“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.