How a clueless "terrorism expert" set media suspicion on Muslims after Oslo horror
Immediately after news of the bombing of government buildings in Norway’s capital Oslo, the Internet buzzed with speculation about who might have done it and why. Most speculation focused on so-called Islamist militancy and Muslims. The urge to speculate after grave events is understandable, but the focus of speculation, its amplification through social media, its legitimization in mainstream media, and the privilege granted to so-called experts is a common pattern.
The danger of such speculation is that it adds little knowledge but causes real harm by spreading fear and loathing of Muslims, immigrants and other vulnerable and routinely demonized populations, and whether intentional or not, assigns collective guilt to them.
“Experts” who supposedly study this topic — almost always white men and very often with military or government backgrounds — direct suspicion toward Muslims by pointing to claims of responsibility on “jihadi” web sites that only they have access to. Notorious attacks invariably inspire false claims of responsibility, or false reports of claims of responsibility, but this apparently doesn’t discourage the media and experts from giving them undue attention.
From the “experts” to The New York Times to the world…
The New York Times originally reported:
A terror group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or the Helpers of the Global Jihad, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at C.N.A., a research institute that studies terrorism.
In later editions, the story was revised to read:
Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.
The source is Will McCants, adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. On his website he describes himself as formerly “Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.” This morning, he posted “Alleged Claim for Oslo Attacks” on his blog Jihadica:
This was posted by Abu Sulayman al-Nasir to the Arabic jihadi forum, Shmukh, around 10:30am EST (thread 118187). Shmukh is the main forum for Arabic-speaking jihadis who support al-Qaeda. Since the thread is now inaccessible (either locked or taken down), I am posting it here. I don’t have time at the moment to translate the whole thing but I translated the most important bits on twitter.
The Shmukh web site is not accessible to just anyone, so he is the primary source for this claim. McCants stated from the beginning that the claim had been removed or hidden, and on Twitter he even cast doubt on whether it was a claim of responsibility at all.