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Tragic Day for Norway; Shameful Day for Journalism

[Image from unknown archive] [Image from unknown archive]

A friend’s status update on Facebook alerted me that something horrible had happened in Oslo. Horrible things tend not to happen in Oslo, so I immediately turned to the news to learn what was going on. I read a story in the New York Times that squarely pointed to jihadi groups angered at the war in Afghanistan. The expert the Times cited was Will McCants. I checked in on his twitter feed throughout the day, as he allegedly translated an alleged website by the alleged terrorists responsible for the attacks in Norway. Throughout the day, he translated Arabic phrases from a forum about the type of explosives used, car chases through Oslo and arrests, etc. Even as he pointed to ambiguities about responsibility, the NYT let the story become one of Muslim terrorists wreaking the worst destruction on Norway since World War Two. 

Hitler invaded Norway in April 1940. It was a strategic link to Sweden’s iron ore mines and the Allies’ main supply route to Stalin’s Russia. Once Norway was blocked, Iran was invaded and occupied by Russia to the north and Britain from the east and south to create a land bridge. As Churchill wrote to Stalin, the British and the Russians "joined hands" across Iran. As it turns out, the worst attack on Norway since Hitler’s invasion was actually carried out by a neo-Nazi. This attack was about Europe’s own ghosts.

The Financial Times was no better. From the start, it reported allegations of Islamic terrorism, continuing with this view well into its evening reporting by which time an arrest had already been made in the case. Briefly discussing possibilities of neo-Nazi terrorism, the FT continued to cite terrorism experts who spoke convincingly of the attack at the youth camp being carried out by “someone willing to sacrifice his life” thereto a Muslim extremist. The FT then devoted considerable space to tracing the history of Islamic terror attacks in Nordic countries since 2005. Other than their anger at Muslim immigrants, the FT left us with little information on who these neo-Nazi groups were and why they would want to massacre their own brethren.

Judy Woodruff’s interview with a Norwegian journalist that aired on PBS’s Newshour followed a similar scenario. We did learn that “a thirty-two-year old white Norwegian guy” had been arrested for presumably having carried out the bombings and the shootings. But no information was provided on the attacker's motivations or political affiliation; Woodruff simply did not ask those questions. Who forms the neo-Nazi movement in Norway? What are their party affiliations, their platform? Instead of these pressing questions, she asked about the history of terrorism in Norway that focused the rest of the interview on Norway’s involvement in places like Haiti, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Libya, and Afghanistan. As a member of NATO, the PBS report said, Norway has “forces in international military operations.” It is time the U.S. press stop using euphemisms for war. Norway is—as an active member of NATO—at war in Libya and Afghanistan.

But those wars are not why Oslo has a gaping wound in it today. Today a white thirty-two-year old Norwegian detonated a bomb outside the prime minister’s office. He then traveled forty-five minutes to the island of Utoya to a youth camp for the country’s Labour Party. Dressed as a police officer, he shot indiscriminately, kicking the wounded to check if they were alive before shooting them dead. The slaughter was aimed at symbols of Norwegian governance. Norwegian police said the attack had “catastrophic dimensions.” 

In this 24/7 news cycle driven even more mad by terror experts who conduct research using google and tweet a mile a minute, journalists should exercise caution. It is ok to report a breaking news story and provide verifiable information over time. And as consumers of news, we need always exercise caution. The Murdoch fiasco has laid bare how the media can be manipulated for political purposes and financial gain.

As Norwegians sift through the debris, mourn their dead, and get accustomed to a new normal, they will need to conduct an honest national dialogue. Perhaps today the neo-Nazis in Europe count Muslims among the problems that drive their madness. But to a large degree, these right wing extremist views shaped twentieth century Europe. It is time for a European reckoning of its own history of violence that has bled into the present in such horrific and painful ways. Life changes when your hometown is torn asunder by violence; those of us who know this pain stand with Oslo today.

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19 comments for "Tragic Day for Norway; Shameful Day for Journalism "


The man arrested in Norway has thus far been described as Christian, Christian fundamentalist, right-wing, conservative, nationalist, and loner. Are any of these descriptors accurate? We simply don't know. But not once has he been described as a neo-Nazi.

So while I agree with your criticism of the press, I would also advise you to not jump to conclusions either. The facts about this man will be known in due time.

As for me, while I am disturbed that any self-described Christian would murder almost 100 innocent people, I will keep my own counsel until more is revealed about his motives. Christian terrorism, terrorism in the name of Christianity, is extremely rare. Truly shocking if this is the case in Norway.

sgi wrote on July 23, 2011 at 05:02 AM

Thank you for this piece. Nothing should be added or taken away from it. Tanx again

olamide wrote on July 23, 2011 at 05:22 AM

Being a Norwegian I've had the... fortune to be able to stay updated about this tragedy. Before the identity of the arrested man was released, people over the whole line begged people not to jump to conclusions.

And now that we know the identity of the man arrested, a confirmed right-wing, conservative christian, possibly with neo-nazi connections or at least sympathies, people still have this message: A given creed, religion, philosophy or anything else is of no matter. There is no excuse for actions such as theese,

Seeing people speculate and automatically blame Islam for the atrocities makes me sad and angry.

Arild Balog wrote on July 23, 2011 at 06:00 AM

While German media last night depicted the tragedy as well as supposedly 'islamist extremism' I found myself waking up today and thinking, 'thank god, it's not', being ashamed at the same time having these thoughts while nearly 100 mostly young people died. How ever you signify this form of violence - and by the way to sgi, self-described Christian, just have a look at the etymological backgrounds of fundamenalism, the five fundamentals (Martin Riesebrodt has written extensively about it) etc. and see how rare it is - the cited historical backgrounds of Nazism and it's own religious shapings should be well known but are most often hidden behind an ongoing Eurocentric supremacy.

