Karma, Meet Glenn Greenwald

How ironic it is that Glenn Greenwald has found himself the victim of what he calls “distortions.” Not too long ago, Greenwald was one of those who encouraged the slander of Sam Harris as a “genocidal fascist maniac” for something Harris wrote that was, in my view, misrepresented and distorted. Today Greenwald himself is complaining about being misunderstood, as people read and interpret his latest anti-anti-terrorism piece (“CANADA, AT WAR FOR 13 YEARS, SHOCKED THAT ‘A TERRORIST’ ATTACKED ITS SOLDIERS”) published on his website The Intercept.

Writing about the death of a Canadian soldier on Monday, who, along with another soldier, was deliberately struck by a car driven by a convert to Islam, Greenwald said:

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

If you think that sounds like Greenwald is justifying the attack on two Canadian soldiers, you are not alone. But Greenwald attempted to cover himself:

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether Greenwald adequately insulated himself from claims that he was blaming the Canadian government for not only the attack on Monday, but by extension the attacks yesterday on Canada’s National War Memorial and its Parliament, attacks that coincidentally occurred shortly after Greenwald published his controversial article. But given Greenwald’s willingness to distort the arguments of others, readers are not obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. Referring to the attack on the Canadian soldiers, he wrote:

Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

I’ll let Greenwald in on a secret that most of the civilized world is coming to know: there are violent Islamist extremists, whether primitive or not, whether irrational or not, whether savage or not, who want to kill Westerners simply for being greenwald on twitterWesterners. And Greenwald has become a man at war with those who think that doing something about those violent Islamist extremists is a bad thing, in fact a thing that is perpetuating terrorism.

Greenwald acts as if the terrorists would stop being terrorists if the West walked away from its responsibility to protect itself and others, including Muslims who are most victimized by militant religious extremism, either by death or oppression. He lashes out at the West’s “rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation,” while mostly ignoring the actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation done by Islamists who want to establish a theocratic state. He speaks of “the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack” without distinguishing between the just attempt to pursue the 9/11 killers in Afghanistan and the misguided war in Iraq. He mocks what he calls “the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil,” as if there is no evil to fight.

But there is evil to fight. And people like Greenwald make it harder to fight it.



  1. I think I may be contradicting my point by making it — whatever. Here’s the thing: nuance is a risky necessity. At its most problematic, nuance by its very nature will be misunderstood by many if not most. Ahh, creativity and the inclusion of complexity — how you torment us. Nuance is the thing that provides us with shades of grey. Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken and Sherrod Brown are all Liberals — but are all different. (OK, maybe Hillary shouldn’t be on that list, but you get my point.) There are slight differences as they nuance themselves from issue to issue. Those nuances are what we connect to as we align ourselves with a particular champion relative to a particular topic. In the hopefully safe harbor of liberal thought there likely should be some room, some slack allowed for nuance. In the scheme of things Sam Harris, Glenn Greenwald, you and I are all liberals. You don’t like Greenwald (not news to the readers of this blog) and I don’t like Sam Harris. You’ve defended Sam Harris’ “nuance”, but derided Greenwald’s. In reality — in the arena of liberal discussion and debate — each can live without any protection from one of its fellows because we’re all just working it out. You and Harris are pragmatists — necessary for any real accomplishment. Greenwald (and I) are idealists — necessary for the higher goal of maturing civilization. So — let it go. Greenwald is not a terrorist sympathizer and Harris is not a racist. I can appreciate all your good writing and insight without agreeing with you on everything. Sue me. I’m a Liberal. Thank goodness.


    • Yes, thank goodness!

      You have made an absolutely fair point by saying this:

      You’ve defended Sam Harris’ “nuance”, but derided Greenwald’s.

      That thought occurred to me while writing my first piece this morning (which WordPress lost for me after two and a half hours of work). My second piece was decidedly more strident against Greenwald after I got to thinking about his retweeting that remark about Harris. But even as critical as I was, I never went to the extreme of saying that Greenwald was a “terrorist sympathizer.” That thought never even occurred to me. What he seems to me to be is someone who plays up the weaknesses of the West–and there are many–while ignoring the reality of terrorism in the modern world.

