The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions

April 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm (Guardian, internationalism, islamism, Jim D, John Rees, Lindsey German, media, murder, Racism, solidarity, Stop The War, SWP, terror)

Boston bombing v Afghanistan

“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.


  1. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Greenwald is increasingly regarded as a joke even by many US progressives.

    The blogger Driftglass put it nicely:

    And of course no Glennjacking of whatever-today’s-news-is into his boilerplate assay of drones and America’s deep moral failings would be complete without Mr. Greenwald building his conclusions (many of which are perfectly valid) atop a ziggurat of assertions about anti-Muslim bigotry manifesting itself as reckless conclusion-leaping.

    Which is all the explanation you need for virtually anything the man writes now….

  2. s4r4hbrown said,

    I’m not a fan of Greenwald, but he seems remarkably reasonable when compared with Falk.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said, is a key wingnut popaganda node funded by right-wing billionaires and with a really vile history (as they can presumably still sue in the UK courts I won’t go into details but searching any high traffic American left-liberal blog like firedoglake, lawyers guns and money, crooks and liars, wonkette, little green footballs or balloon juice should give many examples).

      Greenwald however presents himself as a liberal and progressive of the the ultra-purist tendency memorably mocked by a blogger back in the 2008 election campaign:

      Every year in Happy Gumdrop Fairy-Tale Land all of the sprites and elves and woodland creatures gather together to pick the Rainbow Sunshine Queen. Everyone is there: the Lollipop Guild, the Star-Twinkle Toddlers, the Sparkly Unicorns, the Cookie Baking Apple-cheeked Grandmothers, the Fluffy Bunny Bund, the Rumbly-Tumbly Pupperoos, the Snowflake Princesses, the Baby Duckies All-In-A-Row, the Laughing Babies, and the Dykes on Bikes. They have a big picnic with cupcakes and gumdrops and pudding pops, stopping only to cast their votes by throwing Magic Wishing Rocks into the Well of Laughter, Comity, and Good Intentions. Afterward they spend the rest of the night dancing and singing and waving glow sticks until dawn when they tumble sleepy-eyed into beds made of the purest and whitest goose down where they dream of angels and clouds of spun sugar.

      You don’t live there.

      Grow the fuck up.

      (Damn I love that passage….)

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      And as the page Breitbart cite as evidence for this new UN plot against America doesn’t actually seem to connect any more (and indeed the whole site it’s allegedly part of seems to be mysteriously down) I would not believe a single word of this until properly substantiated by a source who do not have a long record of failsifying quotes.

  3. daniel said,

    Shoot the messenger shoot the idiot who let it in.Socialist mind will care for the right and wrong.Socialist care would never let it get so far.

  4. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Tech point: while your Letter to an SWPer post shows on my RSS reader as 13 hours old at 1330 and the link worked, if I click on the shiraz homepage it disappears….

  5. Jim Denham said,

    • Modernity's Ghost said,


      You probably know about this site,

      Seems to cover most things related to the collapse of the SWP & that Counterfire is no panacea, someone just resigned (bottom right corner of main page)!

      BTW, where is John G and the other (ex)SWPers, they’ve gone very quiet.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Ah – somehow that’s been resent to my RSS feed earlier today as a new article (obv didn’t notice the date…).

      Anyway I appear to be the only person who’s treated it as such…

  6. Sue r said,

    Their latest line is that the drone attacks are equivalent to terrorism. Doesn’t stop various Middle Eastern governemnts attemting to obtain drone technology though. Watching the news reports about the public grieving in Boston, I thought it’s a shame that they don’t try that in Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iraq etc. The whole community (or a fair proportion of it) coming together at the site of a atrocity to mourn/protest/affirm solidarity. That would be a massive step forward to ending this perpetual violence.

    Another thing that has been infuriating me is the imans appearing on the tv to state that Islam teaches that killing an (innocent) person is like killing the whole world. (Can’t remember the whole quote). They quote this out of context, because the next verse modifies the application of this principle. They also neglect to mention that this is actually lifted from the Jewish book of law, ‘the Mishnah’. Strange that. Anyway, I invariably end up screaming athe the tv, ‘tell them that in Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Deadsvillstani etc’. Surely the Islamic community have a duty to educate their co-religionists in fundamental principles, to save them from doctrinal error?

    Lastly, where’s JOhn G now? I heard that he is no longer a member of the SWP. Perhaps he has joined the LibDems?

