Monday, July 25 – and again nothing happened, save for what ABC News headlined as the Debt Duel – Obama preempted primetime and said we needed to resolve the standoff on raising the debt limit now, and the way to do that was compromise, as our system is based on compromise and balance, and he quoted Jefferson and Reagan on such things. That was followed by John Boehner with a short address on how everyone was fed up with this business, and the nation was fed up with Obama in particular, who was holding the fate of the nation hostage, as all Obama had to do was agree to shrink the size of government forty percent and forgo all new taxes, and protect the very rich from any taxes at all, or something. None of this was new. If you watched both speeches you were not enlightened, nor were you inspired, and there was no point in being angry. Anger presupposes one can do something about the whatever-it-is at hand. But what can any of us do about this? And those on the left were disappointed – Obama didn’t say this was bullshit and he was invoking the Fourteenth Amendment and paying the bills now due anyway. He had the tool. He didn’t use it. And John Boehner did not say that he knew if he told the House not to raise the debt ceiling he could force the nation into sovereign default, and that would crash the world’s economy and be far beyond catastrophic – and if Obama didn’t want that to happen then Obama and Biden must resign and let the third in line, the Speaker of the House, assume the presidency, and that would be him. Well, he had the perfect tool for that coup – leave office and leave the presidency to me or I’ll ruin the world’s economy – but he wasn’t bold enough to use it. So, really, nothing happened. Back east you lost the first twenty minutes of whatever primetime show you wanted to watch, but out here on the West Coast you only missed twenty minutes of the goofy local news. And the standoff will continue.
And this sort of thing buried the story of the month with quite different dire implication, and that would be the Norway business:
Norway’s prime minister pledged that his country would remain “an open society” in the wake of Friday’s massacre in Oslo and a nearby youth camp but said the bloodshed has changed the nation.
“I think that I will never be able to explain it fully to myself how this could happen, the horror that so many people experienced at that island on Friday,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told CNN.
Authorities revised the death toll from Friday’s attacks to 76 on Monday – eight in a bombing at the Oslo building that houses Stoltenberg’s offices, the rest at a summer camp run by his ruling Labour Party. A 32-year-old suspect has acknowledged carrying out the attacks but said they were necessary to prevent the “colonization” of the country by Muslims, a judge said Monday.
“I think that this will change Norway,” Stoltenberg said. “We’ll have a Norway before and a Norway after the bomb and the killings.” But he added, “Even after these terrible incidents, (Norway) will be an open society.”
This was a big deal. The Pointer Institute offers this link showing front pages across the world – and the issue is just what is going on here. And the implications have to do with whether any nation can have an open society. The initial assumptions that this was an act of terrorism by Muslim al-Qaeda, or at least by one of them acting alone, or someone inspired by them, turned out to be absolutely wrong. This guy was a self-described Christian Crusader – he was out to kill anyone implicit in tolerating Muslims. And Norway is a tolerant if somewhat boring nation. He wanted to punish his nation that had been and still was nice to anyone who was Muslim, or any other crazy religion. He wanted to save Norway – from deadly dangerous multicultural tolerance nonsense.
And there is a lot of that sort of talk going on here, initially inflamed by the plans to build an Islamic Community Center five blocks north of the hole in the ground where the north tower of the World Trade Center used to stand. That expanded to calls for no mosques to be built at this place or that, and Peter King’s repeated congressional hearings on the question of whether any Muslim anywhere could be anything more than a terrorist out to destroy America. And yes, we had to stop Sharia law being used in America, even if it wasn’t being used anywhere in America. Hey, you never know.
And then there was the direct connection. In the New York Times, Scott Shane in this article reports on the rather undeniable influence of people like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller on the Oslo terrorist:
The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam, lacing his 1,500-page manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber.
In the document he posted online, Anders Behring Breivik, who is accused of bombing government buildings and killing scores of young people at a Labor Party camp, showed that he had closely followed the acrimonious American debate over Islam.
His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.
