Great American Patriots

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald, AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, just as the U.S. President does each year.  Here is how the American Congress — especially the super-patriots of the American Right — reacted to their own President the last two times he addressed them (with frosty coolness and even passive-aggressive hostility):

And here is how the super-patriots of the American Right — largely joined by their Democratic colleagues — reacted to the speech given today by this foreign leader: with multiple standing ovations, including for ludicrous and absurd proclamations such as equating Hamas with Al Qaeda and claiming that Israel is “not a foreign occupier” in the West Bank:

Indeed, according to ABC News, Netanyahu received more standing ovations from the U.S. Congress (29) than the U.S. President did the last time he spoke (25); all of the ones Netanyahu received were from the super-patriots of the GOP caucus (and most from the Democratic caucus as well), whereas those right-wing patriots joined in only a small fraction of the ones received by their own country’s President.

What makes this more remarkable still is that this foreign leader whom they were cheering so boisterously and continuously just completed a public, ugly conflict with the American leader and has a long record of demonstrated indifference to American interests; yet the super-patriots of the American Right sided so brazenly and publicly with this foreign leader over their own country’s President.  Meanwhile, both political parties in Congress are in a frantic competition to see which one can lavish Netanyahu with more obsequious praise; this statement sent out in the name of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is typical of the entries.  For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ran to AIPAC to undercut (and rebuke) his own President and the leader of his own party on Israel, something that — as Andrew Sullivan correctly observed –  would be inconceivable on any foreign policy issue other than Israel.

In sum, the same faction that spent the last decade demanding fealty to the Commander-in-Chief in a Time of War upon pain of being accused of a lack of patriotism (or worse) now openly sides with a foreign leader over their own President.  The U.S. Congress humiliates itself by expressing greater admiration for and loyalty to this foreign leader than their own country’s.  And because this is all about Israel, few will find this spectacle strange, or at least will be willing to say so.

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Terrorism: the Most Meaningless and Manipulated Word

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald

Yesterday, Joseph Stack deliberately flew an airplane into a building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas, in order to advance the political grievances he outlined in a perfectly cogent suicide-manifesto.  Stack’s worldview contained elements of the tea party’s anti-government anger along with substantial populist complaints generally associated with “the Left” (rage over bailouts, the suffering of America’s poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants).  All of that was accompanied by an argument as to why violence was justified (indeed necessary) to protest those injustices:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual” . . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

Despite all that, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter documents the deep reluctance of cable news chatterers and government officials to label the incident an act of “terrorism,” even though — as Dave Neiwert ably documents — it perfectly fits, indeed is a classic illustration of, every official definition of that term.  The issue isn’t whether Stack’s grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition.  But as NBC’s Pete Williams said of the official insistence that this was not an act of Terrorism:  there are “a couple of reasons to say that . . . One is he’s an American citizen.”  Fox News’ Megan Kelley asked Catherine Herridge about these denials:  “I take it that they mean terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to?,” to which Herridge replied: “they mean terrorism in that capital T way.”

All of this underscores, yet again, that Terrorism is simultaneously the single most meaningless and most manipulated word in the American political lexicon.  The term 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.”  That’s why all of this confusion and doubt arose yesterday over whether a person who perpetrated a classic act of Terrorism should, in fact, be called a Terrorist:  he’s not a Muslim and isn’t acting on behalf of standard Muslim grievances against the U.S. or Israel, and thus does not fit the “definition.”  One might concede that perhaps there’s some technical sense in which term might apply to Stack, but as Fox News emphasized:  it’s not “terrorism in the larger sense that most of us are used to . . . terrorism in that capital T way.”  We all know who commits terrorism in “that capital T way,” and it’s not people named Joseph Stack.

Contrast the collective hesitance to call Stack a Terrorist with the extremely dubious circumstances under which that term is reflexively applied to Muslims.  If a Muslim attacks a military base preparing to deploy soldiers to a war zone, that person is a Terrorist.  If an American Muslim argues that violence against the U.S. (particularly when aimed at military targets) is justified due to American violence aimed at the Muslim world, that person is a Terrorist who deserves assassination.  And if the U.S. military invades a Muslim country, Muslims who live in the invaded and occupied country and who fight back against the invading American army — by attacking nothing but military targets — are also Terrorists.  Indeed, large numbers of detainees at Guantanamo were accused of being Terrorists for nothing more than attacking members of an invading foreign army in their country, including 14-year-old Mohamed Jawad, who spent many years in Guantanamo, accused (almost certainly falsely) of throwing a grenade at two American troops in Afghanistan who were part of an invading force in that country.  Obviously, plots targeting civilians for death — the 9/11 attacks and attempts to blow up civilian aircraft — are pure terrorism, but a huge portion of the acts committed by Muslims that receive that label are not.

In sum:  a Muslim who attacks military targets, including in war zones or even in their own countries that have been invaded by a foreign army, are Terrorists.  A non-Muslim who flies an airplane into a government building in pursuit of a political agenda is not, or at least is not a Real Terrorist with a capital T — not the kind who should be tortured and thrown in a cage with no charges and assassinated with no due process.  Nor are Christians who stand outside abortion clinics and murder doctors and clinic workers.  Nor are acts undertaken by us or our favored allies designed to kill large numbers of civilians or which will recklessly cause such deaths as a means of terrorizing the population into desired behavioral change — the Glorious Shock and Awe campaign and the pummeling of Gaza.  Except as a means for demonizing Muslims, the word is used so inconsistently and manipulatively that it is impoverished of any discernible meaning.

