By Adam Levick
Recent posts I’ve written at CiF Watch about the Guardian’s appalling use of the term “political prisoner” to characterize violent Palestinian terrorists who murdered, or attempted to murder, innocent civilians proved warranted on these twoseparate occasions.
Our efforts to secure the definition of the term – which conventional wisdom understands as ‘those who are imprisoned for their political beliefs’ – represents an attempt to fight back against the manipulation of language in service of the extreme ideological agenda held by the Guardian and their fellow travelers.
Similarly, Glenn Greenwald’s ongoing war against the term “terrorism,” which most who are not influenced by the far-left understand broadly to refer to‘premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents,’ should be understood as a broader battle against common sense and moral sobriety.
Here is a passage from his latest post at ‘Comment is Free’, on April 22, entitled ‘Why is Boston “terrorism” but not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tuscon, and Columbine?:
The word “terrorism” is, at this point, one of the most potent in our political lexicon: it single-handedly ends debates, ratchets up fear levels, and justifies almost anything the government wants to do in its name. It’s hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the US “shock and awe” attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not. As usual, what terrorism really means in American discourse – its operational meaning – is: violence by Muslims against Americans and their allies.
These sentiments are repeated in writing over the years. Here’s another quote by Greenwald, in a postat Salon.com in 2011:
Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target.
Here, in a post at Salon.com from 2010, Greenwald spells out his vision of how “terrorism” was co-opted by a conspiratorial political agenda :
The term [terrorism] now has virtually nothing to do with the act itself and everything to do with the identity of the actor, especially his or her religious identity. It has really come to mean: “a Muslim who fights against or even expresses hostility towards the United States, Israel and their allies.”
If we’re really going to vest virtually unlimited power in the Government to do anything it wants to people they call “Terrorists”, we ought at least to have a common understanding of what the term means. But there is none. It’s just become a malleable, all-justifying term to allow the U.S. Government carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Muslims it does not like or who do not like it (i.e., The Terrorists). It’s really more of a hypnotic mantra than an actual word: its mere utterance causes the nation blindly to cheer on whatever is done against the Muslims who are so labeled.
Greenwald is attempting to essentially proscribe the word ‘terrorism’ as politically loaded, subjective, prejudiced. He argues that the urge we have to condemn these shocking and intentional attacks against innocent civilians with clear moral language is compromised by a deep-seated racial animus that undermines our use of the word.
First, it needs to be pointed out that Greenwald’s specific claim about the term’s “operational” use is easily refuted by the simple fact that the media: civil rights groups and federal authorities also refer to political violence not committed by Muslims or Islamist groups as “terrorism.”
Examples of groups the FBI labels terrorists, for instance, include violent anti-government right-wing groups, environmental and animal rights extremists, Sovereign citizens movements, anarchist groups, white supremacists – and even fringe extremists such as the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. All terrorists by popular standards and the same conventional wisdom.
Greenwald’s mantra that terrorism is only used in reference to Muslims has no basis in fact.
Moreover, in addition to Greenwald’s specious implicit claim that use of the term “terrorism” is racially loaded, there is another factor involved – one which those on the Guardian-style Left often try desperately to avoid acknowledging in their reports and commentaries: that while, of course, the overwhelming majority of Muslims aren’t extremists or terrorists, a full 70% of all deaths from terror attacks were at the hands of Sunni Muslims.
This disproportionate percentage of terrorist acts committed by those influenced by radical interpretations of Islam is undeniable. According to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, in 2011,Islamist (Sunni) extremists were responsible for 70% of the 12,533 deaths due to terrorism that year.
Not only are such facts concerning Islamist terrorism uncontroversial to most people, but, interestingly, even a large majority – 60% – of American Muslims polled by Pew Global in 2011 stated that they were either “Very” or “Somewhat” concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S. Would Greenwald suggest that even American Muslims are influenced by “Islamophobia”?
Ultimately, what Greenwald is, in effect, doing is attempting to stifle debate about the very real threat to our values posed by Islamist extremism – attempting to convince the overwhelming majority of non-ideological Americans to doubt what they know instinctively (and empirically) to be the truth.
As students of Soviet history, and communist movements more broadly, can attest to, propagandistic attempts to radically change politics by perverting ordinary language has a long and decidedly reactionary pedigree – one which genuine progressives need to furiously and passionately resist.
Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)