The Blog

The Associated Press's Accusations Don't Trump Terrorism Realities

3:52 PM, Aug 1, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Yesterday, the Associated Press dropped what's known in journalism parlance as a "thumbsucker" on the Norway shootings. It's a piece that's awfully heavy on analysis and short on the necessary facts to justify said thumbsucking. THE WEEKLY STANDARD makes a cameo here, selectively quoted and used as a cudgel to further the dubious moral equivalency suggested by the headline, "'Christian terrorist'? Norway case strikes debate":

Psychologists say stereotypes come from a deeply human impulse to categorize other people, usually into groups of "us" and "them."

"Our brains are wired that way," said Cheryl Dickter, a psychology professor at the College of William & Mary who studies stereotypes and prejudice. ...

So during the first reports that someone had detonated a car bomb and then opened fire at a youth camp in Norway, many assumptions clicked into place.

"In all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra," Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote within hours on the Weekly Standard website.

The very idea that Thomas Joscelyn's response was psychological -- rather than carefully reasoned and rational -- is patently offensive and wrong. Let us count the ways:

1. The post was intentionally speculative. Joscelyn did not make any categorical claims and said that “we don’t know” who was responsible for the Norway attack. It is ridiculous that speculating al Qaeda or a like-minded terrorist group would carry out a mass casualty attack is somehow evidence of bias.

2. Joscelyn's speculative post was written after multiple press reports said there were credible jihadist claims of responsibility. The New York Times ran a story (apparently edited after the fact), citing Will McCants, a terrorism expert and former State Department adviser, who said that there was a credible online claim by a group called “Helpers of Global Jihad.” The SITE Intelligence Group also translated at least two jihadist claims online of responsibility. Other press reports pointed out that Mullah Krekar, the founder of the al Qaeda affiliated Ansar al Islam, had been recently brought up on charges in Norway after a lengthy legal battle. (The clear implication was that this might have something to do with the attacks. To be sure, though, Joscelyn noted that there was no evidence that was the case.)

3. Joscelyn mentioned that al Qaeda had a plot broken up in Oslo just one year before the attack and that senior al Qaeda leaders had repeatedly threatened Norway. Again, this was on Joscelyn's mind at the time -- remembering that al Qaeda has wanted to attack Oslo for years.

4. The AP account does not note that Joscelyn updated his post within a matter of hours. He quickly updated the post twice on Friday (at THE WEEKLY STANDARD and at the Long War Journal) and again on Sunday (at THE WEEKLY STANDARD). Contrary to the AP’s insinuation that Joscelyn or others were trading in stereotypes “in the face of all this (contradictory) information,” as soon as there was “contradictory information,” Joscelyn updated his story in a prompt and responsible fashion.

5. Statistically speaking, al Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups (from those that merely share al Qaeda’s ideology to those that have operational ties to al Qaeda itself) are responsible for the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks around the globe each year, including groups such as the Taliban, Pakistani jihadist groups, and the like. These groups are the most likely to commit a mass casualty attack.

6. The jihadist terrorist groups Joscelyn and many others initially believed were responsible for the Norway attack kill more Muslims than non-Muslims each year. This is true from Pakistan to Somalia, from Afghanistan to Iraq. Speculating on their involvement is not “anti-Muslim” -- it is “anti-terrorist” or “anti-al Qaeda.”

The truth is that if anyone here is engaged in perpetuating stereotypes it's the Associated Press. Take this passage:

Mark Juergensmeyer, editor of the book “Global Religions: An Introduction” and a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote an essay likening Breivik to Timothy McVeigh, the American who killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil until 9/11.

McVeigh and Breivik were both “good-looking young Caucasians, self-enlisted soldiers in an imagined cosmic war to save Christendom … and both were Christian terrorists,” Juergensmeyer wrote.

This is simply erroneous. Timothy McVeigh was not a "Christian" terrorist (and the issue of Breivik's faith, or lack thereof, is also complicated). The idea that McVeigh committed his crimes in the name of religion has no basis in reality, and it's simply a left-wing myth that has to be consistently slapped down. The AP should get its own facts straight before they run around accusing others of being reactionary.

Recent Blog Posts