“As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge”
The title of the present post, and the opening quote both come directly from a piece written by one Glenn Greenwald that appeared on the Guardian‘s website on Tuesday 16 April. That’s just one day after the bombings.
Now, I don’t know anything about Mr Greenwald beyond the fact that he’s billed as “a columnist for Guardian US” and seems to be a fairly typical Guardianista: invertebrate- liberal, knee-jerk anti-American, routinely anti-Israeli, generally ignorant and probably quite well-meaning at a personal level. Sort of a Gary Younge without the intelligence and/or a Seumas Milne without the rank hypocrisy.
For a start, Greenwald’s claim that there was a “rush to blame Muslims” after the bombings (in a post he wrote just hours after the attacks!) is simply incorrect. Certainly the Obama administration didn’t do that: they warned against “jumping to conclusions” and didn’t even use the word “terrorism” in their initial reactions. There were suggestions in the media, largely as a result of premature and irresponsible social media speculation, that a Saudi national was involved. This man turned out to have been an innocent victim, but speculation about his possible involvement (mainly in the New York Times) hardly amounts to what Greenwald describes as “The rush, one might say eagerness, to conclude that the attackers were Muslim [which was] palpable and unseemly, even without any real evidence.”
Greenwald is on somewhat stronger ground with his point about “selective empathy”:
“The widespread compassion for yesterday’s victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers.”
Of course it is true that the western media gives far more coverage to killings that take place ’at home’ than they do to comparable outrages elsewhere. Greenwald seems to suggest that this is the result of simple hypocrisy and possibly (though he doesn’t use the word), racism. At a certain level, it’s hard to disagree: an innocent victim (especially when it’s a child) should count the same whether he or she’s died as a result of a terrorist outrage in America or a US airstrike in Afghanistan.
But Greenwald fatally undermines his own case (insofar as he has a coherent case) by pointing out something that is undeniably and self-evidently true:
“There’s nothing wrong per se with paying more attention to tragedy and violence that happens relatively nearby and in familiar places. Whether wrong or not, it’s probably human nature, or at least human instinct, to do that, and it happens all over the world. I’m not criticising that. But one wishes that the empathy for victims and outrage over the ending of innocent life that instantly arises when the US is targeted by this sort of violence would at least translate into similar concern when the US is perpetuating it, as it so often does (far, far more often than it is targeted by such violence).”
So what point is Greenwald trying to make? If it’s simply an appeal to all those outraged by what happened in Boston to also consider the innocent victims of US military adventures abroad, then fair enough: no-one here at ‘Shiraz’ would argue with that. But I can’t help thinking that Greenwald really wants to go further than that, and what he’s really trying to say is something put much more bluntly by Lindsey German of ‘Stop The War’ and ‘Counterfire’:
“[I]t is not hard to conclude that western lives are valued much more highly than those of people in Afghanistan or the Middle East, and that bombs in the middle of major US cities are regarded as more newsworthy than those in the Afghan countryside or in Baghdad…Whatever the truth about this latest bombing, the continued refusal to acknowledge the widespread grievances against the US and its allies caused by the wars and US policies in the Middle East will lead to turmoil until solutions are found.”
Now that, I think you’ll agree, spells things out rather more plainly than Greenwald managed, or perhaps, dared: German is, essentially, saying ‘the US had it coming and deserves it.’
If you think that’s a bit unfair on Ms German, then remember: she and her partner, Mr John Rees, were effectively running the SWP at the time of the 9/11 attacks, when Socialist Worker‘s headline was “Horror in the United States: Bitter fruit of US policy”, and the de facto SWP ‘line’ (I know this from first-hand observation at Birmingham Trades Council, the Socialist Alliance and elsewhere) was to celebrate and gloat.
Look, comrades, it aught to be obvious: the lives of innocent American civilians are not worth more than anyone else’s: but neither are they worth any less.
NB: Greenwald has a new piece in today’s Graun objecting to the use of the word “terrorism” as anti-Muslim. It seems to me to be incoherent gibberish, but if anyone can explain it to me I’d be grateful. I may return to this latest piece shortly.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesey)
The Algerian hostage killings are shocking.
