Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't Blame The Right For Oslo

The way in which some extreme conservative columnists and editorialists have spun the Oslo terrorist attack is disagreeable to say the least. Many of them have ceased to be relevant voices in the policy debate for their sheer inability to acknowledge that they view the world through a thick prism of fear, mistrust, and partiality.

Upon learning that many of these authors are quoted in Anders Breivik's manifesto, there are those who would lay blame at the feet of the neo-conservative right. While clearly not directly responsible, the mindset of fear and imminent danger these ideologues promote may have been one factor which influenced Mr. Breivik.

But as distasteful and reactionary as they may be, extreme right-wing authors are not responsible for the horrific terror attacks in Oslo and Utoya. Nor should they be blamed.

First, of the millions of people who read extremely right-wing authors, only one of them committed a terror attack on Friday. While many of these authors advocate viewpoints which are ludicrous and policies which are beyond offensive, none of them advocate terrorism. Anders Breivik drawing inspiration from the far-right demonstrates only that their brinksmanship and fear-mongering tactics are undeniable, not that they are complicit in terrorism.

Second, by blaming these ideologues for outright terrorism, moderate and liberal observers are simply buying in to the same guilt-by-association logic they detest from the far right. Carrying this logic to its full extension, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz also bear responsibility for Oslo since they were both quoted in the manifesto. So does the Telegraph. So does Wikipedia. A culture of guilt-by-association, furthermore, has a chilling effect on free speech. The idea that an individual should avoid expressing an idea because someone might link it to radicals who support that idea creates serious limitations on freedom of expression. If a far right-wing, non-violent voice is censored, let it be done by free participants in the marketplace of ideas who ignore the voice.

Finally and most importantly, blaming the far right for Oslo detracts from the share of the blame shouldered by Breivik himself. Especially given that Breivik's lawyer is claiming that Breivik is insane, an understanding of the full moral and legal weight of his actions is warranted. It was Breivik alone who premeditated the mass killing of civilians for political gain, built explosives, kept meticulous records, and executed the attack effectively over a time span of hours. He hid his actions from the police, demonstrating complete understanding of the ethical lines he was crossing. All the wacky right-wing blogs in the world could not have made the ultimate sane choice Breivik made to pull the trigger, again and again, and murder the innocent.

The thought that society cannot stop every terrorist is scary, but it is the cold reality of human free will. And since Breivik alone committed the attack, the Norwegian government is justified fully in pursuing the full course of legal action against him.

No comments:

Post a Comment