Monday, July 25, 2011

An excellent analysis of the Oslo attack coverage in the NYT

by Salman Hameed

The recently Oslo attack is horrendous. For a while it also seemed that Europe will be gearing for another anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant backlash. However, it seems that the attacker is a right-wing, anti-Muslim nut job. It has been interesting to see the evolution of reporting in this regard. I do not have time to comment on it right now, but please check out this excellent analysis in Salon: The Omnipotence of Al Qaeda and the meaninglessness of "Terrorism":

But now it turns out that the alleged perpetrator wasn't from an international Muslim extremist group at all, but was rather a right-wing Norwegian nationalist with a history of anti-Muslim commentary and an affection for Muslim-hating blogs such as Pam Geller's Atlas Shrugged, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch.  Despite that, The New York Times is still working hard to pin some form of blame, even ultimate blame, on Muslim radicals (h/t sysprog):
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.
Al Qaeda is always to blame, even when it isn't, even when it's allegedly the work of a Nordic, Muslim-hating, right-wing European nationalist.  Of course, before Al Qaeda, nobody ever thought to detonate bombs in government buildings or go on indiscriminate, politically motivated shooting rampages.  The NYT speculates that amonium nitrate fertilizer may have been used to make the bomb because the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, owned a farming-related business and thus could have access to that material; of course nobody would have ever thought of using that substance to make a massive bomb had it not been for Al Qaeda.  So all this proves once again what a menacing threat radical Islam is.
Then there's this extraordinarily revealing passage from the NYT -- first noticed by Richard Silverstein -- explaining why the paper originally reported what it did:
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, 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 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 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).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article Dr.
I also read an article in focusing on the allegation that the attacker was afraid of 'Pakistanization' of Europe, even though there was no Pakistan or any inspiration from it for Holocaust, or the Bosnian massacre, which were purely Europen cultural phenomenon than anything else. Secondly, this bomb attack in Osla is analogous to the attack in Oklohama couple of decades ago, where there was no inspiration from Al Qaeda either. In fact it is the innocent people who pay the ultimate price for these religious/nationalistic/fascist demons whether in Europe or Iraq or Pakistan.

Tom Rees said...

I think one of the reasons Europeans always reacted badly to the term "War on Terror" was that in Europe most terrorism is conducted by nationalists and/or political extremists and has relatively little to do with Islam. It was always clear that it was simply a soundbite created by US politicians to justify their particular foreign policy strategic goals.

Salman Hameed said...

And what is interesting about this case is that the attacker was primarily influenced by the right-wing nuts in the US.