Guardian

Glenn Greenwald condemns the word ‘terrorism’ as racially-loaded


Our recent posts about the Guardian’s appalling use, on at least two separate occasions, of the term “political prisoner” to characterize violent Palestinian terrorists who murdered, or attempted to murder, innocent civilians weren’t exercises in rhetorical nitpicking.  Rather, our efforts to secure the definition of the term – which reasonable people intuitively understand as ‘those who are imprisoned for their political beliefs’ – represents an attempt to fight back against the manipulation of language, in service of an extreme ideological agenda, by the Guardian and their fellow travelers.

Similarly, Glenn Greenwald’s ongoing war against the term terrorism, which most who are not influenced by the far-left understand broadly to refer to  ‘premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents’ (or some variation of this), should be understood as a broader battle against common sense and moral sobriety.

Here is a passage from his latest post at ‘Comment is Free’, on April 22, entitled ‘Why is Boston “terrorism” but not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tuscon, and Columbine?:

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. As usual, what terrorism really means in American discourse – its operational meaning – is: violence by Muslims against Americans and their allies.

Here’s another quote by Greenwald, in a post at Salon.com in 2011:

Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target. 

Here’s a quote by Greenwald in a post at Salon.com from 2010:

The term [terrorism] now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity.  It has really come to mean:  “a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.

If we’re really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call “Terrorists”, we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means.  But there is none.  It’s just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists).  It’s really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word:  its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.

Greenwald is attempting to essentially proscribe the word ‘terrorism’ as politically loaded, subjective, prejudiced – arguing that the urge we have to condemn such willful and intentional attacks against innocent civilians, by using such clear moral language, is necessarily compromised by a deep-seated racial animus.

First, it needs to be pointed out that Greenwald’s specific claim about the term’s “operational” use is easily refuted by the simple fact that the media, civil rights groups and federal authorities also refer to political violence which is not committed by Muslims, or Islamist groups, as “terrorism”.  Examples of groups the FBI labels terrorists, for instance, include violent anti-government right-wing groups, environmental and animal rights extremists, Sovereign citizens movementsanarchist groups, white supremacists – and even fringe extremists such as the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

Greenwald’s mantra that terrorism is only used in reference to Muslims has no basis in fact.

Moreover, in addition to Greenwald’s specious implicit claim that use of the term “terrorism” is racially loaded, there is another factor involved – one which those on the Guardian-style Left often try desperately to avoid acknowledging in their reports and commentaries:  That while, of course, the overwhelming majority of Muslims aren’t extremists or terrorists, empirical evidence regarding the disproportionate percentage of terrorist acts committed by those influenced by radical interpretations of Islam is undeniable.

 According to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, over the past several years the overwhelming majority of terrorist-related fatalities world-wide were the result of attacks by Islamist (Sunni) extremists.

nctc

Fatalities from terrorism, charted by ideology of perpetrator: NCTC Chart, 2011 (Last year data was available)

Not only are such facts concerning Islamist terrorism uncontroversial to most people, but, interestingly, even a large majority (60%) of American Muslims polled by Pew Global in 2011 stated that they were either “Very” or “Somewhat” concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S.  Would Greenwald suggest that even American Muslims are influenced by “Islamophobia”?

Ultimately, what Greenwald is, in effect, doing is attempting to stifle debate about the very real threat to our values posed by Islamist extremism – attempting to convince the overwhelming majority of non-ideological Americans to doubt what they know instinctively (and empirically) to be the truth.

As students of Soviet history, and communist movements more broadly, can attest to, propagandistic attempts to radically change politics by perverting ordinary language has a long and decidedly reactionary pedigree – one which genuine progressives need to furiously and passionately resist. 

60 replies »

  1. Greenwald’s main point in his latest article is to criticise the rush to label the Boston murders as ‘terrorism’ when we have no information about the suspects’ motives and no reason to believe that they were associated with known terrorist groups. As he says:
    “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?”

    Interestingly similar views were expressed by that friend of Cifwatch, Alan Dershowitz, when he noted:
    “It’s not even clear under the federal terrorist statutes that it qualifies as an act of terrorism.”
    and by Philip Mudd Former Deputy Director of National Security, when he advised that Tsarnaev should be charged with murder and not terrorism.

    • sencar, some simple questions for you:

      Did the bombs cause terror among innocent civilians out to enjoy themselves?
      If not, what do you “think” was their purpose?
      Did the older brother express interest in Islamism?
      Did his uncle sever contact with him, BUT NOT TELL THE POLICE after a conversation with Tamerlan in 2009 about the latter’s wanting to turn to Islam and jihad?

      These are not difficult questions. Uncle Ruslan’s kitman was laid bare by the Huffington Post of all rags. You and the Greenwald loon seem to be of the opinion that terrorists are only so if they profess an ideology however whacky and misguided.
      Their ideology was made plain.