And of course all the “counter-jihad” bloggers were shocked and outraged at the suggestion that what many see as the bile and hatred they display day after day could have anything to do with this massacre:
The revelations about Mr. Breivik’s American influences exploded on the blogs over the weekend, putting Mr. Spencer and other self-described “counter-jihad” activists on the defensive, as their critics suggested that their portrayal of Islam as a threat to the West indirectly fostered the crimes in Norway.
Mr. Spencer wrote on his Web site jihadwatch.org that “the blame game” had begun, “as if killing a lot of children aids the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, or has anything remotely to do with anything we have ever advocated.” He did not mention Mr. Breivik’s voluminous quotations from his writings.
The Gates of Vienna, a blog that ordinarily keeps up a drumbeat of anti-Islamist news and commentary, closed its pages to comments Sunday “due to the unusual situation in which it has recently found itself.”
Its operator, who describes himself as a Virginia consultant and uses the pseudonym “Baron Bodissey,” wrote on the site Sunday that “at no time has any part of the Counter-jihad advocated violence.”
And the oddest defense came from Pamela Geller:
Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among Web sites. Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam who runs Atlas Shrugs, wrote on her blog Sunday that any assertion that she or other anti-jihad writers bore any responsibility for Mr. Breivik’s actions was “ridiculous.”
“If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists,” she wrote.
What? How? There seems no doubt that Anders Behring Breivik was seriously influenced by these people – that is right there in his own words – and they know it. And there was this:
Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and a consultant on terrorism, said it would be unfair to attribute Mr. Breivik’s violence to the writers who helped shape his world view. But at the same time, he said the counter-jihad writers do argue that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged, and well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”
Shane’s article goes on to cite the shutdown of efforts to track domestic rightwing terrorists in the United States after all the conservative outrage over a 2009 draft Homeland Security report about those guys. And Shane quotes a former analyst at Homeland Security:
The killings in Norway “could easily happen here,” he said. The Hutaree, an extremist Christian militia in Michigan accused last year of plotting to kill police officers and planting bombs at their funerals, had an arsenal of weapons larger than all the Muslim plotters charged in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks combined, he said.
So, do you want to worry about default and economic catastrophe, and whether this would be a better country if we had next to no government at all, or do you want to worry about a Christian Crusader, with a truck bomb and lots of guns, with lots of commentators egging him on, who wants to force America back to its Christian roots?
They didn’t mean to egg him on of course. When news of the attacks in Oslo broke on Friday, the conservative media immediately placed the blame on al Qaeda, even if the details weren’t fully known. The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote here that the attacks were “a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists.”
But Adam Serwer picks up the story from there:
At first, it wasn’t unreasonable to reach that conclusion. Given the way the attacks unfolded – multiple targets being hit within a short time period – it was reasonable to assume that Islamic extremists were responsible, rather than anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik.
When the truth became known, Rubin, like many others on the right, tried to downplay the right-wing anti-Muslim ideology driving the alleged shooter. She was suddenly far more generic in how she described Breivik’s motive, referring to it as “undiluted evil.”
Serwer notes that “their primary worry was that the anti-Islam cause might be tarnished.”
Bruce Bawer, writing in the Wall Street Journal, was beside himself that “this murderous madman has become the poster boy for the criticism of Islam.” He then casts Breivik’s concerns, if not his actions, as defensible, describing “the way he moves from a legitimate concern about genuine problems to an unspeakably evil ‘solution.'”
So the Oslo killer was right about everything, just a tad too enthusiastic? Serwer isn’t impressed:
It would be hard to imagine a conservative showing such empathy for Hamas, concluding that while terrorism is evil, they are nevertheless acting out of legitimate concerns about Palestinian suffering. What’s pathetic is not so much their reasoning, but the knowledge that their arguments would be the same in substance, if more enthusiastic, had Muslim extremists been responsible.
And there are the anti-Muslim bloggers Breivik cited by name in his manifesto:
Pamela Geller, who along with Professional Islamophobe Robert Spencer has been active in opposing the construction of mosques in the U.S., wrote: “This is just a sinister attempt to tar all anti-jihadists with responsibility for this man’s heinous actions.” Spencer, for his part, wrote: “as if killing a lot of children aids the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, or has anything remotely to do with anything we have ever advocated.”
