When Is an Ideology Responsible for Murder?
Last week, a psychotic anti-multiculturalism, anti-immigrant, anti-Marxist named Anders Behring Breivik shot up a children's summer camp in Norway. The left wing media was only too eager to point to his ideology as the rationale for the shooting. David Neiwert of CrooksandLiars.com stated that Breivik subscribed to the "theories about 'Cultural Marxism' … promoted by the likes of Andrew Breitbart, among others." The Daily Kos tried to link Breivik to Accuracy in Academia and the World Congress of Families. Think Progress blamed Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, blogger Pamela Geller, author Brigitte Gabriel and scholar of Islam Robert Spencer. In short, it was a repeat of the Sarah Palin-Gabby Giffords story, only writ large.
This begs the question: when should an ideology be held responsible for murder undertaken by its adherents?
The quickest answer -- when an adherent of an ideology commits murder, the murderer is responsible -- is obviously the wrong one. Adherents of every ideology commit murder on a regular basis. They may be doing so because they misinterpret the ideology or because they are insane.
A more rational answer would require an ideology to fulfill two basic criteria in order to be blamed for a particular act of violence. First, the ideology must itself promote the sort of violence at issue and the type of violence that takes place must bear some resemblance to the violence being promoted. This makes sense. If a group of pacifists shot-up a school, we could say with accuracy that they'd clearly misinterpreted pacifism. The same does not hold true of neo-Nazi ideology and Jews.
Second, a large number of adherents to the ideology must engage in or support the form of violence in question. It is possible for formerly violent ideologies to change over time -- no one, for example, save Timothy McVeigh, thinks that Constitutional ideology is violent anymore, despite Thomas Jefferson's proclamations about the tree of liberty and the blood of patriots.
Let's take a test case, Islam. There is no question that Islamic texts promote violence against Jews and Christians. For example: the Koran famously proclaims, "Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush." With regard to Jews, one famous tidbit of Islamic oral tradition delightfully states, "The Day of Resurrection will not arrive until the Moslems make war against the Jews and kill them, and until a Jew is hiding behind a rock and tree, and the rock and tree say, 'Oh Moslem, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!'"
Now, if these verses and teachings were interpreted differently over time -- as some seemingly violent verses in the Torah and the New Testament have been, almost universally, by Jewish and Christian scholars -- we would have no problem.
But the second prong of the ideological violence test comes out positive here too. As polls show, huge swaths of Muslims endorse anti-Western violence, and the more religious they are, the more they endorse such violence. Over 50 percent of Jordanians and Lebanese support the terrorist group Hezbollah; over 40 percent of Nigerians and Indonesians do too; 30 percent of Egyptians and 19 percent of Pakistanis do as well. Those numbers are even higher, in general, for Hamas. In countries like Iran and territories like those controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the numbers skyrocket.
When Major Nidal Malik Hassan shoots up a cafeteria full of U.S. soldiers while shouting "Allahu Akhbar!," then, it isn't out of line to ask whether Islam is the ideological root cause. The answer may still be debatable, but it is a debate worth having.
The same does not hold true of conservatism with regard to Breivik. In fact, neither prong of the ideological violence test is met here. Conservatism does not promote political violence. Opponents of conservatism cannot come up with any significant support in articulated conservative thought that pushes violence to their chagrin. Certainly with regard to Breivik, the violence he pursued bore no relation to anything at issue in the anti-multicultural context -- he shot up a bunch of Norwegian kids, not a group of immigrant Muslims.
Second, there is literally zero support for Breivik among conservatives. The left cannot find a single conservative who approved of Breivik's acts. That's a far cry from the literally hundreds of millions of Muslims who support terror groups across the globe.
It's time to put away the "incitement to violence" club so often utilized these days to shut down free speech. Breivik's evil doesn't mean that conservatism promoted it or endorsed it. By the same token, not all ideologies are equal -- some do promote violence. It is imperative that we apply the ideological violence test before dismissing the effects of ideology. It is also necessary that we apply the ideological violence test before pointing fingers at mainstream political actors for violent monstrosities that have nothing to do with them.