The American left's schizophrenic love-hate relationship with jihadism now manifests maddeningly regarding the Boston attacks—as exemplified in the cowardly commentaries of the grievous Glenn Greenwald. The last time we checked in on him, Glenn was condescending to the Malians that they have no right to any help from the outside world becuase it was Western intervention that got them into that mess in the first place by destabilizing Libya and setting off a domino effect. Of course, this actually means the Malians are more entitled to help in beating back the jihadists, but note the inherent double standard: the Libya intervention was bad because it unleashed jihadists, but when those jihadists seize northern Mali… it's not so bad. His screed objected to use of the inevitable "terrorist" label for the jihadist militias in Mali. What Greenwald didn't get is that by using the "terrorist" label, the media are actually giving these ultra-fundamentalist hoodlums a free ride. All the concern is for the purely hypothetical notion that Mali could be a staging ground for attacks on the West. The Malians getting stoned to death, or having their hands amputated, or the Fulani nomads who have been cleansed from their homeland? Who cares, except the guys on the West Africa desk at Amnesty International? Certainly not Glenn Greenwald—who now applies similar intellectual contortions to the case of the Boston bombings…
In his April 22 piece, "Why is Boston 'terrorism' but not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine?," Glen quibbles about whether the Boston attacks fit the legal definition of terrorism:
This is far more than a semantic question. Whether something is or is not "terrorism" has very substantial political implications, and very significant legal consequences as well. The word "terrorism" is, at this point, one of the most potent in our political lexicon: it single-handedly ends debates, ratchets up fear levels, and justifies almost anything the government wants to do in its name. It's hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the US "shock and awe" attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not.
Oh bullshit, Greenwald. Islamophobia and propagandistic exploitation of the t-word are very real problems, but a progressive response is assuredly not mere denial. We ourselves pointed out that the 2010 attack on the Austin IRS building by some right-wing yahoo sparked no terrorism scare, and is hardly even remembered now. But that was terrorism. Legalistic hair-splitting aside, the Newtown massacre did not fit any sensible definition of "terrorism." And was there any equivocation about calling the Oklahoma City bombing terrorism? Or the Oslo attacks? A realistic single-standard approach to use of the word "terrorism" is what could really combat the exploitative use. But Greenwald is just further muddying the water.
The legal definition, which Ali Abunimah quotes in a piece Greenwald favorably links to, is of limited relevance to political discourse. (Greenwald also provides a BBC quote from Alan Dershowtiz, who similarly questioned whether the legal definition applies, in a case of very strange bedfellows indeed; Dersh has also weighed in for the Miranda rights of Dzhokar Tsarnaev.)
We ourselves also stated that it's probably a good thing that Dzhokar isn't being charged with terrorism, because this (illogically and unfortunately) implies al-Qaeda connections which may or may not be there. Greenwald won't even give Obama that much, excoriating him merely for using the word. (Neither Greenwald nor Abunimah point out the far more alarming abuse of the English language that Dzhokar has been charged with using a "weapon of mass destruction"—for bombs fashioned from pressure-cookers.) But there is a common-sense definition of terrorism established by usage before the atmosphere got so polluted: the use of terror as a political tool, typically by underground cells who attack without warning and target civilians. This counts even if you are a confused kid who got all riled up on al-Qaeda and Alex Jones videos on YouTube (as Tamerlan Tsarnaev seems to have been). It does not count if you merely want random revenge for perceived personal slights (like Adam Lanza, apparently), or if you are so desensitized that you think life is a shoot-'em-up movie (like James Holmes, apparently).
Greenwald argues that mere psychology may also explain the Boston attacks:
It's certainly possible that it will turn out that, if they are guilty, their prime motive was political or religious. But it's also certainly possible that it wasn't: that it was some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature. Until their motive is known, how can this possibly be called "terrorism"? Can acts of violence be deemed "terrorism" without knowing the motive?
Dzhokar is certainly innocent until proven guilty, and if he and his brother were responsible for the attack you can bet "societal alienation" had a lot to do with it. But this precludes a political motive? An absurdity. Jihadists, neo-Nazis and other such totalitarians always play upon the "alienated"—certainly not the content! A bomb attack on a public gathering without any kind of political motive would almost certainly be completely unprecedented. And by invoking the deconextualized abstraction of "mental illness" (as if this has no social roots), Greenwald loans legitimacy to the chilling calls for an authoritarian therapeutic state that followed the Newtown massacre.
In addition to the al-Qaeda videos, it's also been established that the FBI had checked out the Tsarnaev brothers at the behest of Russian intelligence. Contrary to the cries on the right, the fact that the FBI took no pre-emptive action against them is a good thing—evidence that a few shreds of our democratic tradition yet persist. The FBI attention also may have had the paradoxical effect of radicalizing the brothers, a case of the state creating what it fears. But the notion of a purely apolitical attack seems vanishingly remote.
And what about Fallujah and "shock and awe"? It is a testament to just how toxic the atmosphere has become that if you say these were not "terrorism" it is almost immediately assumed that you are defending them. They are certainly superlative examples of state terror—but convention has established "terrorism" as an insurgent phenomenon. Denying this distinction just feeds the tendency to use the word as a mere propaganda weapon—as we've argued before.
But back to the love-hate relationship… The "left" in the US either glorifies or demonizes jihadism depending on the circumstance—exactly like US imperialism! We've pointed out how the jihadis that the idiot-left was avidly rooting for in Iraq were exactly the same ones they now demonize in Syria! One of Greenwald's few responses to the Syria crisis was a July 18 piece last year, "The Damascus suicide bombing," which he only used as another excuse to point out the Western media's double standard about the t-word:
[I]t's extremely doubtful that the term will be applied by Western media outlets to today's Damascus attack. The New York Times story uses the term only once, with scare quotes attributing it to the Assad regime: "SANA, the official news agency, described the assault as a 'suicide terrorist attack.'" The BBC did the same, referring to the anti-Assad forces as "rebels" and mentioning "terrorism" only when quoting the statements of the Assad government. It's actually inconceivable that any mainstream Western outlet or commentator will call this attack Terrorism.
Pretty hilarious. After calling out the Times for the use of "scare quotes" when terror strikes in Damascus, Greenwald does exactly that when terror strikes in Boston! E.g: "The same motive for anti-US 'terrorism' is cited over and over" and "Why is Boston 'terrorism' but not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine?" (Nor does Greenwald simply use quotes around the t-word by default; in the piece about Syria he actually rendered it not only without quotes, but with a dignified capital T!)
Glenn Greenwald is the mirror image of what he ostensibly opposes—another sophistic apologist for terror, just like the dominant propaganda system. Why don't his legions of fans get it?