As Friday's horrific events unfolded in Norway, I was reminded of a scene from the 1997 dark comedy film Wag the Dog, starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. The ever-pertinent movie, written by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, explores the crossroads between, power, the media, public relations and show biz.
In the plot, less than two weeks before Election Day, a sitting President is caught in a closed room making advances on an underage girl. He drafts De Niro's character to handle the PR crisis, who, as a diversionary tactic, promptly sets about staging a fake war against Albania with the aid of an eccentric Hollywood producer played by Hoffman. "Why Albania?" asks a presidential aid, "why not," answers De Niro as he instructs her to encourage media interest in the 'war' by outright denying it. At a press conference shortly afterwards, attention has already shifted away from the President's misdemeanor and members of the media pry for more information on the 'war,' suggesting possible catalysts. One journalist asks, "Is the situation in Albania anything to do with the Muslim fundamentalist, anti-American uprising?" "Now they're getting this," says De Niro, "there you go, there's a little help."
In the movie, the press not only swallow whatever they are fed, but also serve as useful fools in furthering the false narrative by jumping the gun, presupposing and making false assumptions.
As the initial news coverage of the atrocities was unfolding, there was still much uncertainty over the particulars. Whilst most of the programming pertained to the events alone, much of the commentary was focused on suggesting who was responsible for this horror and why. The initial general assumption in the media was that this attack bore all the hallmarks of an Islamist group, shortly afterwards this appeared to be confirmed when an Islamist organization claimed responsibility on its website and the New York Times, as well as other newspapers, carried the headline. A few hours later it became clear that this was not the case.
What happened in the interim was disturbing, as journalists and commentators rushed to provide a 'little help,' albeit likely inadvertently, by suggesting a litany of possible agitators that may have prompted this bloody outburst. Among the suggestions repeated by terror experts and anchors on the BBC, was Norway's involvement in the ongoing NATO strikes of Libya, having soldiers in Afghanistan and the publication of cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad in a Norwegian newspaper.
It is interesting to note that once it was confirmed that the suspect was actually an anti-Islamist extremist, there were no explanations from the media, only blame leveled at other anti-Islamist writers and activists, most of whom have never advocated violence. The hypocrisy is just stunning; when the belief was that the perpetrators were Muslim extremists the blame was directed towards those at the polar opposite of the political spectrum for fueling the Islamist hatred of the West. However, once this was discovered not to be the case, the blame fell yet again on the same side of the political spectrum as media pundits pointed fingers at the political right. The logically consistent approach, which is of course nonsensical, would have been to lay blame with stalwarts of politically leftwing multiculturalist ideology for inspiring the rampage.
Herein lies an important lesson that is to be learned. It is a point that has been made before but still hasn't been internalized; there is no catalyst for terror, no excuse, cause, justification or explanation and it is time that members of the press stopped acting as useful fools in delivering a 'little help' to its protagonists by presupposing that there is.
At an August 2006 speech to the World Trade Affairs Council in Los Angeles, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "Still now, I am amazed at how many people will say, in effect, there is increased terrorism today because we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. They seem to forget entirely that September 11th predated either. The West didn't attack this movement. We were attacked. Until then we had largely ignored it."
British Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove makes this point at length in his book, Celsius 7/7, where he demonstrates that Western activities around the globe have had no impact on the spread of Islamic terror. He quotes ICM polls that show "the proportion of Muslims supporting either September 11th or al Qaeda or similar organizations' attacking the United States was 15 percent in 2001, 11 percent in 2002 and 13 percent in 2004."
Norway's Ambassador to Israel, Svein Sevje, even went so far as to tell the Israeli newspaper Maariv that there are "distinctions between the Norwegian attacks and terrorism in Israel." "We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel," he said. "Those who believe this will not change their mind because of the attack in Oslo."
Killers need no excuse to kill, barbaric ideologies will thrive regardless of the allegiances and activities of the public, and the principles of the victims are certainly not to blame. Evil demands no invitation in rearing its ugly head, and we dare not provide justification.