On Friday, Oslo, Norway suffered two horrible attacks. First, a man dressed as a police officer went on a shooting spree at an island Labor Party youth camp, killing 76 people. Shortly after the shooting, a bomb detonated in Norway’s capital descending the city into chaos and killing approximately 17 people.
Immediately, news outlets attributed the attacks to Muslim extremists. The New York Times suggested Jihadists were to blame, while the Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post wrote that the Oslo bombings should serve as a “sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.” Despite the race to place the blame at the feet of Muslim radicals, the attacks were actually the work of a (very White) right-wing Norwegian extremist by the name of Anders Behring Breivik, who, as it turns out, hates Muslims.
This rush to blame Muslim extremists for the attacks is just the latest example of Islamophobia that has reared its ugly head in our post-9/11 world. Even after it was revealed that the Norwegian terrorist wasn’t Muslim, news outlets still struggled to justify their original assertions. And as Glenn Greenwald of Salon so aptly pointed out, “Al Qaeda is always to blame, even when it isn’t.”
The NY Times attempted to justify its first headline suggesting the bombing was the work of Islamic extremists by saying:
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.
Greenwald smartly points out that through its explanation, the NY Times suggests that only attacks by Muslims can be considered terrorism.
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.
That Terrorism means nothing more than violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes has been proven repeatedly. When an airplane was flown into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, it was immediately proclaimed to be Terrorism, until it was revealed that the attacker was a white, non-Muslim, American anti-tax advocate with a series of domestic political grievances. The U.S. and its allies can, by definition, never commit Terrorism even when it is beyond question that the purpose of their violence is to terrorize civilian populations into submission. Conversely, Muslims who attack purely military targets — even if the target is an invading army in their own countries — are, by definition, Terrorists. That is why, as NYU’s Remi Brulin has extensively documented, Terrorism is the most meaningless, and therefore the most manipulated, word in the English language. Yesterday provided yet another sterling example.
While the Oslo attacks are tragic, they serve as a sobering reminder to not rush to ascribe blame to our world’s current Boogeyman. If every time something horrible happens in the world we attribute it to Muslims, we can’t blame some of our Islamic brothers and sisters for being suspicious of our (the West’s) moral standing in the world.