Aischa wrote on July 23, 2011 at 07:03 AM

Gordon Bennet. What kind of febrile children get jobs as journailsts these days?

Anyone who's had the most cursory eye on Norwegian politics over the last 20 yrs could tell you that the far right was a more promising place to look for the kind of swivel-eyed lackwit who'd do something like this.

Speculation is always schonky journalism, but if they must do it, could they really find no-one capable of informed speculation?

Hildegard wrote on July 23, 2011 at 09:43 AM

Where have you found the information that he is Neo-Nazi? I have not read that in any Scandinavian paper so far. Only that he is Right Wing and a Freemason (Frimurare).

Do you have the source/link to where you read it?

Thanks for the article. I had no idea that the American papers said "muslim", I think everyone in Scandinavia was thinking it, but the media did not report anything until they had his name and photo.

Sofia wrote on July 23, 2011 at 11:22 AM

No they will not take a look at their own homegrown fascism, they will blame this on a bad apple, a lone-deranged individual or two maybe three... they will find out how this disturbed individual's home was broken and that he played violent video games, perhaps he watched too much violence on T.V.. If it had been Muslims, it would never have been the work of a few deranged individuals, it would have been the largest international conspiracy a few more Jihadi organizations and there would be US/UN/NATO alliances on invading another country like Afghanistan, (whichever country currently on the top of the invasion agenda, go ahead take a pick.. randomly) Perhaps Pakistan or Iran or any Arab countries waging democratic struggles.. This is the other side of the so-called war on Terror. And all i can say is PHEW!!!!!!!!

shaista wrote on July 23, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Sofia, one of several sources includes the Financial Times which carried a headline, "Suspicion Turns from Islamist Extremists to Neo-Nazis."

Shiva Balaghi wrote on July 23, 2011 at 02:51 PM

See also coverage on BBC and elsewhere:

Shiva Balaghi wrote on July 23, 2011 at 02:53 PM

Valuable piece. I was shocked to hear several correspondents, not just one, on the BBC World Service yesterday talking blithely about "Islamic terrorists."

Todd Gitlin wrote on July 23, 2011 at 11:03 PM

the majority of terrorism today is at the hands of islamists, so why are we shocked and offended when the obvious inference is to suppose that this terror act was also the product of muslim extremists? Sure, they got it wrong, and the guy obviously isn't, but you make it sound like its ridiculous to suspect muslim terrorism. Admit it, when you all heard what happened, what did you first suspect?

mikebike wrote on July 24, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Perhaps this piece too has come too early. As it now appears that his goals are alligned with Al Qaeda i.e. the destruction of democratic liberalism and the regression to medieval parochialism.

Martin wrote on July 25, 2011 at 12:42 AM

I received the news of the terrorist attack in Norway from the 1st NYT news alert on this subject, Friday evening. The only mention of Islam was a report of the Grand Imam of Oslo stating that it had no connection with any of his followers. There were 2 reports during the night, the second one stating that a Norwegian man of 32 was held by the police. He was a conservative right wing fundamentalist Christian. The NYT never suggesed that this was a Muslim terrorist attack. There is ample evidence of the terrorist's coherence and Norwegian sister-in-law tells me that he planned this for 9 years, and they have comprehensive notebooks relating his preparation.

Caroline Storm wrote on July 25, 2011 at 02:40 AM

For those, who like Caroline, didn't read the NYT till later in the day after the arrest had already been announced, Glenn Greenwald's article which includes a screen capture of the NYT headlining jihadi responsibility:

Shiva Balaghi wrote on July 25, 2011 at 12:26 PM

A lot of ink that has been spilled since the horrible tragedy in Norway makes it clear how difficult it is for so many to come to terms with what this particular act of violence means for Europe and Europeans.

Shiva Balaghi wrote on July 25, 2011 at 12:27 PM

This is guy is Neo-Nazi and its proved, today these right or left wing people are on rise in EU and USA. These are basically haters, who take Christianity as a cover , so its easy target for Islamic. These Neo-Nazis are well known hate groups in Europe and their actions are known by all police personnel and much can also be found on internet, how they describe their intentions in future. If intelligence departments are tracking facebook then they shall get lots of information about them., some of the well known of them are Peter Schulz and Princess Erika.

Dinesh Dhanak wrote on July 25, 2011 at 01:08 PM

I completely agree that those journalists who jumped this story calling it "jihadism" or "Muslim terrorism" are disgusting and the fact that this occurs in modern journalism in supposedly enlightened, democratic countries is appalling. Yet, I would like to point out that this article too comes dangerously close to falling into that same behavior. Breivik is not a "neo-nazi." He is a reactionary Christian who wants to start a new crusade. His youtube videos are quite explanatory in this regard. He actually hates Nazis and considers himself a champion against all hate groups, oblivious to the fact that he is one.

Max Demian wrote on July 31, 2011 at 02:19 PM

"Christian" terrorism is a rarity? Never heard of The Crusades, The Thirty Year War, Hilter, Mussolini, Franco, or every war criminal who's lived in the White House?

miri wrote on August 01, 2011 at 12:36 AM

Always fascinating when the "crusades" are offered as evidence of "Christian terrorism" in the world today. If one must go back that far back to find an example, it would seem to support the opposite argument.

xpartisan wrote on September 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM

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