Guardian

Howard Jacobson examines the fanaticism of Glenn Greenwald


Those who have followed our posts fisking the extremist commentary of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald will likely enjoy a recent meditation by critically acclaimed writer Howard Jacobson which examines Greenwald and the issue of ideological fanaticism.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay, which was published in The Independent on Jan. 16th:

So how fare our investigations into what makes someone want to kill cartoonists? (I’m assuming we know why they want to kill Jews.) Maybe, before pondering the education of a jihadist, we should ask a prior question: what makes a fanatic? We were given some insight into this on Newsnight earlier this week when Evan Davis, growing nicely into his job, interviewed the lawyer, journalist and associate of Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald – a man strikingly deficient in the musculature necessary to essay a smile. The subject was surveillance and David Cameron’s call for more of it. There are, I accept, differing views on this. I, for example, am for having every member of the human family watched day and night by every possible means because the human family is currently dysfunctional and can’t be trusted. But I understand why others don’t think as I do. This puts me in a different category of person from Greenwald, who allows no beliefs that conflict with his and attributes those that do to a cowardly subservience to authority. Leading Greenwald with expert gentleness into the gated hell that is his mind, Davis put the case for differing viewpoints. Nothing could have been more instructive than Greenwald’s dead expression – his mouth fixed in the rigor mortis of absolute conviction, his eyes unanimated by the pleasure of conversation or the excitement of controversy. Doubt honours a man, but this was the face of someone whom no ghost of a second thought dares visit. No consciousness of absurdity either. As for the humanity whose civil rights he champions with such icy rigidity, for that he had nothing but contempt. We are merely, if we don’t think what he thinks, the playthings of the powerful. This is the terrifying paradox of zealotry: no one hates humanity more than those who believe they know what’s best for it. I don’t, I must say, see Greenwald launching rockets any time soon. The ideologue is still a long way from being the terrorist. These, though, are the first steps. Expelling doubt. Refusing contrariety. Hating play. Making oneself the human equivalent of a weapon, implacable, well-aimed, reduced to a single function.

You can read the rest of the op-ed here, and more on Greenwald here, here, here, here and here.

46 replies »

    • That was my first reaction also: what wonderful writing, what command of style, of metaphor, of irony. Peerless in current British journalism (or what politely passes for one).

  1. A well written piece which essentially asks whether any a single viewpoint is worthy of fanatical support and propagation, for that way lies the road to positions where disasters are inevitable. I agree with and enjoyed his piece

    Although Howard mostly uses the recent attacks in Paris to illustrate his point, they could be applied to the world viewpoint of some single minded fanatics in here. The certainty that Israel is always right is leading us to the self same disasters that Howard describes. Hopefully some in here who are so sure of their positions might take some time out to reflect.

    • “Although Howard mostly uses the recent attacks in Paris to illustrate his point, they could be applied to the world viewpoint of some single minded fanatics in here.”

      Your name came to mind immediately.

        • Still around, Antisemite?
          Jacobson mentioned you
          This is the terrifying paradox of zealotry: no one hates humanity more than those who believe they know what’s best for it
          You Antisemite wrote
          The certainty that Israel is always right is leading us to the self same disasters that Howard describes.
          Quite tiypical that antisemites know what`s the best for Jews, but funny to use a paternalistical ‘we’ as if antisemites could suffer by the same disasters as Jews.

    • “The certainty that Israel is always right ”

      Nobody believes that. What we also don’t believe is that Israel is WRONG all the times, like the Guardian would have us believe.

      • Of course Israel is not wrong all the time. Even the Guardian does not say that. (I have linked to Guardian articles recently which are definitely not anti-Israel).

        But you are, I’m sure, aware of an opinion which equates even the mildest criticism of *some* of Israel’s actions with antisemitism. I’m sure Fritz will be along soon to label me such again for simply saying this. But its not just in here that that happens. Too much debate and discussion is clamped down with claims of antisemitism and so progress is hindered. It is impossible to discuss with those who are so sure that any position other than Israel is right is antisemitic.

        • “Too much debate and discussion is clamped down with claims of antisemitism and so progress is hindered”

          Really ‘Dinkle’, progress towards what exactly?

          • I would have thought that obvious. – A safe, peaceful, and prosperous middle east. (and in case you still think I’m anti-Israel; that includes a safe peaceful and prosperous Israel.)

            BTW have you noticed that you have a propensity to ask questions in your replies. I’d be interested in some of your answers.

            • “I’d be interested in some of your answers”
              I would be interested in your answers to some of my questions.
              Sadly, even if you haven’t noticed, you have a propensity to avoid answering and attempting to divert when you are questioned.

            • The Middle East is a large area. Are you one of the misinformed idiots who thinks that Israel is the linchpin to progress and tranquility in that area, i.e., the cause of hundreds of years of backsliding for Arab civilization and culture, and that calling out antisemites is what’s holding back some golden age?

                • please explain ?
                  why is it that all the problems in the middle east are some one else’s fault ? You have a region rich in oil, full of billionaires , large populations . Yet what have they contributed to a positive world culture or their own positive culture in last 60 years is the point Jeff was making . 60 years and they have wars, dictatorships , Islamic fundamentalism, massive disparity between rich and poor , no democracy.
                  How the Arabs spend their money now has little to do with the threat of British Imperialism . My gosh, the speed they are buying up property and assets in the West shows their faith in the stability and creativeness of their own domestic environments .

