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Glenn Greenwald Terrorizes Logic

On the Guardian columnist’s response to the terror attack in London

Zach Novetsky
May 24, 2013

Whenever a radical Islamist commits a horrific act of violence or an act of terrorism, Glenn Greenwald is there with the same all-powerful explanation: it is our fault. More specifically, it is the fault of anyone living in the United States or any “loyal, constant ally” state, as he put it on Twitter. Terrorists, it seems, have no agency.

Wednesday, on a crowded street in Woolwich, London, Michael Adebolajo and a second individual beheaded Lee Rigby, a drummer in the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Both attackers are British citizens of Nigerian descent. Adebolajo converted to Islam in 2003. At the time of his murder, Rigby was not in uniform. After butchering Rigby, Adebolajo approached a bystander who recorded the attack and said:

“We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. Your people will never be safe. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying by British soldiers every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

“We apologize that women had to see this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.”

Instead of wondering if these two butchers were part of a larger terrorist cell, Greenwald tells us that he is going to discuss the “vital” matter of whether this barbaric act should be considered terrorism. Yes, it is “vital” to know whether beheading a drummer in the British army on a crowded street in London is an act of terrorism. But fear not. Greenwald only asks rhetorical questions so that he may provide his own answers. And his answers are always simple ones. Rigby, the drummer in the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was a soldier. An act of terrorism must be carried out against civilians. A drummer in the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is not a civilian. Therefore, beheading a drummer in the British army on a crowded street in London cannot be an act of terrorism. For Greenwald, it really is that simple. Things are always that simple.

But things are simpler still for Greenwald. Does the fact that Rigby was not wearing a uniform complicate things at all? Of course not, because, Greenwald tells us, “the same is true for the vast bulk of killings carried out by the US and its allies over the last decade.” The US has even re-defined “militant” to mean “any military-aged male in a strike zone.” Do you get it yet? It is not terrorism to behead a drummer in the British army on a crowded street in London because the US and its allies do it too. It does not matter that when the US and its allies carry out these killings in clear and recognized warzones, they wear uniforms to identify themselves as combatants, whereas here, the two individuals were dressed in plainclothes. It does not matter that, according to the Laws of Armed Combat, Rigby would not have been considered a lawful combatant because, among other things, he was not wearing “fixed distinctive emblems recognizable at a distance, such as uniforms.” No, what Greenwald endorses as sound logic is Adebojo’s brutish logic: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

But Greenwald is not satisfied with already having answered his own question. Greenwald goes further and entertains another possible definition of terrorism: “any act of violence designed to achieve political change, or more specifically, to induce a civilian population to change their government or its policies of out fear of violence.” Surely, not even Greenwald can explain how this attack in London, done with an overtly political purpose (e.g. “the only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily” and “you people will never be safe. Remove your government”), fails to meet that definition of terrorism.

Dear reader, never lose the ability to be surprised.

Greenwald tells us that if we prefer this definition, then the vast majority of violent acts undertaken by the US and its allies over the last decade are likewise examples of terrorism. The US/UK “shock and awe” attack on Baghdad, the ongoing US drone attacks, the massive air bombings in World War II, all of these must also be terrorism.

Why these things matter in the context of two civilians (i.e. not States) who beheaded a drummer in the British army on a crowded street in London is unclear, because according to terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, “‘terrorism’ is understood to be violence committed by non-state entities” (emphasis mine). This may be a definitional issue, but it helps explain why people are quick to call a violent act committed for political purposes by two civilians an act of terrorism, despite being unwilling to say the same when a state engages in a similar act.

Why Greenwald includes the attack on Baghdad as an act of terrorism despite the fact that, during the second battle of Fallujah, civilians were evacuated from the city in advance of the fighting (which lasted several weeks and was assisted by the US Marines), is unclear. (In other words, those who chose to remain effectively declared themselves combatants.) Of course, there were families that did not or could not leave Fallujah during the evacuation. But according to Michael Totten, who spent a month in Fallujah during the surge, Marines spray-painted the word “FAMILY” in red on the walls outside their houses so no one would accidentally shoot them.

Why Greenwald must look to famously controversial tactics employed in World War II–a war fought over sixty years–when he claims to have available the vast majority of violent acts undertaken by the US and its allies over the last decade as examples of terrorism is, likewise, unclear.

But do not overthink things. Everything is actually simple.

The thing is, Greenwald’s predictability is the only thing that is simple. There are only so many times you can say, as Greenwald does in this column, that “nothing about [his article] has anything to do with justifiability” before it has everything to do with justifiability. Nearly every column that Greenwald writes about Islamist terrorism is about how we brought terrorism upon ourselves, as if history only began the moment we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Greenwald never takes a moment to feel sorrow for the innocent victims of Islamist terrorism in the West (or elsewhere, for that matter) because he is too busy feeling an implacable rage towards the West and the victims of its wars, regardless of the justness of those wars. Right after the Boston Marathon bombing, for example, Greenwald engaged in this hallmark victim competition:

“[W]hatever rage you’re feeling toward the perpetrator of this Boston attack, that’s the rage in sustained form that people across the world feel toward the US for killing innocent people in their countries. Whatever sadness you feel for yesterday’s victims, the same level of sadness is warranted for the innocent people whose lives are ended by American bombs.”

The most loathsome part about Greenwald’s columns is that they quite literally employ the very logic and propaganda tactics employed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. (If you do not believe me that I mean this literally, click here and see how many of those ten he satisfies.)

Underlying Greenwald’s column on the London beheading is a soft-racism that assumes that because the two attackers were Muslim, they can claim to be at war with the West and engage in attacks against the West as part of the “War on Terrorism.” What Greenwald misunderstands is that these two attackers were British citizens, not Afghanis, Iraqis, Pakistanis, or Yemenis i.e. people who can make a claim that the West is at war with them. By assuming that these two British citizens could legitimately claim to be at war with Britain, Greenwald adopts the al-Qaeda narrative that the West is at war with Islam, not with certain states that happen to be Islamic or have sizable Muslim populations. This is no exaggeration. Greenwald approvingly cites a tweet from Michael Moore saying just that: “I am outraged that we can’t kill people in other counties [sic] without them trying to kill us!” To repeat the point, then, these two terrorists who beheaded a drummer were not part of “other countries.” They were British citizens. What else can we call this conflation of Muslims if not bigotry?

Despite Greenwald’s repeated insistence that he is not justifying Islamist terrorism, he regularly does just that. He takes on the case of any terrorist pro bono from his comfortable home in Brazil. When his case is not going well, he resorts back to the time-tested tactic of blaming Israel. That is right. Israel is responsible for the beheading of a drummer in the British army on a crowded street in London.

It is not difficult to see through Greenwald’s elementary logic, his many red herrings, and sleight of hand tricks. No amount of Western wrongdoing can justify beheading a drummer in the British army on a crowded street in London. This is terrorism, plain and simple. And no amount of columns by Glenn Greenwald can change that.