If you are keeping up with news and views about Israel, you will likely know that the very popular and very opinionated blogger Glenn Greenwald has a well-deserved reputation for his intense dislike of Israel and its supporters. Jeffrey Goldberg once called it “ostentatious anti-Israelism,” noting that Greenwald “evinces toward Israel a disdain that is quite breathtaking. He holds Israel to a standard he doesn''t hold any other country, except the U.S.”
Similarly, Adam Levick argued in a commentary on Greenwald’s move from Salon to The Guardian last summer:
“Greenwald […] advances a brand of anti-imperialism […] informed by a palpable loathing of America, a nation he sees as a dangerous force of evil in the world. Greenwald’s anti-Americanism is so intense he once compared the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein to the Nazi conquest of Europe.
As is often the case with Guardian-brand commentators, Greenwald’s anti-imperialist ideological package includes a vicious anti-Zionism, and a corresponding belief in the injurious influence of organized US Jewry on American foreign policy in the Middle East.”
But it turns out that Greenwald’s loathing for Israel and the US developed only with his growing fame as a blogger. In late 2005, not long after he started his first blog “Unclaimed Territory,” he wrote a post under the title “The Myth of International Wisdom.” Criticizing a Washington Post column by David Ignatius on rising anti-Americanism, Greenwald sharply rejected the notion that “the prevalence and wisdom of these anti-American sentiments around the world compel the U.S. to change its course in order to once again become popular in the world.”
Greenwald’s line of reasoning from back then makes for fascinating reading – not just because of the stark contrast to his current views, but also because one could obviously substitute Israel for America when reading the following passages:
“Any nation would be acting foolishly, and self-destructively, if it allowed its foreign policy to be guided by the threat perceptions of people in other countries. When it comes to facing the profound threat posed to American interests by Islamic extremism, it is naturally the case that people in other countries will view the danger posed by that threat as being less serious and important than Americans perceive it to be.Americans, justifiably and understandably, consider the 9/11 attacks to be a profound and intolerable assault on U.S. national security, an event so threatening and jarring that it justifies measures which would have previously been considered to be too extreme. […]
This fundamental difference in interests [of different countries] is critical, as it illustrates the utter folly, and irrationality, of using the perceptions of other countries to judge America’s foreign policy. When it comes to the U.S. deciding what it needs to do and should do in response to the threats which gave rise to 9/11 and similar attacks, it is the American perception of the severity and importance of those threats – and not the perception of other countries – which ought to determine America’s response. […]
International unpopularity may be the result of an undesirable or unwarranted foreign policy, but such unpopularity may just as easily flow from the U.S. doing exactly what it ought to do to protect its interests. International public opinion of America’s foreign policy is not evidence, one way or the other, of the merit of those policies. […]
It may be beneficial to U.S. interests to have other countries like what we are doing, but being popular in other countries is not an end in itself. The U.S. can and should pursue whatever measures it deems appropriate to protect its national interests. The fact that the populations or governments of other countries perceive those measures to be excessive or unwarranted is to be expected because those countries have different threat perceptions and divergent interests. And, for exactly that reason, their approval or disapproval cannot be used to assess the rightness of, let alone to dictate, American foreign policy.”
This proof that once upon a time, Glenn Greenwald had some eminently reasonable views was unearthed due to a bitter controversy that erupted recently when Sam Harris challenged Greenwald because he recommended an Al Jazeera article that accused Harris of anti-Muslim bigotry. The ensuing exchange between the two prominent writers is characteristic for all too many contemporary debates: while Sam Harris bases his arguments firmly on verifiable facts and observations, Greenwald counters by taking refuge in politically-correct pieties. As Harris highlights in an excellent post on the controversy, his interest in “the logical and behavioral consequences of specific beliefs” means that he cannot necessarily “treat all religions the same.” But this is of course exactly what Glenn Greenwald demands: the man who in 2005 forcefully argued that the US had every right to respond to “the profound threat posed to American interests by Islamic extremism” and “Muslim terrorism” now strenuously objects to “Harris’ years-long argument that Islam poses unique threats beyond what Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions of the world pose.”
Greenwald may say that he has come to see the error of his old views and changed his mind – a step that enabled him to become a leading proponent of the political correctness he condemned in 2005 as “corrupt and dangerous reasoning.”