Well, that may not hold up to scrutiny:
Most of Geller and Spencer’s blogging consists of attempts to tar all Muslims with the responsibility for terrorism. At CPAC last year, Geller and Spencer drew a large crowd for their documentary referring to the proposed community center near Ground Zero as “the second wave of the 9/11 attacks.” Yet they’re now pleading for the world not to do what they’ve spent their careers doing – assigning collective blame for an act of terror through guilt-by-association. What’s clear is that they understand that the principle of collective responsibility is a monstrous wrong in the abstract, or at least when it’s applied to them. They are now begging for the kind of tolerance and understanding they cheerfully refuse to grant to American Muslims.
And Serwer concludes with this:
These bloggers are not directly responsible for the actions of Anders Behring Breivik. But make no mistake: Their school of analysis, which puts the blame on all Muslims, for acts of terrorism perpetrated by Islamic extremists, has been fully discredited – by their own reaction to the Oslo attacks. While it’s obvious that few if any of them will take this lesson to heart, the rest of us should – terrorist acts are committed by individuals, and it is those individuals who should be held responsible.
But that too can be argued forever. And then there’s Glenn Beck. See Jon Swaine in the Telegraph with Glenn Beck Compares Norway’s Dead Teenagers to Hitler Youth:
Beck said that the Labour party youth camp on the island, where 68 people were murdered, bore “disturbing” similarities to the Nazi party’s notorious juvenile wing. Beck, a multimillionaire darling of the Tea Party movement, said on his nationally-syndicated radio show: “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”
But there’s this:
Despite Beck expressing surprise that political movements would hold camps for children, followers of his 9/12 Project – which aims to “recapture the spirit of the day after America was attacked” – have this summer been doing just that. Organizers of the “vacation liberty schools” in several states told the Daily Telegraph how they taught children as young as eight a Tea Party-endorsed curriculum spanning religion, economics and political principles.
Well, maybe all Hitler Youth must die, and maybe there’s a reason Beck is no longer employed by even Fox News. William Saletan has more on the anti-Muslim bloggers and their current defensiveness – there are many links showing their positions. And as for Pamela Geller, there’s this:
Geller is outraged. “Attempts to link us to these murders on the basis of alleged postings by the murderer mentioning us are absurd and offensive,” she writes. Breivik “is responsible for his actions. He and only he.” She adds: “Watching CNN and BBC coverage about Norway, I found very disturbing to hear the number of times they use the word ‘Christian.’ They would never dare refer to religion when it is jihad, and this attack had nothing to do with Christianity.”
As for Bruce Bawer writing in the Wall Street Journal that the killer had all the right ideas, well thought out, but used the wrong means to implement those ideas, which can only hurt the noble cause of fighting terrorism, Andrew Sullivan has this to say:
In fact, this “madman” was, by Bruce’s own judgment, “both highly intelligent and very well read in European history and the history of modern ideas.” It is precisely this blind spot by the anti-Islamist right that made me and others get off the train. They have every right to point out supine government capitulation to restrictions on free speech, and the worst forms of Islamist violence and rhetoric. I second every one of them. Where they went over the top was in the demonization of an entire religion, and in fomenting the Steynian specter [see Mark Steyn – AP] that Muslim aliens were bent on destroying Christian Europe by demographic numbers, and that all this was aided and abetted by every European leader in a multicultural, left-wing conspiracy to destroy Christendom.
If you buy those very arguments… what option do you really have but the fascist solutions he recommends and the neo-fascist violence he unleashed? When an entire population in your midst is the enemy within and your government is acquiescing to it and your entire civilization is thereby doomed, what does Bruce think a blue-eyed patriot like Berwick should do? Is the leap to violence so obviously insane? Or is it actually the only logical conclusion to the tyranny Berwick believed he faced?
And as for this Christian Crusader business, there’s Andrew Sullivan on that:
I coined the term “Christianism” many moons ago to defend Christianity and the gospels from their political co-opters. And I think it’s indispensable in understanding the motivations of the terrorist, Anders Breivik…
One of the core messages of Christianity is a rejection of worldly power. The core message of Christianism is, in stark contrast, the desperate need to control all the levers of political power to control or guide the lives of others. And so the notion that Breivik is a “Christian fundamentalist” seems unfair to those genuine Christian fundamentalists who seek no power over others (except proselytizing), but merely seek to live their own lives in accord with a literal belief in the words of the Bible.