El Watan reports up to 50 hostages dead, though there are serious doubts about the accuracy of this figure.
This has to be looked up with deep ethical and political seriousness.
These are some reflections:
The Algerian army’s operation was entirely their own. On France-Inter and Europe I this morning it was repeated that the Algerians were determined to put an end to the crisis without negotiating – a long-standing principle. They were determined to “deal with internal problems by themselves (more here). The experience of confronting armed and murderous Islamists in Algeria, from the 1990s civil war to the present, is that the state’s army is prepared to use maximum force with minimum respect for human rights.
The Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has been a leading figure in ’Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi), is now clearly identified as the leader of the attack. He is dead. Belmokhtar has operated in the north of Mali. The ’emir’ is held responsible for kidnapping several French nationals in the recent past. In December Belmokhtar announced in une vidéo publiée par Libération.fr,that he had broken with Aqmi and created a new group, Al-Moulathamin (those who sign with blood)»), close to the Mouvement unicité et jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (le Mujao, which controls the region of Gao in Mali). The reasons for this are likely to be connected to Belmokhtar’s personal smuggling rackets. However his men remain in alliance with Aqmi.
There are therefore clear links between the hostage taking and Mali. Belmokhtar is said to have demanded that the French intervention should end. Anybody going further into the shifting alliances and disputes in Mali should pause and look at this seriously before offering an analyses of, for example, the relations between the Tuaregs, their group, the l’Azawad (MNLA) (more here), and the Islamists. I would be very very cautious in this areas.
Belmokhtar is a man with an armed band with blood on their hands. It is no surprise that an Irishman who escaped from the Algerian hostage crisis had explosives tied around his neck.
“Primary responsibility for tragic events in Algeria rest with terrorists who murdered some and held others hostage”: For the first time it’s hard to disagree with Foreign Secretary William Hague.
How Not to Respond:
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition directly links the taking of hostages to the French intervention in Mali. She states that, “This new scramble for Africa, where the old colonial powers of France and Britain try to reassert their control in the resource rich region, looks likely to end in tears very quickly. ” No doubt she can barely contain the floods of teardrops this morning.
She goes on to say, “When France began its air strikes and invasion in Mali last week the rebels there warned its government that there would be retaliation. Blowback has come more rapidly than anyone expected.”
German then says, portentously, “The spread of the wars and instability to Africa is a very dangerous development.”
The Stop the War Coalition have shown scant regard to what the people in Mali think themselves, or much awareness of what has happened in the country.
German now shows an astounding ignorance when she says, “The long running civil war in Algeria is being escalated as a result of instability elsewhere. “
Somebody should buy her a good Chronology and teach her how not to confuse the 1990s with, say, the year 2013.
Let us make the point that the primary concern should be the wishes and interests of the people of North Africa and Mali.
It is clear that the Islamists, in their various shapes and alliances, are opposed to the most basic human rights. They torture and murder. They rape women who do not wear full Islamic covering. They destroy Muslim religious shrines that they consider ‘pagan’. They ban the wonderful music of the country. They fuel existing ethnic hatreds.
Opposition to them in Mali is not motivated by a ‘scramble for Africa’, which few outside the StWC and their ’anti-imperialist’ arm-chair generals have noticed at play in this crisis.
Still less, as some, like her partner John Rees suggests, is it a matter of the ‘West’ against ‘Islam’.
The fight against the Mali Islamists is motivated by common human decency.
And it comes from the people of Mali.
There are many issues around the French intervention, and the forces that govern the country. There is the background of the neo-liberal policies that have weakened the state and let the way open for this crisis. There is the responsibility of the country’s political class and army.
Does France intend to stay? Will its intervention, as the Nouveau parti anticaptialiste argues, make things worse?
But until we get that point, of combating the Islamists – in solidarity with Mali and North African peoples – across we will be as morally and politically bankrupt at Lindsey German.