      • Did the Sandy Hook shootings “cause terror among innocent civilians out to enjoy themselves?” Yes – but that wasn’t called ‘terrorism’.

        Thousands of Muslims “express interest in Islamism”. The vast majority never seriously consider committing violent acts.

        So Tamerlan said something his uncle found inappropriate four years ago. Again, if that were sufficient evidence to brand someone as a terrorist there would be many thousands of them.

        ” You and the Greenwald loon seem to be of the opinion that terrorists are only so if they profess an ideology….”.
        Yes, we are, because although there is no generally agreed definition of ‘terrorism’ all that I have seen include a reference to political motives. Even Adam in his piece above talks about ‘political violence’.

        “Their ideology was made plain.”
        No it wasn’t. They may have been mad, or motivated by some hatred of the US unrelated to Islamism. We simply don’t know. The younger boy was not known to have extremist views at all.

        • “Did the Sandy Hook shootings “cause terror among innocent civilians out to enjoy themselves?” Yes – but that wasn’t called ‘terrorism’.”

          Are you saying that Jihad is a form of mental illness, or is it just that you’re simply unable to control how ridiculous you look?

          “So Tamerlan said something his uncle found inappropriate four years ago. Again, if that were sufficient evidence to brand someone as a terrorist there would be many thousands of them.”
          There ARE thousands of them.

          “Thousands of Muslims ‘express interest in Islamism’. The vast majority never seriously consider committing violent acts.”
          And those who do commit violent acts against civilians in the name of their ideology are known generally as terrorists.

          “They may have been mad, or motivated by some hatred of the US unrelated to Islamism.”
          That would have made them terrorists. It’s Greenwald who says incorrectly that the label is only used with Islam. But he’s an obvious liar, and you drink his cool-aid.

    • sencar,
      Greenwald’s main point is to label Americans, westerners, white people, and Jews as “racists,” as always, and to give succor to Islamic extremists because he and they share a common target. He’s a complete hypocrite and conspiracy monger.

      “The term [terrorism] now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor”
      When considering Glenn’s own views it’s hard to imagine anyone more hypocritical or sanctimonious.

  2. It is an indictment of how low the Guardian has sunk that they keep this muckraking nutcase on their payroll. This, his rubbish about drones killing Americans (one – the terrorist in Yemen, Awlaki), his vendetta against Israel, his extrapolation of any event where some person is questioned because he might have links to terrorism are simply from another world. He is a conspiracy nutcase as bad as any on the extreme right.

    • Weren’t the distinctions “enemy combatant”/”criminal” and military court/criminal court?

      Using bombs to kill people is terrorism. As are “lesser” acts like throwing boulders at cars or firing rocks from slingstones at individuals. Think of it happening on your street.

      • “Using bombs to kill people is terrorism.”
        Not much doubt about the IDF, then….
        “As are “lesser” acts like throwing boulders at cars or firing rocks from slingstones at individuals”
        So that includes just about every gang of adolescent hooligans in the world….

        • Oh, you are even more lacking in the ability to discriminate than you showed earlier.
          And unable to make obvious connections to your own remarks.

          The IDF: armed forces legally employed and deployed by decrees of an elected government in a democracy.

          • “The IDF: armed forces legally employed and deployed by decrees of an elected government in a democracy.”
            That’s alright then, despite the fact that they have widely been criticised as behaving disproportionately in virtually all of their actions. Incidentally, it was you that called ‘Using bombs to kill people’, illegal. A little thought before writing might be appropriate.

            • “That’s alright then, despite the fact that they have widely been criticised as behaving disproportionately in virtually all of their actions. ”

              But as we all know this is a bunch of nonsense, like the Jenin “massacre.” The people who level this idiotic charge disproportionally at the IDF usually haven’t the faintest idea of what proportionality in warfare consists of or how other militaries act in similar circumstances. It’s the singling out of the Israelis using a double standard and it reeks.

            • This

              Interestingly similar views were expressed by that friend of Cifwatch, Alan Dershowitz, when he noted:
              “It’s not even clear under the federal terrorist statutes that it qualifies as an act of terrorism.”
              and by Philip Mudd Former Deputy Director of National Security, when he advised that Tsarnaev should be charged with murder and not terrorism.

              is what I was responding to,

              And those terrorist bombs,

              You put me in mind of one of the Seven Persons of Restricted Growth. Guess which.

        • Sencar: “not much doubt about the IDF”.
          You are such a sad Jew-baiter. No doubt sitting there with your dick in your hand, in the anticipation of the heroic welcome you will receive at the next SWP meeting when you tell them how you got another one over on the ‘Zionists’.

  3. Greenwald:
    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.

    What a warped mind that man has.