                  • I beg pardon, your Majesty.I mistook this for a serious, open forum. Won’t trouble you again, Mum (backing out of your Royal, articulate presence on my knees) Any further vulgar snarls will be wasted on my unworthy ears, as I’ll remain far beyond hearing range thus forth.

          • Funny when an Antisemite empowers himself to judge if articles of Al Guardian are anti-Israel or not, deflecting from the fact that many of the articles related to Israel are not only anti-Israel, but havef antisemitic connotations,

          • Well I don’t mean to demonize. I think that if you re-read many of my posts you’ll struggle to see demonization. However I may have come across as such on occasion and I’ll be more careful in future. (Really)

        • While I am sure there are those who accuse critics of Israel of engaging in antisemitism, I see much more often critics of Israel accusing defenders of Israel with throwing the antiSemitism card around, and very little of that actually happening. Perhaps it’s the case that Israel critics are engaging in antisemitic discourse without really realizing it. Not all Antisemites have to be goose-stepping neo-Nazis…Constant exagerration of Israeli wrongdoings, equating the most minor Israeli infractions with the worst genocides in human history, denying that Jews should have the right to national self-determination (Zionism) is all antisemitic to some degree in my opinion.

          • “Constant exagerration of Israeli wrongdoings, equating the most minor Israeli infractions with the worst genocides in human history, denying that Jews should have the right to national self-determination (Zionism) is all antisemitic to some degree in my opinion.”

            And in mine.

            • Yes, we know that you lack all self-awareness. You don’t goose-step or wear a swastika – at least not outwardly. I can’t say the same about your soul.

              • Not every antisemite is automatically a nazi., even after the holocaust.
                I don´t consider Dinkle a nazi, but a self conceited idiot and clearly an antisemite when he empowers himself to explain Jews what Israel has to do or how todefine Antisemitism, how to judge correctly.

              • This is simply incoherent. You reject out of hand the possibility that HE is demonized, while providing more evidence that this is, in fact, the case. Using an unsubstantiated plural voice (is that the editorial or the royal “we”?) you posit that he lacks agency (ALL self-awareness) but that his soul (?) does not. If this is the case, we can hardly hold him responsible, but may attack his soul without restraint. Your remarkable depiction of a man who doesn’t know that he’s a fascist imposes an irrational authority that discredits anything he says before he says it -and is the essence of demonization.
                Anti-Semitism is real. The extent to which this is denied is chilling.
                Racism, including Israeli racism, is also real .The peoples ravaged by Empire.are real.
                And the fact that the Christian West somehow managed to get off the hook here is perhaps the most significant reality of all..

                • Curious what you meant with “the Christian West is left off the hook?” By the way…Israeli racism is exaggerated.

        • “Too much debate and discussion is clamped down with claims of antisemitism”
          – on the contrary. Too much of it is clamped down with shouts of ‘It’s not ALLOWED to discuss the ‘Palestinians’ and Israel’s ‘oppression’ of them” – that’s as near as damn it a literal quotation, discussed here not that long ago.

    • “The certainty that Israel is always right” – still lacking in the most basic reading comprehension skills, idiot? Still lacking in the most basic humanity, the simplest sympathy for the eternally persecuted, odious Jew-hating creature?

    • Yes… My single minded fanatacism that Jews shouldn’t be slaughtered en masse, or that we Jews don’t really “control” anything but our own mere destinies. Ah, and then there’s that singled minded fanaticism that likes to take a dump on Nazis and double talking anti-Semitic blowhards.

      Guilty!

  2. First Jacobson says he wants humanity monitored at all times because he doesn’t approve of us, then castigates Greenwald for not approving of humanity. Odd that a critically acclaimed writer such as he doesn’t see the irony in what he’s written.

      • His next sentence was:

        But I understand why others don’t think as I do.

        That’s his point, not that the desire for mass surveillance is wrong. I know he’s a humor writer, but one never can tell with liberals.

    • Another reading-comprehension failure. He doesn’t ‘disapprove’ of us, much less ‘hates’ us the way GG does. He is simply observing the current situation as it is: the security services are not managing to catch all the murderers. Instead, the murderers are multiplying like cholera bacilli in a rich growth medium.

    • “Jacobson says he wants humanity monitored at all times because he doesn’t approve of us”.

      Its called irony David. You either get it, or you don’t.

      • I pointed out the irony. I even used the word “irony”. I got it. I was wondering if Jacobson did, and his defenders have sorted it out.

        • Sorry David, I should pay more attention. But yes, I reckon Jacobson gets it. He’s good at it! If you can, check out his portrayal of Judas Iscariot – as a hunchback, hook-nosed anti-Christ. He turns to the camera and says “Jewish enough for you?”

    • I am afraid David, the irony was deliberate to make an explosive point. This was virtuosic writing that I and many will come back to read and re-read.

  3. Incredible piece. Jacobson is truly a gift. Exposing Greenwald for what he is: a Contrarian hell-bent of making a name for himself by automatically opposing the perceived consensus in a most shallow, obnoxious and dangerous way, pandering to a specific left-wing school of thought. Thriving on controversy like a barnacle of journalism, clinging to the hull of mainstream media.

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