All of this would be an interesting though not terribly important semantic matter if not for the fact that the term Terrorist plays a central role in our political debates.  It is the all-justifying term for anything the U.S. Government does.  Invasions, torture, due-process-free detentions, military commissions, drone attacks, warrantless surveillance, obsessive secrecy, and even assassinations of American citizens are all justified by the claim that it’s only being done to “Terrorists,” who, by definition, have no rights.  Even worse, one becomes a “Terrorist” not through any judicial adjudication or other formal process, but solely by virtue of the untested, unchecked say-so of the Executive Branch.  The President decrees someone to be a Terrorist and that’s the end of that:   uncritical followers of both political parties immediately justify anything done to the person on the ground that he’s a Terrorist (by which they actually mean:  he’s been accused of being one, though that distinction — between presidential accusations and proof — is not one they recognize).

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.

UPDATE:  I want to add one point:  the immediate official and media reaction was to avoid, even deny, the term “terrorist” because the perpetrator of the violence wasn’t Muslim.  But if Stack’s manifesto begins to attract serious attention, I think it’s likely the term Terrorist will be decisively applied to him in order to discredit what he wrote.  His message is a sharply anti-establishment and populist grievance of the type that transcends ideological and partisan divisions — the complaints which Stack passionately voices are found as common threads in the tea party movement and among citizens on both the Left and on the Right — and thus tend to be the type which the establishment (which benefits from high levels of partisan distractions and divisions) finds most threatening and in need of demonization. Nothing is more effective at demonizing something than slapping the Terrorist label onto it.

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David Rohde’s Insights Into What Motivates the Taliban

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Glenn Greenwald

2009-10-07T124802Z_01_BTRE5960ZK500_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-TALIBAN-ANNIVERSARY

Taliban fighters pose with weapons while detaining two unseen men for campaigning for presidential candidate Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan on August 19, 2009.

REUTERS/Stringer 

The New York Times’ David Rohde writes about the seven months he was held hostage by a group of extremist Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and conveys this observation about what motivates them: My captors harbored many delusions about Westerners. But I also saw how some of the consequences of Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban. Commanders fixated on the deaths of Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian civilians in military airstrikes, as well as the American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged.

Apparently, when we drop bombs on Muslim countries — or when Israel attacks Palestinians — that fuels anti-American hatred and militarism among Muslims. The same outcomes occur when we imprison Muslims without charges in places like Guantanamo and Bagram. Imagine that. Recall, according to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, what prompted 9/11 “ringleader” Mohammed Atta to devote himself to a suicide mission, as recounted by Juan Cole during the Israel/Gaza war:

In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge.

As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation–with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he [allegedly] piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. (Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 307: “On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque. It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged, and by filling out his last testament during the attack he was offering his life in response”).

On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.One could — and should — ask that question every time the U.S. or Israel engages in another military strike that kills Muslim civilians, or for that matter, every day that goes by when we continue to wage war inside Muslim countries.

Rohde adds this about what motivates these Taliban:America, Europe and Israel preached democracy, human rights and impartial justice to the Muslim world, they said, but failed to follow those principles themselves.One of the taboo topics in the American media is how the U.S. Government routinely violates the principles we espouse for, and try to impose on, the rest of the world.

We systematically torture Muslims and then cover it up and protect our torturers while preaching accountability and the rule of law; we condemn deprivations of due process while maintaining and expanding lawless prison systems for Muslims; we demand adherence to U.N. dictates and international law while blocking investigations into U.N. reports of war crimes and possible “crimes against humanity” by our allies; we righteously oppose aggression while invading and simultaneously occupying numerous countries, while threatening to attack still more, and arming countries like Israel to the teeth to wage still other attacks, etc. etc. As a result of the media avoidance of such topics, many Americans don’t ever think much about the huge gap between what we claim about ourselves and what we do. But much of the rest of the world — certainly including the Muslim world — sees that discrepancy quite clearly, often up-close.

That’s what accounts for the radically different, even irreconcilable, perceptions that Americans and so many people in the rest of the world have about who we are and what we do (“why do the hate us?”). Is it really surprising that young Taliban fighters, surrounded by a foreign occupying army and lawless prison system for the last eight years, are “fixated” on such things and are radicalized by it?

Shouldn’t that, by itself, make us think about not doing those things any longer, since they only exacerbate the problem we claim we are trying to solve? Finally, Rohde describes his treatment at the hands of the Taliban during his seven months of captivity as follows:They vowed to follow the tenets of Islam that mandate the good treatment of prisoners. In my case, they unquestionably did. They gave me bottled water, let me walk in a small yard each day and never beat me.Rohde explains that the Taliban automatically believe that journalists — especially American journalists — are spies.

Despite that belief, the Taliban never waterboarded him, never hung him naked in a cold room to induce hypothermia, never stuffed him in a coffin-like box as punishment, never deprived him of sleep to the point of severe disorientation, and instead adhered to their commitment regarding “the good treatment of prisoners.” We might want to think about what that means about us.

That many of the Taliban are inhumane, brutal and barbaric extremists only underscores that point further.* * * * *Two other item, one related and the other not:

(1) An Iranian dissident group staged two suicide bombing attacks today which killed some Revolutionary Guard commanders as well as “dozens of others.”

At least according to an ABC News report from 2007 (from the unreliable Brian Ross), the group which claimed responsibility for these attacks (and which has staged similar attacks in the past) — Jundallah — “has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005.”

If that’s true, would that make the U.S. a so-called “state sponsor of terrorism”?

(2) Following up on the Goldman Sachs issues I wrote about on Friday, The New York Times’ Frank Rich today has a scathing column condemning Goldman. Their behavior is becoming so transparent that it cannot help but enter mainstream discourse (that even prompted David Axelrod to condemn Goldman’s bonuses and other practices as “offensive,” while claiming the White House was powerless to stop it).

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