Last Friday morning, Anders Breivik burst onto the international screen when he carried out a monstrous act of terrorism against his fellow Norwegians. Breivik bombed the offices housing the Norwegian government with the intention of murdering its leaders. He then travelled to the Utoya Island and murdered scores of young people participating in a summer program sponsored by Norway’s ruling party.
In all, last Friday Breivik murdered 76 people. Most of them were teenagers.
Although Breivik has admitted to his crimes, there are still some important questions that remain unanswered. For instance, we still do not know if he acted alone. Breivik claims that there are multiple cells of his fellow terrorists ready to attack. But so far, no one has found evidence to support his claim. We also still do not know if – for all his bravado – Breivik was acting on his own initiative or as an agent for others.
Finding the answers to these, and other questions are is a matter of the highest urgency. For if in fact Breivik is not a lone wolf, then there is considerable danger that additional, perhaps pre-planned attacks may be carried out in the near future. And given the now demonstrated inadequacy of Norway’s law enforcement arms in contending with terror attacks, the prospect of further attacks should be keeping Norwegian and other European leaders up at night.
Despite the dangers, very little of the public discourse since Breivik’s murderous assault on his countrymen has been devoted to these issues. Rather, the Norwegian and Western media have focused their discussion of Breivik’s terrorist attack on his self-justifications for it. Those self-justifications are found mainly in a 1,500 page manifesto that Breivik posted on the Internet.
Some of the material for his manifesto was plagiarized from the manifesto written by Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, whose bombing campaign spanned two decades and killed 3 and wounded 23. Kaczynski got the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish his self-justifications in 1995 by threatening to murder more people if they refused.
Breivik’s manifesto has become the center of the international discussion of his actions largely as a result of the sources he cited.
Kaczynski, like his fellow eco-terrorist Jason Jay Lee, who took several people hostage at the Discovery Channel in Maryland last September, was influenced by the writings of former US vice president Al Gore. A well worn copy of Gore’s book Earth in the Balance was reportedly found by federal agents when they searched Kaczynski’s cabin in Montana in 1996. Lee claimed that he was “awakened” to the need to commit terrorism to save the environment after he watched Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Aside from Kaczynski, (whom he plagiarized without naming), certain parts of Breivik’s manifesto read like a source guide to leading conservative writers and bloggers in the Western world. And this is unprecedented. Never before has a terrorist cited so many conservatives to justify his positions.
Breivik particularly noted writers who focus on critical examinations of multiculturalism and the dangers emanating from jihadists and the cause of global jihad. He also cited the work of earlier political philosophers and writers including John Stuart Mill, George Orwell, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson.
Breivik’s citation of conservative writers, (including myself and many of my friends and colleagues in the US and Europe), has dominated the public discussion of his actions. The leftist dominated Western media – most notably the New York Times — and the left wing of the blogosphere have used his reliance on their ideological opponents’ arguments as a means of blaming the ideas propounded by conservative thinkers and the thinkers themselves for Breivik’s heinous acts of murder. For instance, a front page news story in the Times on Monday claimed, “The man accused of the killing spree in Norway was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers and writers who have warned for years about the threat from Islam.”
The reporter, Scott Shane named several popular anti-jihadist blogs that Breivik mentioned in his manifesto. Shane then quoted left-leaning terrorism expert Marc Sageman who alleged that that the writings of anti-jihad authors “are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”
That is, Shane quoted Sageman accusing these writers of responsibility for Breivik’s acts of murder.
Before considering the veracity of Sageman’s claim, it is worth noting that no similar allegations were leveled by the media or their favored terror experts against Gore in the wake of Lee’s hostage taking last year, or in the aftermath of Kaczynski’s arrest in 1996. Moreover, Noam Chomsky, Michael Scheuer, Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer, whose writings were endorsed by Osama Bin Laden, have not been accused of responsibility for al Qaeda terrorism.
That is, leftist writers whose works have been admired by terrorists have not been held accountable for the acts of terrorism conducted by their readers.
Nor should they have been. And to understand why this sort of guilt-by-readership is wrong, it is worth considering what separates liberal democracies from what the great Israeli historian Jacob Talmon referred to as totalitarian democracies. Liberal democracies are founded on the notion that it is not simply acceptable for citizens to participate in debates about the issues facing their societies. It is admirable for citizens in democracies to participate in debates – even heated ones — about their government’s policies as well as their societies’ cultural and moral direction. A citizenry unengaged is a citizenry that is in danger of losing its freedom.
