It’s been five days since the horrific attacks in Oslo, Norway, and I’ve been amazed at the speculation and misinformation being reported on the tragedy. After reading yet another article full of poor terrorism analysis, I decided to write a blog on the top five fallacies being reported by the media, either out of ignorance or because they want to advance a particular agenda. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which.
First, though, a caveat: I wasn’t in Oslo on that day, have never met the killer, and am forced to use the very news reports I’m chastising as my source of information. Thus, some of these fallacies may shift over time as more information becomes available. For instance, first reports were that 16 people had been killed. This jumped to 93 within two days, then settled back to 68 after four days.
1. Anders Behring Breivik is a European Timothy McVeigh – a Christian Terrorist. This comparison is all over the news, and flat out wrong. “Experts” take the circumstantial similarities, then make the logical fallacy that they’re the same. Saying Breivik is like McVeigh because they both used a fertilizer bomb is the same as saying an obstetrician is like Charles Manson because they both use knives on pregnant women. Terrorism is defined by the intent, not the method. Or the religion, for that matter.
McVeigh, while coincidentally having been born into a Christian family like Breivik, in no way used religion for any impetus in his attack. The only religious connection in the Oklahoma bombing was the fact that McVeigh was angered at how the federal government had “slaughtered” the people in Waco, Texas at the Branch Davidian compound– a religious cult. Conversely, Breivik expressly claimed to be a member of a new “Knights Templar”, a reference to the Christian warriors tasked with reclaiming and defending the holy land during the crusades – and the target of his rage was specifically another religion: Islam. Breivik and McVeigh are not the same animal at all. And yet the “experts” will continue to beat this dead comparison forever.
2. This wasn’t an act of terrorism. It was just the action of a deranged lone wolf lunatic. Whether or not Breivik was a lone wolf remains to be seen, but make no mistake, he IS a terrorist. Brian Jenkins, a true terrorism expert, once said, “Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.” This pretty much sums up Breivik’s motivations. He wanted the press from the attack as a springboard to publicize his views on Muslim immigration. Exactly like the PLO hijacking of aircraft in the 1960s. In fact, his manifesto is remarkably similar to Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa against the United States, the primary difference being that his is about a thousand times longer. Replace “Muslim” with “Infidel” in his diatribe, and you have a picture perfect al Qaida propaganda tool. Al Qaida wants western “infidels” out of the Middle East – and Breivik wants Muslim immigrants out of Europe. In truth, Breivik is more like OBL than McVeigh.
Honestly, I can’t say whether he’s insane or not, but I find it actually racially insensitive to call him so. Why is it when a Caucasian westerner conducts a heinous act, he’s automatically insane, but when an Arab conducts the same act, it’s just expected? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single person claim that Osama bin Laden was certifiably insane, or that Zawahiri is a genuine psychopath, yet Breivik MUST be one. If I were Arabic, I’d take affront at the statement.
3. We’re focusing on the wrong problem. We need to forget about Islamic terrorism and start focusing on domestic right-wing threats. While there is a threat from domestic groups, it in no way eclipses the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. To say this is to completely ignore the facts. The National Counterterrorist Center report on Terrorism (2009, the latest report available) shows that Islamic Terrorism accounts for the overwhelming majority of deaths, worldwide.
People with their head in the sand gleefully excoriated news organizations who originally stated Oslo was perpetrated by an Islamic terrorist while missing the very reason they thought it: Historically that’s exactly who committed such actions. It’s not islamophobia that causes the press and public to jump to this conclusion. It’s simply past history. Yes, domestic threats do exist, and should be addressed, but in context with their potential for occurring. Islamic terrorism is still the number one threat, and a single attack in Oslo shouldn’t change our counter-terrorism focus no matter how good it would make us feel.
4. The right-wing bloggers caused Breivik to explode. Like the insanity argument, I find this a little racially insensitive. When people discuss the roots of Islamic terrorism, it’s usually because of poverty, repressive governments, or a lack of opportunity. But when we discuss Oslo, it can’t be because of any concrete problem set. It must be because of brain-washing propaganda. While Breivik’s actions were monstrous, they came from a real concern: The encroachment of one culture on another. IN NO WAY am I taking a stand on this issue one way or the other, but it IS an issue. So much so that I actually included it in ONE ROUGH MAN when Bakr and Sayyid flee to Oslo, which was written over three years ago. I didn’t write that because I frequent right-wing blogs, but because I had seen the issue first-hand while traveling around Europe.
In 1993, Samuel Huntington wrote an article called “Clash of Civilizations” in which he stated that future conflict won’t be based on the nation-state, but on the boundaries of civilizations. This is proving true in Europe. You can say it’s all hysteria fanned by loons on the internet, but that doesn’t alter the facts. The problem set is real, as France found out in 2005, and we shouldn’t use right-wing bloggers as a foil to hide that fact.
5. Breviek used explosive bullets. This one doesn’t have a lot of heavy implications, but it aggravates me nonetheless. Why is it that a sports reporter can know every little fact about football, but nobody that reports on terrorism knows a damn thing about weapons or explosives? It’s ridiculous. The following is a quote straight from the Associated Press
“Ballistics experts say the so-called “dum-dum” bullets also are lighter in weight and can be fired with greater accuracy over varying distances. They commonly are used by air marshals and hunters of small animals. Such characteristics potentially would have allowed the gunman to carry more ammunition and fire his weapons at varying targets without adjusting his sights.”
They don’t explode, you jackass! They’re common, ordinary hollowpoints! The microscopic amount of weight saved would allow the guy to carry maybe one extra bullet, and the “dum-dum” characteristic has nothing to do with the ability to “fire his weapon at varying targets without adjusting his sights”. Spare me. I have neither the time nor energy to discuss how ignorant this paragraph is, but it does show a complete lack of understanding about basic ballistics, which in turn shows absolute laziness on the part of journalists covering a topic that deserves a little expertise. And I didn’t single out a specific report. Just Google “Oslo Dum Dum bullets” and you’ll get a plethora of idiotic articles. If the sports reporter can spontaneously tell you all there is to know about a baseball player’s equipment, the terrorism reporter should be able to do the same.