    • I agree with you, pretz. Greenwald’s omission of the Oklahoma City bombing sticks out like a sore thumb to all but the already stupefied. (He also failed to mention Fort Hood.)
      His comparison to Sandy Hook, etc. is simple misdirection. As I said yesterday, he is a carnie.

      • He omits Oklahoma City because it was a politically motivated act of terrorism by – shock, horror! – a non-Muslim.

        Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine belong in a different category, i.e. shooting sprees (perhaps there’s a better term) by individuals with grave personal/mental issues.

  4. It seems the consensus is with Greenwald – the term is imprecise and politically loaded. Who is a terrorist in Syria? Is the West funding terrorists in Syria? Or are the Russians and the Chinese supporting the terrorist. Indeed was Hagana a terrorist organisation? Do not be carried away by your prejudices.

    There is neither an academic nor an international legal consensus regarding the definition of the term “terrorism”.[1][2] Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions of “terrorism”. Moreover, the international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed upon, legally binding definition of this crime. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term “terrorism” is politically and emotionally charged.[3]
    Angus Martyn in a briefing paper for the Australian Parliament has stated that “The international community has never succeeded in developing an accepted comprehensive definition of terrorism. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United Nations attempts to define the term foundered mainly due to differences of opinion between various members about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination.”[4] These divergences have made it impossible to conclude a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that incorporates a single, all-encompassing, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism.[5]
    In the meantime, the international community adopted a series of sectoral conventions that define and criminalize various types of terrorist activities. In addition, since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”[6]
    A 2003 study by Jeffrey Record for the US Army quoted a source (Schmid and Jongman 1988) that counted 109 definitions of terrorism that covered a total of 22 different definitional elements.[7] Record continued “Terrorism expert Walter Laqueur also has counted over 100 definitions and concludes that the ‘only general characteristic generally agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence.’ Yet terrorism is hardly the only enterprise involving violence and the threat of violence. So does war, coercive diplomacy, and bar room brawls”.[8]
    As Bruce Hoffman has noted: “terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one’s enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. (…) Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization ‘terrorist’ becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, an ambivalent) light; and it is not terrorism.”[3] For this and for political reasons, many news sources (such as Reuters) avoid using this term, opting instead for less accusatory words like “bombers”, “militants”, etc.[9][10]

    • “Ellesley,”
      “Moreover, the international community has been slow to formulate a universally agreed upon, legally binding definition of this crime. ”
      That’s no accident, but rather an indictment of the scandalous behaviors pervading the UN system.

      • For people like him the current definition of terrorism used in UK legal Systems will do it.

  5. Perhaps would try and get his head round this one

    “There is no general consensus on the definition of terrorism. The difficulty of defining terrorism lies in the risk it entails of taking positions. The political value of the term currently prevails over its legal one. Left to its political meaning, terrorism easily falls prey to change that suits the interests of particular states at particular times. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden were once called freedom fighters (mujahideen) and backed by the CIA when they were resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now they are on top of the international terrorist lists.

  6. What is even more interesting – today the Al-Qaida in Afghanistan are terrorists and in Syria they are fighting for democracy and Human Rights schizophrenia or what.

  7. I disagree.

    To start with your own words:

    “Ultimately, what Greenwald is, in effect, doing is attempting to…”

    Use faux analysis to gin up faux outrage to gain more page hits. Subsequently this has lead to increased speaking fees, more television appearances and a greater sense of megalomania.

    He’s gone from being a failed lawyer defending white supremacists (where, in the course of his defense, he called shooting victims “odious and repugnant”) to a failed blogger attacking immigrants as “evil,” to building a huge following based on almost nothing but distortions, lies, hypocrisy, smears and insults. He figured out that just as in the courtroom, people often enjoy snarling commentary more than thinking commentary (see Beck, Glenn or Limbaugh, Rush).

    This has allowed him to gain increasing financial remuneration and live the good life in an affluent area of Rio with his partner while flying between Brazil and North America to be regularly feted by faux thinkers.

    Pretty good gig.

  8. Reading the twisting of words by Greenwald and his ilk is simply a waste of time. Do they really think that any somber and reasonable person gives a shit about the precise definition of these subhumans? They represent a clear and present danger to freedom, democracy and security, and must be removed as quickly as possible. The reason behind their acts is utterly indifferent – let’s their apologists/supporters whining about it, the Guardian is a perfect media for this and Greenwald is the perfect person to do it.

  9. Peter Is this your idea of the final solution? You racist moron. It is not going to work in the 21st Century. Mind you it did not work in the twentieth century either.

    • As usual with your kind of “anti-racists” when you don’t have any arguments then starts the “you are a racist” style debate. BTW moron is your lieber Papa because he didn’t go to the movie instead… one less terrorist supporter would waste the oxygen and pollute the gene pool today.
      And what are you babbling about final solution? Any problem with urinating and the piss flooded your nanosized brain?

