Today marks New York Republican Peter King’s third Muslim radicalization hearing. In previous hearings, he spent a few hours casting aspersions on American Muslims as a whole, scaremongering and talking about the threat Islam represents, and brought in witnesses to corroborate. There are plenty of reasons to think this hearing might go the same way.
King claims today’s hearing is about an actual threat—al Shabaab, a terrorist organization that recruits young men in the U.S.—but in the wake of the Oslo bombing and the slaying of dozens of young people at a camp in Norway, it’s worth considering the damage done by the widespread smearing of an entire group of people.
Immediately after the attacks, right wing bloggers like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin rushed to tie them to “jihadists” with no evidence. The New York Times ran a headline suggesting that the initial explosion was caused by Muslim extremists; and as Gary Younge at The Nation writes, “Rupert Murdoch’s Sun in Britain (the bestselling daily newspaper) ran with the headline ‘Al Qaeda massacre: Norway’s 9/11.’ The Weekly Standard insisted: ‘We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra.’”
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, arguing against the word “terrorist” being applied solely to Muslims, writes:
Al Qaeda is always to blame, even when it isn’t, even when it’s allegedly the work of a Nordic, Muslim-hating, right-wing European nationalist. Of course, before Al Qaeda, nobody ever though to detonate bombs in government buildings or go on indiscriminate, politically motivated shooting rampages. The NYT speculates that amonium nitrate fertilizer may have used to make the bomb because the suspect, Anders Behring Breivik, owned a farming-related business and thus could have access to that material; of course nobody would have ever thought of using that substance to make a massive bomb had it not been for Al Qaeda. So all this proves once again what a menacing threat radical Islam is.
In subsequent hours, though, the attacker’s identity was revealed to be one Anders Behring Breivik—a blond, 32-year-old Norwegian.
Moreover, Breivik was influenced by American conservative bloggers who worry about a threat posed by Islam, as evidenced by a manifesto he wrote:
In the document he posted online, Anders Behring Breivik, who is accused of bombing government buildings and killing scores of young people at a Labor Party camp, showed that he had closely followed the acrimonious American debate over Islam.
His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.
Breivik has internalized a lot of crackpot right-wing rhetoric—the rantings of so-called “Men’s Rights Activists,” a hatred of hip-hop culture (with a boost from John McWhorter), and intolerance for atheism and feminism.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say that Breivik was radicalized himself by ultra-conservative writings. Yet hearings like King’s—which the congressman said wouldn’t be interrupted because of the Norway attacks—continue to hound the members of a multi-faceted religion, while right-wing extremists face little scrutiny.