Anders Behring Breivik—the Norwegian who recently went on a Christian nationalist inspired rampage, murdering over 90 of his fellow citizens in Norway—immersed himself in the rhetoric of anti-Muslim blogs where Muslims are routinely tarred with collective guilt for such things as 9/11.
The question is thus fairly asked: if Muslims can be considered collectively guilty for, say, Osama bin Laden’s reading of the Quran—and the violent conclusions he drew from it—can right-wing blog site authors be considered collectively guilty for the violent conclusions that Anders Behring Breivak drew from reading them?
Or is it suddenly very important that we make clear intellectual distinctions, and treat people engaged in cultural movements as free Jeffersonian individuals solely responsible for their beliefs and actions, but no one else’s?
Here’s William Saletan writing at Slate:
In a manifesto posted online, the admitted killer, Anders Behring Breivik, praised [Pamela] Geller. He cited her blog, Atlas Shrugs, and the writings of her friends, allies, and collaborators—Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch, Islam Watch, and Front Page magazine—more than 250 times. And he echoed their tactics, tarring peaceful Muslims with the crimes of violent Muslims. He wrote that all Muslims sought to impose “sharia laws” and that “there are no important theological differences between jihadists and so-called ‘peaceful’ or ‘moderate’ Muslims.” He reprinted, as part of the manifesto, a 2006 essay by “Fjordman”—a blogger whose work appears frequently on Geller’s site—which argued that “radical Muslims and moderate Muslims are allies” and that because Islam teaches deception, no Muslim who claims to be moderate can be trusted.
So, now that the shoe of collective guilt is on the other foot, what’s the difference between blowing up something after reading the Quran and blowing up something after reading the Bible or an anti-Muslim blog?
Here’s William Saletan again:
The vindictive part of me wants to blame [Pamela] Geller and her ilk for what happened in Oslo. But then I remember something Abdul Rauf said: “The Quran explicitly states that no soul shall be responsible for the sins of another. Terrorism, which targets innocents who had no part in a crime, fundamentally violates this Quranic commandment.” That principle—that no one should be held responsible for another person’s sins—is the moral core of the struggle against terrorism. It’s the reason I can’t pin the slaughter in Norway on bloggers who never advocated sectarian violence.
Abdul Rauf, for those who don’t recall, is the moderate American imam who wants to build a mosque a few blocks down from Ground Zero.
Should we let him? And, if you say no, why should he be held partly responsible for 9/11 while Pamela Geller is held blameless for Anders Behring Breivik?
Here’s The Daily Caller reporting what Pamela Geller said in her own defense:
Geller points out that while she and Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer appear in Breivik’s manifesto, so do several influential historical thinkers. For instance, the New Yorker reports that Breivik cites Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Adam Smith. “Are they responsible too?” Geller asks.
The easy answer to Geller’s rhetorical question is Obviously not. But I’d like to complicate things just a tad. The most sensible thing I’ve ever read on the issue of collective guilt came from Leon Wieseltier. He wrote the following in the New Republic when the Ground Zero mosque was a trending issue and being widely debated:
One of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time, Baruch Goldstein, came from the Jewish universe in which I was raised. . . . The same was later true of Yigal Amir. . . . If the standpoint of broadly collective responsibility was the wrong way to explain the atrocities, so too was the standpoint of purely individual responsibility. There were currents of culture behind the killers. Their ideas were not only their own. I am reminded of those complications when I hear that Islam is a religion of peace. I have no quarrel with the construction of Cordoba House, but not because Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war. All the religions have all the tendencies within them, and in varying historical circumstances varying beliefs and practices have come to the fore.
Ideas and cultural movements have consequences, and, as Wieseltier rightly emphasized, behind killers we can always identify currents of culture. In this instance, the current of culture was an Internet one, but we should no more stop Pamela Geller’s website because of what Anders Behring Breivik did than we should stop Abdul Rauf from building a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero because of what Osama bin Laden did. Jeffersonian rights to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly should be inalienable.
What’s good for Pamela Geller is good for Abdul Rauf.
Or do you see a distinction between them that I’m missing?