Since July 22nd there have been many accusation flung at those who are from the right, Conservatives, Christians, at anyone who takes a stand against islam, muslim immigration and sharia law. The vilification has been swift and completely inaccurate without any credible sources that the counterjihadist movement is wildly racist, islamophobic, muslimphobic and calling for the murder of muslims or other immigrants to Europe.
Nick McAvelly has kindly granted me permission to re-post this excellent article about how some journalists have taken license with the above, now including books the killer, Anders Breivik may have read and mentioned in his 'manifesto'.
Along with the sites Gates Of Vienna, Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer, Baron Bodissey, Fjordman just to name a few, books that many of us may or may not have read have been linked to the massacre commited at the hands of Breivik on July 22nd. Mind you, the linkage is pure poppycock and bull feathers. I could use foul words but strive to keep it pretty clean here.
Nick does an outstanding job here and less I take anything away or keep you from his excellent post, I will now shut up and let you read after a few more words: Take a visit to Nick's site, The Frozen North. You will find it is time very well spent. Trust me, as you know you can!
The spree killing in Norway
By Nick McAvelly
The only thing to write about this week is what has happened in Norway. Geir Lippestad is the lawyer representing the alleged perpetrator of the spree killing at Oslo and Utøya Island, Anders Breivik. His lawyer is currently saying that Breivik appears to be insane, but that it’s difficult to describe him further, because Breivik is ‘not like anyone else’. This hasn’t stopped journalists from trying to describe Breivik, or from going further and trying to suggest what his motives might be for carrying out such a wicked act.
Journalists are trained to report on events, not to analyse them. And they have their own agenda when covering stories like this. One journalist on Sky News’ press review a couple of nights ago pointed to a front page photo of Breivik and said that as journalists, that was what they wanted. A photo of a killer’s face. He quickly apologised to the families of the victims, who obviously might feel just a tad upset at the thought of seeing Breivik smirking at them over their cornflakes in the morning, then he repeated his point that as journalists, they wanted such a photo on their front cover. The presenter of the programme quickly moved on.
There are very few journalists who have sufficient knowledge of theology or philosophy to be able to begin putting acts of evil into any kind of meaningful context. The best that most journalists can do is pore over the alleged perpetrator’s internet life, and then report that apparently Breivik had read lots of different books. One of these was On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill:
“The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)
As anyone familiar with On Liberty knows, Mill argued that if individuals are not violating what is known as the ‘Harm Principle’ then they should not be subject to the powers of the state, or even be coerced by their fellow citizens, to make them behave differently. The young people who lost their lives last week at Utøya Island were of course harming no one.
Even if one believes that another person is somehow wrong, either in their thinking or behaviour, Mill argued that, at most, one may remonstrate with them, reason with them, or try to persuade them that they are wrong. A far cry from blowing people up with a car bomb or shooting them with a rifle.
It is therefore puzzling to find journalists mentioning Mill when they write about the horrific events at Oslo and Utøya Island. When they do so, they provide no linkage between Mill’s writing and the spree killing itself. This is because there actually is no causal link.
Playing devil’s advocate, it may be said that Anders Breivik, the alleged perpetrator of the spree killings at Utøya, had at some point physically turned the pages of the book, and read Mill’s On Liberty. Then again, so have hundreds of thousands of undergraduate philosophy students. Breivik also appears to have read George Orwell’s 1984. This book is regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written, and it has been read by millions of people. Ask anyone who has read either of these books to give their moral assessment of the spree killing at Oslo and Utøya, and they will inform you that it was an act of almost unparalleled evil. This is because there is nothing in either of those books to make anyone reading them believe that murdering innocent teenagers is anything but an evil act. There is no legitimate reason to link either George Orwell or John Stuart Mill to the spree killing in Norway.
It’s natural to try to find some kind of explanation for acts of wickedness, and of course, journalists are paid to say something about whatever has happened on any given day. It’s understandable that journalists would trawl the internet for any information they can find about the alleged perpetrator, and use that information to help them write an article before their deadline expires. But saying that Breivik read Mill and Orwell sheds no light on his motives. Apparently, Breivik was a fan of Jeremy Clarkson. Are we supposed to think that watching Top Gear drove him to murder?
There is a fundamental problem with reporters noting that the alleged perpetrator of the spree killing in Norway read certain books or watched certain TV programmes at some undefined point in the past, and then allegedly carried out a wicked act in July 2011. One TV programme most of us will remember is The West Wing, starring Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet. In Season 1, episode 2 of the programme, entitled post hoc, ergo propter hoc, Bartlet discusses that fallacy with his advisors. (See link.) In the scene, Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer, tells us what the latin expression means: After it, therefore because of it. Martin Sheen then explains the fallacy itself to us: “It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. It’s not always true. In fact it’s hardly ever true.” The logic is clear: Even if event x happens before event y, that does not mean x caused y.
And here’s the problem: Much has been made of the alleged perpetrator of this spree killing having read essays written by the Scandanavian blogger Fjordman. By mentioning this blogger’s name in newspaper reports covering the spree killing at Utøya, readers are quietly being invited to commit that fallacy.
Although, like many others. I read Orwell and Mill years ago, I’ve only read one essay by Fjordman. I recently looked up his work and read the first of his series entitled The History of Beer. It was interesting enough, if a little dry. The point here is that, as someone who has been sober for more than ten years, I can state categorically that if I were to fall off the wagon and return to my old ways, it would not be because I read Fjordman’s thoughts on the history of beer. If I choose to act in a destructive way, then that is my decision and no one else’s. Reading an essay by a Scandanavian blogger would have absolutely nothing to do with it.
One thing may precede another, but that doesn’t mean that it caused it. To put it another way: I could go outside now wearing just my underpants, and dance around in the trees waving my arms in the air. If it started raining five minutes later, that wouldn’t mean I’d been doing a rain dance.
There is no causal link whatsoever between anyone reading an essay or a book, at least not an everyday book that does not claim to be divinely inspired, and their deciding, years later, to commit a wicked act. The responsibility for such an act belongs to the perpetrator alone. If Anders Behring Breivik has chosen to do evil, then it is he who will face judgement for it, both in this world and the next.