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 traveled to the Utoeya Island and murdered scores
of young people participating in a summer program sponsored by Norway’s ruling
In all, last Friday Breivik murdered 76 people.
them were teenagers.
Although he has confessed to his crimes, there are
still 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.
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.
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
three 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
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 vicepresident Al Gore. A well-worn copy
of Gore’s book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit 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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
Shane quoted Sageman accusing these writers of responsibility for Breivik’s acts
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 Mearsheimer, whose writings were endorsed
by Osama bin Laden, have not been accused of responsibility for al-Qaida
That is, leftist writers whose works have been admired by
terrorists have not been held accountable for the acts of terrorism conducted by
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
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.
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
Liberal democracies are always works in progress. Their citizens
do not expect 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 20th century – Nazism, fascism and
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 Ma’ariv on Tuesday.
Ma’ariv 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.
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, Mearsheimer, 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-Qaida in Yemen leader Anwar Awlaki and other jihadist
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
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.
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 Gov. 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 their bid to
criminalize ideological opponents and justify acts of terrorism against its
opponents, their victory will destroy the liberal democratic foundations of