about the accuracy of Spencer’s research; many critics accuse Spencer of focusing only on the Koran’s violent passages – which are common to many ancient texts, including the Bible – without accounting for its more-numerous passages of peace, justice and restraint, nor centuries of interpretive scholarship that place the violent passages in historical context.
On his Jihad Watch website Monday, Spencer said he has never had contact with Breivik and added, “If I was indeed an inspiration for his work, I feel the way the Beatles must have felt when they learned that Charles Manson had committed murder after being inspired by messages he thought he heard in their song lyrics. There were no such messages. Nor is there, for any sane person, any inspiration for harming anyone in my work, which has been consistently dedicated to defending human rights for all people.”
The problem with Spencer’s analogy is that only a truly deranged individual could find an inspiration to murder in the vague lyrics of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” Spencer, on the other hand, has devoted three decades of work trying to get people to believe exactly what Breivik came to believe: that Islam demands the destruction and subjugation of all non-Muslims. Hatred and paranoia of that intensity are designed to scare people. Can the fear-monger rightfully claim absolute innocence when the duly frightened person lashes out with violence?
Spencer, even as he disavowed having ever sanctioned violence, reaffirmed his broad-brush smear of Islam: “The difference,” he wrote, “is this: Islamic texts and teachings, and frequently imams, directly exhort their followers to commit acts of violence. I do not. Nor does anyone else in the counterjihad. There is nothing Breivik could conceivably have read here as a justification for killing anyone. There is plenty in the Qur'an and Sunnah that jihadists can and do use as justification for murder.”
Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy and a member of a core group of American anti-Muslim extremists, on Monday wrote that anyone who would shine a critical light on people like himself could only be motivated by a dastardly desire to abet Muslim terrorists. “[A]n unholy axis of Muslim Brotherhood operatives and those on the Left – groups whose spokesmen, ironically, endlessly inveigh against precipitous judgments when jihadists are the perpetrators – have been quick to find in this attack proof of their favorite meme: that conservatives and Christians are as much a threat to domestic tranquility (if not more) as are those seeking to impose the totalitarian Islamic politico-military-legal doctrine of shariah,” wrote Gaffney, an alarmist who has long warned that Muslim operatives have infiltrated all major American institutions and are within striking distance of toppling the Constitution. “They insist that as much effort (if not more) should be expended by law enforcement and other government agencies to counter such ‘Islamophobic’ right-wing extremists as is applied to Muslim ‘violent extremism.’” It’s a curious argument after Norway’s biggest terror attack: Law enforcement should pay less attention to the threat posed by people with political views like Breivik’s.
Another of that anti-Muslim core group, David Horowitz, leapt to Spencer’s defense in response to a critical, but measured New York Times editorial. Horowitz, who sponsors Spencer’s website, has stated that as many as half of all Muslims worldwide – more than 750 million – support Al Qaeda’s holy war against “Christians, Jews, and other Muslims who don’t happen to be true believers in the Quran according to bin Laden.” Monday, Horowitz wrote, “The attack on Robert Spencer, a man of great courage and decency, is just one phase in the war against all those who speak out against Islamic terror and Islamic imperialism.” Horowitz thus amplified the same convoluted theme put forth by Geller: The only truly blameless ones in Friday’s attack are the ones who believe exactly as Breivik believes.