‘Terrorism’: Greenwald may have some fraction of a point…

April 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm (crime, drugs, Guardian, Guest post, islamism, language, mental health, murder, Pink Prosecco, religion, United States)

A new report claims that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are part of a 12-man sleeper cell - raising the possibility of further terror attacks on the East Coast of the United States

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

The acronym TL:DR might have been invented for the prolix Glenn Greenwald, but I’ve decided to try to answer Jim’s challenge at the end of his post of April 23 and see what Greenwald might be getting at here. Is it, as Jim was inclined to think, just ‘incoherent gibberish’?

To my slight annoyance, I think Greenwald may have some fraction of a point.  I suspect that, rather than having a well worked out and coherent definition of terrorism which we apply impartially to every possible case, many of us may decide whether or not something is a ‘terrorist’ act for less objective reasons.  And it can’t be denied that the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘terrorism’ are often associated together.

It is for this reason, Greenwald argues, that people have been quicker to use the word ‘terrorism’ about the Boston bombers than about, say, the Aurora cinema shooting. He cites Ali Abunimah’s argument that the ‘terrorist’ label may not be an accurate one:

“Abunimah wrote a superb analysis of whether the bombing fits the US government’s definition of “terrorism”, noting that “absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted ‘in furtherance of political or social objectives'” or that their alleged act was ‘intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.'”

But even Greenwald himself can’t avoid the evidence that at least one of the brothers was very likely influenced at some level by an ideology with clearly defined goals:

“All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism”

He tries to argue that just because someone is strongly Muslim that does not mean that the acts of violence he commits inevitably spring from his faith, asserting that “the mass murder spree by homosexual Andrew Cunanan was not evidence that homosexuality motivated the violence.”  This is a pretty weak argument because there is no pattern of terrorist acts committed in the name of homosexuality, no series of YouTube videos encouraging such crimes.

But Greenwald perhaps misses a trick here:

“It’s certainly possible that it will turn out that, if they are guilty, their prime motive was political or religious. But it’s also certainly possible that it wasn’t: that it was some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature.”

It may not be appropriate to draw such a clear distinction between mental illness on the one hand and politics and religion on the other. Alienated and unstable people may be attracted to extreme ideas or ideologies

A pretty obvious focus for a disturbed young man who happens to be Muslim is jihadist extremism.  Now if your focus is instead, say, the Knights Templar or fantasy role playing games and you go on a random killing spree, then no one is going to link your acts to videos preaching violence in the name of your pet obsession. So – to sum up – the unhinged actions of a deranged young Muslim are more likely to associate themselves with an ideology linked to several recent politically motivated and well organised acts of terror –and thus Greenwald may be correct, in a sense, in arguing that Muslims are more likely to be labelled terrorists.


  1. Visitor said,

    Surely the answer to Greenwald’s complaint is that the link is not between *religion* and terrorism, but between *politics* and terrorism. ie the difference between “islamism” as a modern political creed and islam as a longstanding religion. It’s not a difficult distinction to understand and one makes similar distinctions in other contexts all the time, but Greenwald et al refuse to entertain it.

  2. Sue r said,

    Just wrote a long reply but posted it under the Boston bombing thread. Don’t know hodw to transfer it, strictly limited computer skills! but if you are interested, do read it.
    [Here it is – JD]:

    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.

  3. Sue r said,

    I don’t know what the definition of ‘terrorism’ is according to the American Government. The Fort Hood shootings are classified as ‘workplace violence’ and not terrorism.

    • Babz Badasbab Rahman said,

      The (US) Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms defines terrorism as:

      “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”

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