Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who We Thought They Were

Spencer Ackerman has a provocative post arguing that Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the Norwegian terror attack, is, in effect, a member of al-Qaeda. Not because he's a closet sympathizer with Islamic terror. But because the "critique" he levels at Western society is, effectively, the same as the one al-Qaeda levels at the Muslim world. That he happens to have a different definition of who the purists and who the apostates are is essentially a matter of happenstance. The ideology is more or less the same.

Ackerman also argues that the ideology espoused by folks like Pam Geller is more or less identical to that held by Breivik. You could see that in this panicked post at Pajamas Media worrying that Breivik's massacre would discredit the cause of Islamophobia.

Now Ackerman is clear -- and I agree entirely -- that this is not to say that Geller and her ilk are on the verge of becoming violent terrorists. This is a common misunderstanding -- that noxious ideologies are repellent because they're violent, and that anyone who supports a terrible ideology that has violent supporters is someone who believes in violence themselves.

But this is not the case. The world al-Qaeda wants to build is a terrible world, and it wants to reach that world through violent means. There are plenty of people who support al-Qaeda's vision of the future, but do not support violence to get there. It is obviously better to not support violent action against innocents than to support it, but not endorsing violence does not cleanse the sins of the worldview. And so it is with Breivik and his cousins -- violent and non-violent. We shouldn't impute violent instincts on persons just because their ideological compatriots commit violent acts. On the other hand, we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking non-violent Islamophobes or non-violent Islamic supremacists represent anything other than a disgusting perversion.

UPDATE: I think the rightfully-condemned Jerusalem Post editorial is a good example of this. Folks are saying that they're defending Breivik. Well, no, they're not -- they're quite clear that they abhor violence against civilians, and there is no reason to doubt them on that. The problem with the JPost editorial -- aside from being utterly tasteless -- is that the substantive vision it promotes is risible even if the Jerusalem Post wishes to pursue it non-violently. It confuses two separate criticisms to protest an entity's support for violence against innocents in support of contemptible policies, and their support for those policies themselves.

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