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Imam’s – IIRC Iman was (and for all I know and care may still be) David Bowie’s missus.

      The actual Koranic verse is 5.32

      On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

      But that ‘spreading mischief in the land’ gives mass murderers and their apologists a very wide latitude indeed.

      In fact its actually a garbled quote from the Talmud which is much clearer and has no weaselly qualifications you can drive a truck loaded with explosives through:

      Therefore the man was created singly, to teach that he who destroys one soul of a human being, the Scripture considers him as if he should destroy a whole world, and him who saves one soul of Israel, the Scripture considers him as if he should save a whole world.

  7. Sue R said,

    Incidentally, the ‘In Defence of Marxism’ site has an article written by a Boston comrade. He identifies the man in the cowboy hat as Carlos Arredondo, a well know anti-war campaigner who has lost two sons to the Iraq war. But, the bombers wouldn’t care about that. It would mean nothing to them. The other point is that they go on about drones killing indiscriminately, what about the marketplace and roadside bombs planted in varous war zones. I’ll listen sympathetically to their complaints about drones when they address the question of indiscriminate bombs.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      The full story of Carlos Arredondo is heart-breaking – when he got the news of his first son’s death in Iraq he shut himself in his van with a drum of petrol and set fire to it and it was only the Marine sergeants who’d brought the news who dragged him out of it with massive burns.

      The second son IIRC killed himself later.

      And that full photograph before they cropped it to remove the shattered bleeding stumps of the victim’s legs is one of the most horrible images I’ve ever seen…..

  8. Sue R said,

    Looking at that reference given by Modernityblog, I see that John G is one of the signatories of the anti-Callinocos statement. So that answers that questions.

  9. les said,

    glenn greenwald? he’s the guardian’s version of the westboro baptist church–that same shrill voice of denunciation and manufactured rage.

  10. Sue R said,

    Oh, dear. Just as I feared. Turns out that oil and corruption have a part to play in this sorry tale. The uncle who is being quoted all over the media, Ruslan Tsarani, is a oil executive with links to the CIA. He is also involved in international money laundering, and connected to the political elites in Chenenya and kazarkstan. he helped to negogiate the purchase of Prince Andrew’s crib in Berkshire the other year to the despot of Karzarkstan, this is generally recognised to have been for money laundering purposes. The family themslves may have links to organised crime, one of the aunts who has been quoted has theh same surname as a notorious Chechan ganster who was shot dead a decade ago, plus they used to live next door to a big gangland boss. Explains why they came to the States and why they flit backwards and forwards so easily. Also explains why his All-American Wife’s family were comfortable with their daughter’s marriage and conversion to Islam. Money. The root of …..

    None of this answers why they did it, or whether it should be classified as ‘terrorism’. My thoughts now are that was actually an ‘honour’ killing. Having been refused American citizenship, which he must have thought was a shoe-in, Suspect No1 decided to take revenge on American society. The bombing happened on Patriots Day, and the Boston Marathon has a national significance in the States (I am told). it’s not hard for RageBoy to Imanufacture a cause is it, anti-Americanism, more, bigger Islam, whatever.

    I suspect that the murder of three of RageBoy’s friends two years ago, may also turn out to be an honour killing. Incidentally, those three slaughtered men were Jewish.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Honour killing?

      Your bias is leading you to twist a term which should be applied only selectively as otherwise it will lose its force.

      Murder and terrorism are perfectly good words,

      And your suspicions on the 2011 murder are just what you and millions of others have gleaned from skimming random press reports.

      But one of those kids was a drug dealer and there were drugs and money all over the crime scene.

      Now its possible that Tsarnaev Major may have spent years pretending to be a Jews BFF just so he could eventually be in a position to kill him and two other Jews and then extravagantly dumped thousands of dollars worth of marijuana and rolls of dollar bills at the scene to just make it look like a drug killing rather than an anti-semitic rampage to celebrate 9/11 (allegedly they were killed on Sept 11 2011) but it sounds less than plausible.

      And if Tsarnaev made himself scarce after the 2011 killings this is of course the worst thing to do if you are a potential suspect but may make perfect sense if both he and his friends were dealing drugs and three of them got whacked in such a demonstrative way.

      Also plausible or not its hardly typical Jihadi behaviour (although it may be stereotypical ‘Chechen gangster’ or unhinged drug dealer behaviour).