      That being said, if you follow what Harris is saying about the liberal approach to terrorism in general, he is trying to make liberals aware that terrorists like ISIL—and their sympathizers in the Muslim world—are enemies of the principles of liberalism itself, a fact that many tend to ignore. In the same way, Greenwald emphasizes the illiberal nature of the surveillance state and calls for liberals to acknowledge its danger to liberal principles. I happen to agree with him on that to a point. But unlike the approach of Harris, Greenwald’s approach is often to lump people like me, who don’t agree with him on all matters related to both surveillance and the issue of terrorism, as fascist-like, sort of like he did with that comment about Harris.

      I agree with you that there is room enough in liberalism for a lot of nuanced views, including those of both Harris and Greenwald, as well as yours and mine, but I have yet to have one liberal commenting on this blog who condemned Greenwald for what he forwarded about Harris, namely that he was a “genocidal fascist maniac.” And if you remember, my original post on this subject was partly about the fact that liberals ought not to call each other such horrific names.


      • King Beauregard

         /  October 23, 2014

        “but I have yet to have one liberal commenting on this blog who condemned Greenwald for what he forwarded about Harris, namely that he was a “genocidal fascist maniac.””

        Normally I consider Greenwald beneath contemplation, but sure, I’ll condemn the jackass. As if “genocidal fascist maniac” wasn’t so hyperbolic as to disqualify itself from intelligent discourse already … but that’s Greenwald for you.

        True story: I took a dump this morning that I respect more than Glenn Greenwald. It brought me great joy, and it may nurture a flower someday. Greenwald will do neither.


      • Fair enough. Greenwald can be over the top. Inappropriately so. As far as liberals go, we should all hope the reasonableness of reason will ultimately triumph. I do not dispute the insanity of ISIL. I do not dispute its danger due to that insanity. I see similar — if more subtle — insanity in Floridians voting for Rick Scott, Texans voting for Greg Abbott, and Kansans voting for Sam Brownback. Blind allegiance to hatred, ignorance, greed and blood lust is a great danger wherever it shows up. The real terrorists and murderers are already inside our borders, wearing Armani suits and piloting the Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries and Fox News.


  2. King Beauregard

     /  October 23, 2014

    As a neutral point of its own, it’s true that military action often begets a response. I can’t disagree with Greenwald as far as that goes. Where Greenwald errs is in tone, and I can’t help but sense a little bit of opportunistic streak in him: “hooray, this lets me rail against my favorite targets!”

    And yes, Greenwald’s stubborn refusal to concede there is any reason for us to go after groups like al Qaeda, pretty much invalidates his point. As I have noted before, when a drone kills one Pakistani granny it’s front page news, but when al Qaeda kills dozens in a marketplace (presumably there are at least a couple grannies on the scene) it’s irrelevant to guys like Greenwald. I say Greenwald has no genuine concern for the common man overseas, otherwise he’d seriously contemplate which is harder on them: drones that sometimes kill civilians but keep terrorists pinned down, or terrorists allowed to run free.

    Greenwald has developed his own brand of shit to shovel, and a base of supporters who will consume shovelful after shovelful.


    • In my first piece I wrote this morning, which I noted was lost by WordPress after I tried to save it, I mentioned the idea that he was right about the obvious fact that actions have consequences. But he used that simple idea as a vehicle to create a narrative embellished with all kinds of criticism of the U.S. and Canada and other Western countries for their attempts to squash various terrorist groups. That, of course, was his real reason for writing. And he often does this by muddying the waters, like not acknowledging a difference between a noble attempt to get the 9/11 planners in Afghanistan and the mistaken policy in Iraq. I just don’t like that kind of argumentation and he does it all the time.

      Plus, he does refuse to concede that there are legitimate reasons for us to go after terrorist groups. I find it very strange that he almost always offers us some construction like this: “no matter what you might think about Canada’s decision to fight ISIL…” Well, I want to know how Glenn Greenwald would deal with people who, if they were given the freedom to govern, would make it their first act to kill people like Glenn Greenwald.


      • King Beauregard

         /  October 23, 2014

        I’m not left with a sense that Greenwald is trying to think about today’s problems and how to solve them. I can’t even say he’s an ideologue spinning for whatever witless concept he has of How Things Really Are. All he sees is an opportunity to make a name for himself, facts be damned, good sense be damned.


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