And Sullivan is clear:
Christianism is all about power over others, and it has been fueled in the last decade by its mirror image, Islamism, and motivated to fury by hatred of what it sees as is true enemy, liberalism. Both Islamism and Christianism, to my mind, do not spring from real religious faith; they spring from neurosis caused by lack of faith. They are the choices of those who are panicked by the complexity and choices of modernity into a fanatical embrace of a simplistic parody of religion in order to attack what they see as their cultural and social enemies. They are not about genuine faith; they are about the instrumentality of faith as a political bludgeon.
And he notes that Breivik carefully describes how he will manage to conduct the attack:
I’m pretty sure I will pray to God as I’m rushing through my city, guns blazing, with 100 armed system protectors pursuing me with the intention to stop and/or kill. I know there is a 80%+ chance I am going to die during the operation as I have no intention to surrender to them until I have completed all three primary objectives AND the bonus mission. When I initiate (providing I haven’t been apprehended before then), there is a 70% chance that I will complete the first objective, 40% for the second, 20% for the third and less than 5% chance that I will be able to complete the bonus mission. It is likely that I will pray to God for strength at one point during that operation, as I think most people in that situation would. If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical thing to do. I guess I will find out… If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the Church in the past.
Notice the absence of real faith, which would recoil even at the very thought of killing innocents, but the pragmatic, cold-blooded use of faith as a psychological mechanism to enable mass murder. Bin Laden, we should recall, had been a very Westernized rich kid before he became a “believer.” Breivik – who killed a greater proportion of Norwegians than bin Laden did of Americans on 9/11 – has the same internal conflict. It is his fear of his lack of real faith that propels him to pragmatically embrace the psychological structure of religion to murder his cultural enemies, to reify “Europe” or “Christendom” or “the Church” in order to defend them and give some meaning to his life. He also needs to reify Islam into a purely political and cultural entity that exists solely as an existential threat to Western freedom and in which every Muslim is therefore suspect.
Like all such weaklings in the face of modernity, he is obsessed with sexual control of others and the sexual repression of oneself. He literally embraces a return to the mythic model of the 1950s, in which women remain at home, gays belong in the closet, and white Christians are the only kinds of Americans there are. He is obsessed with demography and reads at times like a parody of Mark Steyn, brooding over the out-breeding infidels. He is still angry at Betty Friedan.
So he does fit in with all those on this side of the Atlantic, and Sullivan argues that “this was about as far from an act of meaningless violence as you can get.”
It is an explicitly articulated, carefully argued conclusion from a mishmash of every current far right platitude out there. Breivik does not merely claim influence by someone like Robert Spencer, he quotes him and so many others at great length as part of his manifesto! It’s a pastiche of vast tracts of the far right blogosphere. None of this delegitimizes sane, vital critiques of Islamist intolerance, violence and ideology; none of it makes these cited ideologues and fanatics guilty of murder or in any way being accomplices to murder, or in any way connected to his crime. But it does seem to me to prove beyond any doubt that Christianism is indeed a phenomenon in its own right, and that its evolution into neo-fascist violence, like Islamism’s embrace of neo-fascist violence, is now something that cannot be denied.
And Sullivan argues that this man is extremely sane, given his stated justification:
Speaking at a televised news conference, [Breivik’s lawyer] Mr. Heger said that Mr. Breivik had acknowledged carrying out the attacks but had pleaded not guilty, because he “believes that he needed to carry out these acts to save Norway” and Western Europe from “cultural Marxism and Muslim domination.”
He did what he did, knowing it was evil, because of a passionate commitment to a political cause, which has become fused with a politicized parody of one religion, and with a passionate paranoid hatred of another one. If you think that contains no lessons for the United States, you might want to open your eyes a little more widely.
And you thought the debt ceiling and default was the big issue. There’s always more than one big news story.