  11. flyingrodent said,

    A shorter version of Jim’s post would go like this:

    “I don’t know anything about this Guardian columnist, but his politics make me suspect that he’s the kind of person that I instinctively don’t like.

    He makes some points I don’t agree with, and then makes some points that I do agree with, but then he goes and spoils it all by making some other comments that I wholeheartedly agree with.

    But I can’t help feeling that he is actually saying “America deserved to get bombed because Americans are bastards”, even though he doesn’t say that or, indeed, anything remotely like it.

    I suspect that he agrees with a woman who I don’t like, who has also previously not said “America deserved to get bombed because Americans are bastards”.

    Here is an example of the woman I don’t like not saying “America deserved to get bombed because Americans are bastards”.

    I’m sure you’ll all agree that she said “America deserved to get bombed”, even though she didn’t say that or, indeed, anything remotely like it.

    This being the case, I think we can all agree that this Guardian columnist is exactly the type of person who says Americans deserve to get bombed, even though he doesn’t say Americans deserve to get bombed or, indeed, anything like it.

    God, I hate all these people who say Americans deserve to get bombed, especially when they aren’t saying it”.


    This is, to put it mildly, not a very convincing mode of argument.

  12. Jim Denham said,

    You say one thing at the end of your comment, Mr Rodent, that I can wholeheartedly agree with, viz
    “This is, to put it mildly, not a very convincing mode of argument.”

  13. Sue R said,

    Of-course, I am wildly seculating, but I am basing it on rational grounds. Why was $3000 left at the scene? and marijuna scattered over the bodies? The date was highly significant as well, the relatives of one of the boys said that the lad was interrupted mid-text at 8.15 pm on September 11th. My reading of the situation, and this may be no more scientific than crystal ball gazing, is that there were rows over Tsarnaev swindling his mates over drug deals. Perhaps to the sum of $3,000. You say that that is not good jehadist or Islamic behaviour. I’m not sure. The Taliban and the Iranians are among the biggest drug producers and dealers in the world. It all depends on your form of Islam. Although they are not allowed to touch alcohol, hasish is not forbidden. The word ‘assassin’ comes from an Islamic cult in India in the 15th century who smoked hashish to get them in the mood for killing. There have been hints in the papers that the brothers were involved in drug dealing, but neither of them were ever arrested for it.

    The other thing that is highly suggestive to me is that he denied having a single American friend, when one of the young men killed was well known as his best buddy. That is a typical response of someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge or remember a past friend, a sign of a major falling out. (I pass over the fact that he was married to an American, mena nd women aren’t friends in Islam.).

    I don’t think the guy spent years cultivating the friendship of three Jews while all the time plotting to kill them. I am sure that originally the friendship was genuine, based on martial arts, however, the accusation of swindling would sour Tsarnaev’s affection. In our culture we move in and out of relationships and friendships, we don’t have an entrenched concept of ‘honour’ (urban society couldn’t function if we did), but these semi-industrialises, peasant societies still maintain such ideas.

    Some of the more virulent commentators have argued that he was obeying a verse in one of their many books about ‘kill a Jew, get the keys to Paradise’. I don’t go that far, but I don’t think that their being Jews was a disincentive to killing them.

    I don’t think I am twisting the term ‘honour killing’. What do you think it means? The other year a young Albanian boy was granted asylum because if he went back to Albania he would have been murdered in pursuance of a long running feud between families in his village. I know you think that the Soviets dealt with all that, but they didn’t. Honour is not just sexual, it is your standing in society.

    If you think it was a rival drug dealer, why did they waste the marijuana and why did they leave a sizable sum of money in the room?

    I imagine he developed an interest in Islam when he discovered that it could retrospectively validate his violent acts and give him solace for his lack of success in American society. The younger brother just strikes me as a pothead to be honest.

  14. flyingrodent said,

    You say one thing at the end of your comment, Mr Rodent, that I can wholeheartedly agree with

    Well Jim, there’s one thing you could do which could refute that assessment – provide some form of evidence that these people think the Americans deserve to be bombed.

    You haven’t done it in your post. Can you now do it in your comments section?

  15. Jim Denham said,

    ‘The Bitter Fruit’ headline gave the game away. Their reaction and behaviour on the ground at the time confirmed it.

    The subtle clue to the point I’m making is hidden away in the main post, and I presume you missed it. It’s the bit where I write “I know this from first-hand observation at Birmingham Trades Council, the Socialist Alliance and elsewhere.”

