WSJ Op-Ed Page Accidentally Pulls the Islam Alarm

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Updated Tuesday 7/26 9:30 a.m.

Before they knew the facts of the terror attacks in Norway last Friday, editors at the Wall Street Journal concluded it was the work of Islamic extremists and whipped off the following kicker paragraph for an editorial that appeared in Saturday’s paper:

In Jihadist eyes [Norway] 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. They are not in the wrong movie. They are on the right side.

The Journal’s reporters managed to get the story right on the front page of the same day’s paper, reporting that Anders Behring Breivik had been arrested and that his beliefs were “Christian” and “Conservative.” In any case, by Monday, the Journal had scrubbed the online version of the story’s kicker to read:

In its hour of grief, we’re confident that Norway, like other free societies beset by terror, will respond with conviction, courage and resilience.

The Journal’s editorial page wasn’t alone in jumping to conclusions. ABC News’ Brian Ross breathlessly suggested in the hours after the attack that al-Qaeda and Ansar al Islam might be behind it, but then scrubbed the online article of any mention of radical Islamic groups. And there were many other examples Friday afternoon of hasty conclusions hastily withdrawn after an ironic rush to look well-sourced or ideologically validated.

Honest journalists, when they get something wrong, don’t expunge the record, they correct it. But in the larger sphere, the premature Islam-alarm has set off a resonating debate over whether anti-Islamism fuels Christian-extremist violence. A variety of Western politicians and writers in the U.S. and Europe have pushed back in recent years against what they see as decades of multiculturalism which has allowed the infiltration of Islamic values antithetical to societies that are properly Judeo-Christian. Leading the post-Norway backlash, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald says:

If, as preliminary evidence suggests, it turns out that Breivik was “inspired” by the extremist hatemongering rantings of Geller, Pipes and friends, will their groups be deemed Terrorist organizations such that any involvement with them could constitute the criminal offense of material support to Terrorism?  Will those extremist polemicists inspiring Terrorist violence receive the Anwar Awlaki treatment of being put on an assassination hit list without due process?

The New York Times, more subtly, fronts a story today headlined, “Killings Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S.” whose nut reads, “the mass killings in Norway, with their echo of the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by an anti-government militant, have focused new attention around the world on the sub-culture of anti-Muslim bloggers and right-wing activists and renewed a debate over the focus of counterterrorism efforts.”

The right in America has reacted defensively. Fox and Friends showed laughably posed journalistic restraint in warning against a rush to judgment about Breivik’s ideological affiliation. More seriously, the National Review’s Mark Steyn seemed a little too pleased to have been mentioned in Breivik’s manifesto and argues, oddly, that because none of his victims were Muslim we should disregard the entirety of his reported motives.

So what conclusions should we draw about the rush to judgment and its backlash? Now that we know it was a Christian extremist who perpetrated the attacks, the Journal’s original editorial admonition, if properly updated, would read:

In [Christian extremist] eyes Norway 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, [including freedom of religion]. For being true to these ideals, Norwegians have now been made to pay a terrible price. They are not in the wrong movie. They are on the right side.

The “right” side in this case is not just against Breivik’s violence but against those like Herman Cain who think that America can have freedom of religion without equality of religious rights under the law, and those who abjure Western values by equating Islam with its violent extreme, and those who see in every act of political violence the face of one religion.

Update:

The Journal this morning embraces some of the arguments above with an editorial that says Breivik “twisted his right-wing political beliefs into a justification to commit mass murder” and that “his case is a reminder that political violence isn’t limited to the left or right and must be fought in all its guises.”

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