Every act of terrorism is built on a foundation of widely repeated ideas. To convert an ordinary person into a believer who's willing to commit murder, those ideas must warn of an urgent threat of devastating proportions, one whose resistance and exposure will turn the terrorist into a hero and martyr. They must be repeated so often that they can be perceived as a crystalline truth that will be unveiled by the terrorist's act.
We know that Anders Behring Breivik built his sequence of atrocities in Norway on a specific set of ideas. We know this because he left a 1,500-page manifesto that listed those ideas, their authors and his detailed interpretations, and because it contained a diary explaining how they'd come to change his thinking.
Killing innocents to promote an idea is madness, but that doesn't mean Mr. Breivik is incoherent or irrational. Quite the contrary: His was a darkly literalist reading of widely circulated ideas that most of us have foolishly dismissed as preposterous or alarmist.
Books by Bruce Bawer (the American author of Surrender and While Europe Slept), Mark Steyn (the Canadian author of America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It), Robert Spencer (the American author of Stealth Jihad) and Melanie Phillips (the British author of Londonistan) made up big chunks of Mr. Breivik's manifesto, as did the writings and speeches of Geert Wilders, the Dutch activist-politician.
These works share common traits: a characterization of an entire people as unassimilable and capable of violence; a suggestion that there's a religion-wide conspiracy to take over the West; and a warning that the "Islamization" of our countries is imminent unless something's done.
There's an urgent tone to these works. "We have been shirking too long," Mr. Steyn writes, "and that's unworthy of a great civilization. To see off the new Dark Ages will be tough and demanding. The alternative will be worse." How were we meant to interpret those words? But that doesn't make him or Mr. Bawer or Ms. Phillips or Mr. Spencer responsible for Mr. Breivik's crimes, any more than the "racial scientists" who created fictions of race superiority in the 19th century were responsible for genocide in the 20th. It does mean, however, that we have a responsibility to counter the myths and fictions at the root of their core claims.
To be clear: There's nothing wrong with criticizing immigration, even urging that it be stopped completely. Or with condemning "multiculturalism," however it's defined, or with arguing that religion, even specific religions, is bad for society. Those are important topics in a democratic society.
But these writers have created a larger fiction, one with dangerous implications.
They begin with a demographic error: The claim that Muslims naturally have higher birth rates than others, that their numbers are growing faster than other new-immigrant groups did, that true Islamic believers are bound to become a majority in the West. This is demonstrably false.
Then they add a cultural error: that Muslims are nearly all literalist believers, that theirs is not merely another religion but a guiding ideology that commands its followers, that religion is the main force in the lives of these people so they can't become ordinary members of Western secular societies. This, too, is demonstrably false.
Finally, they conclude with a millenarian message of impending societal takeover, in which the demographic and cultural fictions are combined into an urgent warning that, unless an unspecified something is done, we'll all be under "their" command. Their works reserve their harshest condemnation for the political parties that dare tolerate or encourage this "takeover."
Now we know that the authors of these works are part of a continuum of response that includes violence at its extreme end. Their ideas should never be banned or outlawed. But these figures, like moderates in other such movements, have a responsibility to work to eliminate the threats that have emerged from their ranks. And we all have a responsibility to expose their dangerous fictions.