      …it is the your friends in the US who reckon they are paying them to fight for democracy and freedom…
      I don’t have any friends in the US paying for Al-Qaida, they are your buddies starting with Greenwald. He doesn’t pay cash, he pays them with his rantings in the Guardian.. Maybe you should get your facts right first.

    • “Peter Is this your idea of the final solution?”
      Thomas,
      Weren’t you just complaining about the use of “imprecise and politically loaded” language? Isn’t ‘final solution’ even more politically loaded than terrorism? Is there a legally binding international consensus definition for “final solution?” You called Peter “a racist moron.” (Where’s the internationally recognized legal definition?) Where in his remarks did you find this so-called racism? Please be specific, because it seems to me you are using the term in an “imprecise and politically loaded” way, i.e., as an “imprecise and politically loaded” obscurantist moron would.

  10. No Pete I do not think Al-Qaida is fighting for democracy or freedom it is the your friends in the US who reckon they are paying them to fight for democracy and freedom as they did in Afghanistan. So get your facts right.

        • I’m even more pleased I don’t know him.

          Nice clear mentions of terrorism in an article tweeted by Richard Landes:
          http://hnn.us/articles/ideology-behind-boston-marathon-bombing


          The Tsarnaev jihad, at least at this stage, shows yet again that it is no longer necessary to be formally attached to a terrorist organization in order to engage in Islamic-based terror. Formerly solo jihadists were likely to be identified as exhibiting “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” or as being “lone wolves.” Now the neologism “stray dogs” is being applied to them. The first term at least has the virtue of not denying the Islamic element in attacks by Muslims who say they are engaged in, well, jihad. But no one suddenly decides to ascribe to Islamic holy warfare and wage it — only a fairly long process of indoctrination can bring a person to that point. A lone wolf is a terrorist who takes up his bloody trade sans formal support from any larger group.
          Pending further research into alleged Caucasus Emirate training received by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, he and his brother would seem to fit into this category, as the Romulus and Remus of Islamic terrorism, along with Faisal Shahzahd (the abortive Times Square bomber) and Major Nidal Malik Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter).

    • “No Pete I do not think Al-Qaida is fighting for democracy or freedom it is the [sic] your friends in the US ”
      and just who do you think are YOUR friends?

  11. What Arab lobby`s Natzie undertakes is just to deflect from the terror attack of Islamists on the West.
    A lot more happened today, two of his terror buddies were arrested in Spain, two in Canada, the French Embassy in Libya was bombed, ..

  12. All of you reading these blog entries who want to make a difference: Tweet this article (and all good articles) out to reporters and bloggers who take Glenn Greenwald seriously. Spread the word. Don’t just tweet it to your own followers. Also tweet it out to people who don’t follow you. With a clear, easy-to-understand sentence. Not something cryptic or sarastic. Send CIFwatch blog entries out all over the place. Save a bunch of your favorite bloggers/writers from various outlets, and take a few minutes to tweet this stuff out to them. Don’t waste your time tweeting at antisemitic nutjobs. Tweet at regular media members and important people who are open-minded and will listen to reason.

    Do this regularly! Take 10 minutes a day to do it!

  13. Here is PetertheHungarian advocating final solution –
    Reading the twisting of words by Greenwald and his ilk is simply a waste of time. Do they really think that any somber and reasonable person gives a shit about the precise definition of these subhumans? They represent a clear and present danger to freedom, democracy and security, and must be removed as quickly as possible.

    I wonder if he thinks the same should have been applied to those who bombed King David Hotel.

    • Here is PetertheHungarian advocating final solution

      You are sick – and also seem to have a problem with the definite article.
      Contrary to what your moniker suggests, your native language is not English, is it?

    • Thomas “cheese for brains” Ellesley,
      Peter wasn’t advocating a final solution. He was simply talking about fighting and defeating violent extremists. That you choose again to misrepresent his intent shows what an extreme fanatic you are.

      • Taking ANY comment from Peter (or indeed you or me) to mean it is “advocating [a] final solution” is not misinterpretation. It’s just bollocks.

  14. Prat – enjoy the bollocks from Hungary ‘They represent a clear and present danger to freedom, democracy and security, and must be removed as quickly as possible.’

    Of course he did not imply final solution – it just sounded like one – eat cheese good for your brain and comprehension.

    • The most entartaining thing with your kind of faux anti-racists that when losing an argument they start to accuse their opponents with racism and only minutes later they’ll throw at them racist slurs. Do you have any problem with Hungarian ethnicity Thomas? And how do you know that eating cheese good for your brain? Maybe you are a professional dietitian? Or did you learn it from the little red book? Anyway you should limit your salt intake, your blood pressure must be in the skies, it will put you to your grave early without any involvement of your murderous buddies…