  16. flyingrodent said,

    “I know this from first-hand observation at Birmingham Trades Council, the Socialist Alliance and elsewhere.”

    Again, it would really help your case if you could quote either Greenwald or German saying that the Americans deserve to be bombed, or anything that could reasonably be interpreted as such.

    As it stands, you’ve quoted them saying nothing of the sort, and then claimed that they have said that the Americans deserve to be bombed. As noted, this is a pretty poor argument.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Read the effin’ article, Mr Rodent. I also use my eyes and ears and have first hand experience of what people are actually saying off the record.

      You are either willfully blind (and deaf) to the reality of political discourse or you’re incredibly cynical. You, more than most, should be aware that people don’t always spell out their full politics on the record: after all you’ve consistently avoided doing so despite repeated requests from myself.

      • flyingrodent said,

        Yes Jim, I read it. You’re saying that because you heard some people say some things, that bestows you with amazing psychic powers that allow you to detect people saying “The Americans deserve to be bombed” even if they are not saying “The Americans deserve to be bombed”, or anything like it.

        And I’m telling you that this is a shit argument, and that you need to provide more evidence than “I met some people who said some stupid things once”.

        For instance: If you could quote either Greenwald or German saying “the Americans deserve to be bombed”, you might have a point.

        You can’t quote them saying that, most likely because they don’t think that and have never said anything like it.

        So basically, you’re making things up and then boiling about them. A rich fantasy life, you have there.

  17. Sue r said,

    I just read the Glenn Greenwald article. Bit rich to blame America for the continuing terrorist attacks in Iraq/Afghanistan/Anywherestan. Is he saying that Saddam Hussein should have been left in place? I wasn’t in favour of the American invasion, but neither did I think that Hussein was a ‘good man’. If he wishes that Saddam and the Baathists still ruled Iraq, he should say so openly instead of dealing in innuendo. Are ‘Muslims’ so pathetic that they can’t act purposefully? Are they so weak-minded that they are mere pawns in other countries games? In that case, perhaps we should take over their countries for their own good. But, I doubt if Glenn Greenwald would agree with that.

    It is true that the Americans always make a big fuss about everything, that is their culture, just as our culture (I’m talking traditional British here) is to underplay things. To be stoical. I don’t see it as ethical to say ‘you have cause A pain, therefore, it is good that A causes you pain’. THat just perpetuates a cycle of pain-causing. Not something of which Marxists have traditionally been in favour.

    At the end of the article so determined is Glenn Greenwald to paint American society as degenerate, he tacks on a post-script about a Saudi national who was questioned by the police in the very early days of the investigation.

    I see in today’s papers (Saturday) there is a lot about drones being guided from Britain. I would feel more sympathy with the cause of the protestors,if they also denounced the indiscriminate market-place bombs planted in Afghanisatn/Pakistan/Iraq/Syria. They are also killing large numbers of Muslims too. But, aparently, ther is nothing wrong, or immoral about Muslims slaughtering Muslims, it’s only when non-Muslims raise their hand against Muslims that they get upset. Hypocrites.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Flying Rodent writes: “You’re saying that because you heard some people say some things, that bestows you with amazing psychic powers”

      Eh, no, Mr Rodent: because I heard what they said, I *know* what they said. Nothing psychic necessary. Geddit?

  18. SteveH said,

    The right wing nutters in the USA, alongside some Zionist elements were very quick to blame this on Muslims, the progressives were quick not to! So in the USA you have a political battle going on to win hearts and minds. The truth is beside the point. I think Obama reacted with bravery and dignity to be honest.

    The point of the article, the saturation coverage of a relatively minor act of terror in the great scheme of things with little or no coverage of acts of terror by imperialist forces is something the left should comment on. Truly disgusting.

    Do the US people deserve to be bombed, no more than Iraqis, Iranians, South Lebanese, tribal areas of Pakistan or Palestinians.

    You know something, I suspect Shiraz think all of the above deserve to be bombed, expect the US.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Main Shiraz posting by JD: “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.”

      Comment by SteveH: “You know something, I suspect Shiraz think all of the above deserve to be bombed, expect the US”


      Do *you* know something, SteveH: I think you should learn to read. And then learn to think. And until you do, just shut the fuck up.

      Once again, you’re banned from here in the interests of intellectual hygiene.

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