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Norway massacre: Is there any explanation? [The conversation]

July 26, 2011 |  3:57 pm


Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who confessed to carrying out two attacks that killed at least 76 people on Friday, might be mentally unstable. Even his lawyer thinks so

As we begin to reflect on this tragedy, discussion on how to interpret it abounds. Our editorial board sees it as a (missed) chance to address harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric:

It was wrong then, and still is, to attack the purveyors of legitimate if extreme political views for the violent actions of deranged individuals. Yet while we'll strenuously defend the right even of bigots to express themselves, we do think the horrifying act of terrorism to which Norway's Anders Behring Breivik confessed Monday provides a welcome opportunity for introspection among Muslim-bashers.

Conservative pundits are getting back some of what they've been dishing out for years, finding themselves being unfairly blamed for the actions of those who share their ideology but take it to violent extremes. Will this inspire them to treat Muslims more fairly? A defensive post from Pamela Geller, who writes the anti-Muslim Atlas Shrugs blog (also cited by Breivik), points to the answer. While failing to acknowledge an iota of responsibility for spreading distrust of even moderate Muslims, she instead blames the "Sharia-compliant media" for attacks on her and her site. Opportunity lost.

The Washington Post’s editorial board took another route in its editorial “Norway’s tragedy” by placing responsibility squarely in the hands of Breivik. It also notes the attack should be a wake-up call to international law enforcement agencies:

It may be true, as some experts are saying, that law enforcement agencies have not paid enough attention to the threat of violence from anti-Muslim extremists in the United States and Europe. If so, the tragic events in Norway are likely to lead to renewed scrutiny of that danger, as they should. We have no sympathy for populists who appeal to anti-Muslim bigotry on either side of the Atlantic. But just as al-Qaeda -- and not Islam -- was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is Mr. Breivik who should be held accountable for the Norway massacre.

Alternatively, Walter Russell Mead links facets of modern society to increased potential for violence in his brilliantly crafted essay for the American Interest:

The Norwegian horror says less about any shortcomings in Norwegian life and culture than about modern life generally. It reminds us of the profoundly unsettling truth that modernization may lead to more violence and more death than ever before.

Eugene Robinson, in his opinion piece for the Washington Post, doesn’t see Breivik’s attack as a problem limited to Norway, either.  But he believes that, while tolerance toward immigrants is challenging for Europeans, it’s a natural part of U.S. life:

Breivik apparently saw the Muslim presence in Norway and the rest of Europe as a result of immigration and “multiculturalism” — and as a threat to indigenous civilization and culture. It is true that European societies have struggled at assimilation; witness the growth of right-wing, anti-immigrant political parties across the continent. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that Europe’s adjustment to its new diversity will take time and effort.

But the reality here is completely different. Assimilation is something the United States does as well as any country on Earth. Our proven ability to transform immigrants into Americans gives us a competitive advantage at a time when the populations of developed nations are aging rapidly.

One reason the world’s best and brightest still want to come here is that the Constitution protects freedom of worship. No matter what the prejudiced purveyors of anti-Islam vitriol might say, this guarantee covers Muslims just like everybody else.


Norway attacks full coverage

Muslims feel sting of initial blame

Norway attacks: Terror from the right

Are extreme ideologies to blame for violent acts?

In Norway gun ownership is common; violence and homicide are not

-- Julia Gabrick

Photos: A man pays his respects to the victims of the shooting spree and bomb attack in Norway at a temporary memorial site on the shore in front of Utoya island, northwest of Oslo, on Tuesday. Credit: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

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