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.
For much of the day yesterday, the featured headline on The New York Times online front page strongly suggested that Muslims were responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that led to definitive statements on the BBC and elsewhere that Muslims were the culprits. The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin wrote a whole column based on the assertion that Muslims were responsible, one that, as James Fallows notes, remains at the Post with no corrections or updates.