Exploiting a tragedy (updated)

As soon as the shocking and tragic news from Norway hit the airwaves, it was entirely predictable that various right-wing Islamophobes would type first and think later. They were so eager to exploit the tragedy to peddle their pre-existing policy preferences that they blindly assumed the acts had to have been perpetrated by al Qaeda, ...

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Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

As soon as the shocking and tragic news from Norway hit the airwaves, it was entirely predictable that various right-wing Islamophobes would type first and think later. They were so eager to exploit the tragedy to peddle their pre-existing policy preferences that they blindly assumed the acts had to have been perpetrated by al Qaeda, by its various clones, or by some other radical Muslim group.

This is the sort of bias one expects from an ideologue like Jennifer Rubin (who gets taken to task for her rush-to-judgment by James Fallows here). Sadly, it is also not out of character for the supposedly respectable Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page has been a reliable source of threat-mongering and distortion for years. Even as Norwegian officials were cautioning that they had no reason to suspect Islamist groups, the Journal was plunging ahead with an editorial entitled "Terror in Oslo," which drew the following utterly bogus conclusion:

Norway certainly did not buy itself much grace from the jihadis for staying out of the Iraq war, or for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's demand that Israel open its borders with Gaza, or for his calls for a Palestinian unity government between Fatah and its terrorist cousin Hamas.

As soon as the shocking and tragic news from Norway hit the airwaves, it was entirely predictable that various right-wing Islamophobes would type first and think later. They were so eager to exploit the tragedy to peddle their pre-existing policy preferences that they blindly assumed the acts had to have been perpetrated by al Qaeda, by its various clones, or by some other radical Muslim group.

This is the sort of bias one expects from an ideologue like Jennifer Rubin (who gets taken to task for her rush-to-judgment by James Fallows here). Sadly, it is also not out of character for the supposedly respectable Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page has been a reliable source of threat-mongering and distortion for years. Even as Norwegian officials were cautioning that they had no reason to suspect Islamist groups, the Journal was plunging ahead with an editorial entitled "Terror in Oslo," which drew the following utterly bogus conclusion:

Norway certainly did not buy itself much grace from the jihadis for staying out of the Iraq war, or for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s demand that Israel open its borders with Gaza, or for his calls for a Palestinian unity government between Fatah and its terrorist cousin Hamas.

Norway can do all this and more, but in jihadist eyes it will forever remain guilty of being what it is: a liberal nation committed to freedom of speech and conscience, equality between the sexes, representative democracy and every other freedom that still defines the West.  For being true to these ideals Norwegians have now been made to pay a terrible price."

Given that remarkable statement, the Journal’s editors must have been deeply disappointed to learn that the person who was actually charged in the case, Anders Behring Breivik, was not in fact a jihadi, a critic of Israel, or even a Muslim. Instead, he is a right-wing Norwegian Islamophobe who is reportedly obsessed with the dangers of multi-culturalism and a contributor to extremist websites like Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs.  In other words, he’s the sort of person who might well subscribe to the Wall Street Journal not for its coverage of the business world, but for its predictably hardline editorial "insight."

As I write this (Saturday noon EDT), the editorial has still not been removed from the WSJ website and no apology or retraction has been issued.  The Journal and its editors are obviously free to continue to sow the seeds of hatred and paranoia, but the rest of us are equally free to view them with appropriate contempt.   And let us also take time to reflect on Norway’s sorrow, and to remember that hatred and violence can erupt from many directions.

UPDATE:  Obviously aware of the egg on its face, the Journal has posted a rewritten version of the editorial on its website here. Note the marked absence of any apology for its initial rush-to-judgment. You can find a fascimile of the original editorial here. And for an interesting commentary suggesting that right-wing hate-mongering websites might have contributed to the murderous mind-set behind the attack, see Paul Woodward’s War in Context here.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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