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Glenn Greenwald: Why Do We Harass Muslims But Not White, Nordic Males?

The response to the Norway attacks shows that the world "terrorism" has no meaning -- aside from when it's used to bash Muslims.

Numerous news outlets and commentators initially blamed the attack on Islamic militants. Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper,  The Sun, ran a front-page headline titled "'Al-Qaeda' Massacre: Norway’s 9/11." Here in the U.S., Murdoch’s  Wall Street Journal also initially blamed jihadists, reporting that, quote, "Norway is targeted for being true to Western norms."

But it was not just the Murdoch empire. On the  Washington Post website, Jennifer Rubin wrote, quote, "This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists," unquote. Once it was revealed that the alleged perpetrator was not a Muslim militant, but a right-wing, anti-Muslim Norwegian nationalist, the  New York Times still cited experts as saying, quote, "Even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks," unquote.

To discuss the media coverage of the attacks, we’re joined from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by Glenn Greenwald, constitutional lawyer and political and legal blogger, who has written extensively about the media coverage of the attacks in Norway for

Glenn, welcome. Your thoughts as you saw this story unfold through the media?

GLENN GREENWALD: My first reaction was to be pretty surprised about how—or not really surprised, but just struck by how intense the media coverage was and the media interest was in this attack. Obviously, it was a heinous attack. When a government building blows up, when someone goes on an indiscriminate shooting rampage aimed at teenagers, it’s horrific. And yet, at the same time, the United States and its allies have brought killing like this, violence like this, to numerous countries around the world that receives a tiny fraction of the attention that this attack received, a tiny—it prompts a tiny fraction of the interest in denouncing it and in declaring it to be evil. And it just struck me that when we think that Muslims are responsible for violence aimed at Western nations, it receives a huge amount of attention in the American media, and yet when the United States brings violence on that level to Muslim countries, kills an equal number of civilians, dozens of people killed by drone attacks and the like, and tons of people killed that way over Afghanistan over the past decade, it barely registers. I mean, an attack like this, this level of death in Iraq, for example, or Afghanistan, would barely register on the media scale.

The other aspect of it, though, is what you referenced in your question, which is, when it was widely assumed, based on basically nothing, that Muslims had been responsible for this attack and that a radical Muslim group likely perpetrated it, it was widely declared to be a "terrorist" attack. That was the word that was continuously used. And yet, when it became apparent that Muslims were not involved and that, in reality, it was a right-wing nationalist with extremely anti-Muslim, strident anti-Muslim bigotry as part of his worldview, the word "terrorism" almost completely disappeared from establishment media discourse. Instead, he began to be referred to as a "madman" or an "extremist." And it really underscores, for me, the fact that this word "terrorism," that plays such a central role in our political discourse and our law, really has no objective meaning. It’s come to mean nothing more than Muslims who engage in violence, especially when they’re Muslims whom the West dislikes.

GOODMAN: Or the term "lone wolf." Glenn, I wanted to play for you a former Bush administration State Department official, Christian Whiton, who acknowledged the case in Norway wasn’t Islamic terrorism, but he quickly downplayed violent acts committed by those such as Breivik, saying it’s the first of its kind since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Whiton then attacked Norway for its approach to terrorism, claimed European countries are susceptible to terrorism because they’re, quote, "neutral in the war on terror." He was interviewed on Fox.

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