No sorry David, Glenn Greenwald is not wrong
It's interesting that David Atkins thinks that both Greenwald and Maher are wrong since I came down heavily on Greenwald's side just yesterday. I suppose he was being polite. But obviously David's screed requires a response from me since he could just as easily have put my name in the title of his post.
Let me first say right upfront that I don't dictate what anyone writes on this blog. It's a free forum and just because I might disagree with the thesis, in this case quite vehemently, I would never remove the piece simply on that basis. Free speech and clash of ideas and all that rot. But I do reserve the the right to respond when I think it's necessary. So.
Unfortunately, David chose to represent Greenwald's views as being some sort of simplistic "blaming" of all the world's ills on imperialism. That's not what he said. Indeed he said several times, in response to Maher's repeated insistence, that he did not believe that. He was referring specifically to the perennial question of "why they hate us." He believes that the beef stems from American foreign policy of the past six decades and not out of some religious hatred for The Great Satan. In other words, he doesn't think they hate us for our freedoms or because Allah told them so, but rather for our insistence on interfering in the rest of the world's business both economically and militarily. (Yes, that's "imperialism" and we are an empire, which is indisputable.)
I don't think it's surprising in the least that when people find themselves on the receiving end of massive technology and military might, they become angry and violent. Sure, they might turn to their God and religion for justification, but the truth is far more prosaic --- we dominate and kill them and they want revenge. It's the oldest story in the book.
The birth of widespread Muslim fundamentalist hatred for America stemmed from covert and overt support for dictatorships in the middle east, military interference in Afghanistan, Israel, the corruption of the oil patch states and their relationship to the richest most profligate nation in the world (us) and a desire for independence and self-rule. God's edicts fall far down the list of reasons.
Their fundamentalism gained power as much because of America's foreign policy actions as some desire for pre-modern society --- Islam was the only institution that provided power for the masses. Iran is the perfect example of how it happens: a dominant superpower decided to interfere in a nation's internal politics in order to control its resources, the church foments a revolution and the rest is history. There's a name for it and we all know it: blow-back. And it's happened so often now that it's astonishing that anyone's arguing the point anymore. We've seen it manifest in the middle east over decades starting in in Iran and Afghanistan to devastating effect and we have no idea how catastrophic our little Iraq adventure is going to turn out to be. I'm not even going to mention the consequences of our relationship with Israel, which plays into everything that happens in the region.
To me, it is simply indisputable that the United States' sometimes well-intentioned but often brutal and violent use of its global dominance as a military and economic power has resulted in the blow-back we call terrorism. Is it everything? Of course not and Greenwald was careful to say he didn't believe so either. It's economics, culture and yes, religion as well. All these factors play into this problem. But there's only one factor that Americans have any direct influence over --- the actions of their democratically elected government. So that's probably the smartest first step to try and correct, don't you think?
Do I think Islam, fundamentalist or otherwise, is unusually lethal as religions go? No, frankly, I don't. I think the embrace of fundamentalist Islam --- and especially terrorism --- among a sub-set of Muslims is driven mostly by the politics of the era, probably at the hands of opportunistic leaders who use it to keep their followers on their path to power. I think we can all agree that religion has often served that purpose, can't we? I certainly don't think these fundamentalist/extremist Muslims don't truly believe what they believe --- and like David, I find those beliefs very noxious --- but I honestly don't think they are the most important source of the problem of terrorism either.
Maher's facile assumption that Islam is the only religion that still embraces violence is very convenient, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if the shoes were on the other feet, Americans would have no problem adopting a religious justification for fighting back the Imperial Islamic Iranians. Christians haven't had the need to kill in the name of God for quite some time, but I'm sure they'd be able to find that old time religious mojo if the need arose.
Not that it's likely to happen:
If you think there are no consequences to taking on that dominant military role and then using your advanced weaponry to invade countries that didn't attack you, depose legitimately elected leaders, torture and indefinitely imprison innocent people etc, etc. then I think you're being naive. If it expects to be safe from any retribution, any nation that takes such power unto itself would be wise to go to great lengths to insure that none of those things happened in order to preserve moral authority and the goodwill of as many people on this globe as possible. And sadly, I don't think we've met that burden whether in Southeast Asia, Latin America or the middle east.
Maybe we just aren't cut out for this empire thing. Certainly the founders of this nation didn't intend for us to be one. And that's a problem, not just for them, but for us.
We are not to blame for all the world's ills and neither Greenwald or I are making that case. But we must acknowledge that this imperial project at least requires that we take our responsibility as citizens seriously enough to oversee our government's foreign policy with clear eyes and make our representatives and leadership project ideals and values that do not create more enemies than friends. We're a strong country, I guarantee we can take it.