But that the political correctness Greenwald now champions is as corrupt and dangerous as ever is perhaps best illustrated by his glowing endorsement of a “superb review of Harris'' writings on Israel, the Middle East and US militarism” published on Mondoweiss by one of the site’s regular contributors.
Mondoweiss is of course a site well-known for peddling antisemitic memes, and by linking to it in order to buttress his accusations that Harris is promoting “Islamophobia”, Greenwald demonstrates that not all forms of bigotry are equally troublesome to him. The piece Greenwald recommends so warmly is a tediously long essay entitled “Sam Harris, uncovered.” Thankfully, however, the author quickly reveals what’s the worst about Harris: “For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their ‘reflexive solidarity’ with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work. The End of Faith [an award-winning best-selling book by Harris] opens with the melodramatic scene of a young man of undetermined nationality boarding a bus with a suicide vest. The bus detonates, innocents die and Harris, with the relish of a schoolmarm passing on the facts of life to her brood, chalks in the question: ‘Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy-you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it-easy to guess the young man’s religion?’”
But Mondoweiss readers are then told that it is actually not at all easy to guess the religion of the suicide bomber, because if one does away with the “narrow focus” of Harris on the early 21st century and instead looks at the issue historically, one can find “Hindu Tamil Tigers …. or, in 1945, a Buddhist Kamikaze; or….the German Luftwaffe’s suicide squadrons.”
Unsurprisingly, this leads to the triumphant argument: “What the religion of the bomber is depends on at which point of history you begin to start your timeline.”
Glenn Greenwald may think this is “superb,” but it really is utterly stupid and disingenuous. It is stupid because an observation that is true for the present cannot be invalidated by pointing out that at some other point in history, things were different. Harris didn’t claim that throughout history, suicide bombings were usually perpetrated by Muslims; he simply highlighted the well-documented phenomenon that in recent times, it has been primarily Muslims who have perpetrated suicide bombings and that such “martyrdom operations” are widely accepted and regularly glorified by Muslims. Moreover, while I’m not familiar enough with Hinduism and Buddhism to know if their faithful have developed anything comparable to the contemporary Muslim “martyrdom” cult, I am absolutely certain that the pilots in the German Luftwaffe’s suicide squadron – which operated only a few missions at the very end of the war – were not motivated by their Christian faith: when they embarked on their deadly missions, they didn’t shout some equivalent of “Allahu Akbar,” but “Heil Hitler.” Yet, this is the kind of “reasoning” Glenn Greenwald admires as “superb” – perhaps because his own reasoning isn’t much better. Take for example Greenwald’s complaint that “of course there are some Muslim individuals who do heinous things in the name of their religion - just like there are extremists in all religions who do awful and violent things in the name of that religion, yet receive far less attention than the bad acts of Muslims.”
The problem with this politically-oh-so-correct mantra that there are “bad apples” everywhere is that not everywhere “bad apples” are considered bad.
Imagine for a moment that a prominent and influential religious leader like the pope wrote glowingly about a divinely ordained and religiously motivated battle between all Christians and all Muslims; or that such a leader praised Hitler and the Holocaust and expressed the hope that there will be a “next time” when the “believers” will have the chance to finish the job; or that he prayed for the annihilation of those whom he and his followers consider enemies and called on God to “kill them, down to the very last one.”
Very different from what Greenwald claims, no prominent Christian or Jewish leader could make such statements without a storm of outraged media coverage and vociferous demands for his resignation. But when the “Global Mufti” Qaradawi propagates the vilest views inciting hatred and justifying violence, the western media don’t have to say much about such appalling statements broadcast in the Muslim world to a devoted audience of an estimated sixty million believers. And if all religions are equally likely to have adherents “who do awful and violent things in the name of that religion,” there should be broad majorities of Christians or Jews who favor something comparably revolting to Sharia punishments such as “stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the … religion.” If all religions were really equally likely to have adherents “who do awful and violent things in the name of that religion,” there should also be many millions of Christians or Jews who admired Al-Qaeda-like groups for most of the past decade.
It is indeed bigotry when the actions and views of a few extremists or fringe groups are taken as representative for a much larger group of believers, but it is also a form of bigotry to ignore well-documented evidence showing that what would be condemned as extremist for Christians and Jews is widely accepted in the Muslim world.