Glenn Greenwald wrote another of his important blowback articles this morning in the Guardian; Was the London killing of a British soldier ‘terrorism’? He asks an essential question concerning the definition and use of the term “terrorism”. The media in western societies should be scrutinizing this definition and the hypocrisy with which the term is applied. This is a conversation that needs to happen. And many others have written, here and here, for instance, of the inevitable radicalization of some Americans by the killing of 225,000 Muslims (at a minimum) abroad .
Nowhere in the article does Greenwald justify the horrendous act that happened on the streets of London yesterday, but he does mention how “an elderly British Muslim was stabbed to death in an apparent anti-Muslim hate crime and nobody called that “terrorism.” He juxtaposes yesterday’s brutal killing with western governments’ drone wars and the targeted killings of Muslims, which inevitably kill scores of innocent civilians. Greenwald cites one of the attacker’s explanation for the attack:
Because, this line of reasoning went, one of the attackers here said that “the only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily” and warned that “you people will never be safe. Remove your government”, the intent of the violence was to induce political change, thus making it “terrorism”.
That is at least a coherent definition. But doesn’t that then encompass the vast majority of violent acts undertaken by the US and its allies over the last decade?
The reason it’s so crucial to ask this question is that there are few terms – if there are any – that pack the political, cultural and emotional punch that “terrorism” provides. When it comes to the actions of western governments, it is a conversation-stopper, justifying virtually anything those governments want to do. It’s a term that is used to start wars, engage in sustained military action, send people to prison for decades or life, to target suspects for due-process-free execution, shield government actions behind a wall of secrecy, and instantly shape public perceptions around the world. It matters what the definition of the term is, or whether there is a consistent and coherent definition. It matters a great deal.
One last point: in the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks, I documented that the perpetrators of virtually every recent attempted and successful “terrorist” attack against the west cited as their motive the continuous violence by western states against Muslim civilians. It’s certainly true that Islam plays an important role in making these individuals willing to fight and die for this perceived just cause (just as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and nationalism lead some people to be willing to fight and die for their cause). But the proximate cause of these attacks are plainly political grievances: namely, the belief that engaging in violence against aggressive western nations is the only way to deter and/or avenge western violence that kills Muslim civilians.
For some inexplicable reason Jeffrey Goldberg retweeted this lie:
— Zach Novetsky (@ZNovetsky) May 23, 2013
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 23, 2013
Maybe Goldberg and friends are still stinging from Greenwald’s brilliant take down of Bill Maher a few weeks ago:
Maher: I wasn’t talking about violence I was talking about theocracy, that doesn’t happen here.
Greenwald: Well ok, that doesn’t happen here but at the same time Iran isn’t invading lots of other countries and occupying them for a decade. Nor are fundamentalist Muslim countries the way the United States is. These things are interlinked because we are continuously intefering in that part of the world and so to say…
Maher: So it’s all our fault?
Greenwald: It’s not all our fault but when you send your military, for 6 straight decades, into other countries to bomb them, kill their children and women and innocent men and propping up dictators yeah, you take responsibility for your actions and say ‘ to the extent that that region..’
Maher: That religion goes back a thousand years before our revolution so I don’t think we can take all the blame.
Greenwald: I don’t think we should I think we should take a lot of it. and there’s lots of bodies and corpses that have been piled up in the name of Christianity and Judaism as well. (audience clapping)
Maher: Not recently.
Greenwald: Have you heard of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for the last 50 years motivated in part by extremist (audience clapping) views of Judaism? Or the wars in Europe or the fact that there were generals in the United States saying we have to go in and invade and destroy Iraq a country of 26 million people because our god is bigger? Lots of religions, not just Islam, produce violence.