With news that the man accused of slaughtering 76 people Friday in Norway was a right-wing extremist whose manifesto was littered with quotes from American anti-Muslim bloggers, conservative pundits were put on the defensive again. We say "again" because it's a scenario that played out six months ago when "tea party" conservatives were blamed for allegedly inspiring the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson by popularizing anti-government views.
It was wrong then, and still is, to attack the purveyors of legitimate if extreme political views for the violent actions of deranged individuals. Yet while we'll strenuously defend the right even of bigots to express themselves, we do think the horrifying act of terrorism to which Norway's Anders Behring Breivik confessed Monday provides a welcome opportunity for introspection among Muslim-bashers.
Under particularly withering fire from critics is Robert Spencer, operator of the anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch, who was quoted 64 times in Breivik's screed. After fielding calls from reporters, Spencer complained on his blog that he felt the way the Beatles must have after Charles Manson said he was inspired by their song "Helter Skelter" to commit murder. Here's how Spencer distinguished between his writings and those of Muslims: "Islamic texts and teachings, and frequently imams, directly exhort their followers to commit acts of violence. I do not."