Islam, Norway, and the backlash
Thoreau sums up essentially what I’ve been thinking the past couple of days. When the attacks first occurred, I realize I joined many conservative bloggers (as well as just a lot of people who thought this sounded like an Al-Qaeda attack) in at first thinking the attacks were the work of Islamic extremists.
Unlike the hawks on the right, however, my post was one of frustration because I knew what would happen if this was the work of Al-Qaeda or one of its offshoots: escalation.
Escalation of the security state here and abroad; escalation of the anti-Muslim sentiment especially in Europe; a swelling of the ranks of rightwing parties in Europe; and a new reason for hawks in America to talk about more war, and for security-state advocates to push more spying programs, more drone attacks, more wire-tapping, and so forth. Each attack strengthens the hawks and weakens the doves. Each attack emboldens the radical Muslims and weakens the majority of moderate, peaceful Muslims.
All of this was running through my mind when I saw the images of the bombed out government building in Oslo and learned that a shooter was gunning down children not far away. The joint attacks sounded like Al-Qaeda. The bomb blast reminded me of London and Spain. The shooting reminded me of Mumbai. Yes, there are far more separatist terrorists attacks in Europe than there are radical Islamic attacks, but these tend to be small and only regionally known about. These big attacks have, in the last decade at least, been the work of Al-Qaeda. Hence my assumptions.
But behind those assumptions were, as Thoreau notes, a deep concern over the response to the violence:
However, I assume that the response would be far worse if the alleged attacker were a Muslim with brown skin. The national mood ring would change color. The CIA would join the investigation. Instead of merely monitoring the extremist websites frequented by the alleged attacker, they’d have flying killer robots fire missiles at other posters on the site. The US would probably add some new layer of idiocy to our domestic security theater. (Remember when the London subway bombing prompted the NYPD to institute bag searches, and then they admitted that they expected to find pot but not bombs? Or when those guys in the UK planned to use liquid bombs that wouldn’t have worked, and we all had to hand over our hair gel and bottled water?)
Also, my friends and colleagues of Middle Eastern descent would be subject to more profiling if it had been done by a Muslim. Now, I do suspect that there will be increased monitoring of various sorts of bigoted extremist groups in response to this attack. Some of that is probably reasonable (if somebody openly, publicly declares something, there’s nothing to say that the cops can’t make note), but some of it will probably cross the line. Remember, the ACLU has gone to court for white supremacists, because even the most odious ideologues have First Amendment rights, and we’re better off when they are in the sunshine rather than the dark. However, if this were done by a Muslim, the net would be much wider. When a white supremacist does something, the FBI escalates its monitoring of the KKK and neo Nazis. When a Muslim extremist does something, the FBI escalates its monitoring of your neighborhood mosque. This would be the equivalent of saying that because a Norwegian dude did something the FBI should start monitoring Protestant churches. (What would really blow their minds is that last fall I was at a wedding where the Protestant pastor was an Arab.)
I agree with all of this, and so I was – in a sort of uncomfortable way – quite relieved when the mass-murdering terrorist turned out to be a white guy, and a nationalist extreme rightwing Christian to boot. On the other hand, even if Breivik was operating on his own (I’m not sure if we’ve learned if he had help or not) his violent acts signifies the potential of more rightwing violence in Europe, and that’s frightening enough on its own.
In any case, my other post on the matter (at Forbes, written just a short while after my first post here) was designed to point out how flawed the War on Terror is, and how wrong-headed our waging of wars in the Middle East has been. If you think this sounds like someone who is eager to demonize Muslims, I think you’re very much mistaken. I have written about Muslims before, but only to urge tolerance or to urge that we not start bombing them in yet another country.
I wish I had not rushed to judgment in this case, but I do hope people understand that my anger was a mixture of reaction over the nature of the attack (which was only just being reported on) and a deep…angry regret over what was to follow. Extremists of all stripes who use violence to get their way should be condemned, time and again. Their harm simply magnifies when we seek to find blame in those who are blameless, whether to score cheap political points or to marginalize an entire group of people.