One of the reasons that argument and debate are the foundations of a liberal democratic order is because the more engaged citizens feel in the life of their societies, the less likely they will be to reject the rules governing their society and turn to violence to get their way. As a rule, liberal democracies reject the resort to violence as a means of winning an argument.
This is why, for liberal democracies, terrorism in all forms is absolutely unacceptable.
Whether or not one agrees with the ideological self-justifications of a terrorist, as a member of a liberal democratic society, one is expected to abhor his act of terrorism. Because by resorting to violence to achieve his aims, the terrorist is acting in a manner that fundamentally undermines the liberal democratic order.
Liberal democracies are always works in progress. Their citizens do not expect for a day to come when the debaters fall silent because everyone agrees with one another as all are convinced of the rightness of one side. This is because liberal democracies are not founded on messianic aspirations to create a perfect society.
In contrast, totalitarian democracies – and totalitarian democrats — do have a messianic temperament and a utopian mission to create a perfect society. And so its members do have hopes of ending debate and argument once and for all.
As Talmon explained in his 1952 classic, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, the totalitarian democratic model was envisioned by Jean Jacques Rousseau the philosophical godfather of the French Revolution. Rousseau believed that a group of anointed leaders could push a society towards perfection by essentially coercing the people to accept their view of right and wrong. Talmon drew a direct line between Rousseau and the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century – Nazism, fascism and communism.
Today, those who seek to silence conservative thinkers by making a criminal connection between our writings and the acts of a terrorist are doing so in pursuit of patently illiberal ends to say the least. If they can convince the public that our ideas cause the mass murder of children, then our voices will be silenced.
Another aspect of the same anti-liberal behavior is the tendency by many to pick and choose which sorts of terrorism are acceptable and which are unacceptable in accordance with the ideological justifications the terrorists give for their actions. The most recent notable example of this behavior is an interview that Norwegian Ambassador Svein Sevje gave to Maariv on Tuesday. Maariv asked Sevje whether in the wake of Breivik’s terrorist attack Norwegians would be more sympathetic to the victimization of innocent Israelis by Palestinian terrorists.
Sevje said no, and explained, “We Norwegians view the occupation as the reason for terror against Israel. Many Norwegians still see the occupation as the reason for attacks against Israel. Whoever thinks this way, will not change his mind as a result of the attack in Oslo.”
So in the mind of the illiberal Norwegians, terrorism is justified if the ideology behind it is considered justified. For them it is unacceptable for Breivik to murder Norwegian children because his ideology is wrong. But it is acceptable for Palestinians to murder Israeli children because their ideology is right.
As much as statements by Sevje, (or Gore, Walt, Mearshimer, Scheuer or Chomsky), may anger their ideological adversaries, no self-respecting liberal democratic thinker would accuse their political philosophies of inspiring terrorism.
There is only one point at which political philosophy merges into terrorism. That point is when political thinkers call on their followers to carry out acts of terrorism in the name of their political philosophy and they make this call with the reasonable expectation that their followers will fulfill their wishes. Political thinkers who fit this description include the likes of Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual” leader Yousef Qaradawi, Osama Bin Laden, Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, al Qaeda in Yemen leader Anwar Awlaki and other jihadist leaders.
These leaders are dangerous because they operate outside of the boundaries of democratic polemics. They do not care whether the wider public agrees with their views. Like Mao — who murdered 70 million people — they believe that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun not out of rational discourse.
Revealingly, many not particularly liberal Western democracies have granted these terrorist philosophers visas, and embraced them as legitimate thinkers. The hero’s welcome Qaradawi enjoyed during his 2005 visit to Britain by then London mayor Ken Livingstone is a particularly vivid example of this practice. The illiberal trajectory British politics has veered onto was similarly demonstrated by the government’s 2009 refusal to grant a visa to Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. Wilders has been demonized as an enemy of freedom for his criticism of Islamic totalitarianism.
The Left’s attempts to link conservative writers, politicians and philosophers with Breivik are nothing new. The same thing happened in 1995, when the Left tried to blame rabbis and politicians for the sociopathic Yigal Amir’s assassination of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The same thing happened in the US last summer with the Left’s insistent attempts to link the psychotic Jared Loughner who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents, with Governor Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.
And it is this tendency that most endangers the future of liberal democracies. If the Left is ever successful in its bid to criminalize ideological opponents and justify acts of terrorism against their opponents, their victory will destroy the liberal democratic foundations of Western civilization.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.