One man, many influences.
In recent months the president of France and the prime ministers of Germany and Great Britain have all pronounced multiculturalism a failure, saying that efforts to integrate immigrants into their nations' cultures and economies have yielded disappointing results. That doesn't mean Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and David Cameron should be held accountable for the crimes of Anders Breivik, the anti-immigrant perpetrator of last weekend's mass killings in Norway. While ideas have consequences, the lines of responsibility between ideas and actions must be carefully drawn - particularly the actions of a madman.
Norwegian authorities are still investigating whether Breivik had accomplices in detonating a deadly bomb in Oslo and then gunning down victims on a nearby island, killing a total of 76 people. After his arrest Breivik has reportedly claimed to have two "cells" of collaborators. But then, he also believed his attacks would spark an uprising in defense of European civilization against immigrants, and particularly Muslims. Investigators think he was probably acting alone, and only imagines himself to be the spearpoint of resistance against an Islamic invasion.
Breivik would have little trouble finding nourishment for his extremism. Anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise in Europe and in the United States. Breivik reportedly made contact with the English Defence League, which organizes sometimes violent protests in British Muslim communities, and an international group of Danish origin called Stop Islamisation of Europe. Parties with openly anti-immigrant platforms have won seats in European parliaments. A rich compost of manifestos provides racist and paranoid interpretations of Islamic history, culture and intentions.
But it was Breivik who planted the bomb and pulled the trigger. Ted Kaczynski was motivated by opposition to animal research, but not every animal rights defender becomes the Unabomber. Tim McVeigh was driven to violence by a belief that the U.S. government had become tyrannical, but not every anti-government activist blows up a federal building in Oklahoma City. Millions of American strongly oppose abortion, but they don't join Scott Roeder in shooting an abortion provider at his church in Wichita, Kan.
Indeed, if every political idea that has had an act of violence committed in its name were discredited, few political ideas would remain. Responsibility for acts of violence or terrorism must remain squarely upon those who commit them.
That does not absolve extremist groups of feeding hostility and fear, but that's different from committing acts of violence. Breivik was a powderkeg - if a spark hadn't come from anti-immigrant ideology, it probably would have come from somewhere else. Based on what's known so far, blame rests with one man.