This week Bill Maher had Glenn Greenwald on his show to discuss amongst other things, U.S. foreign policy, Benghazi and how backward Muslims are. On this last point – what I consider the most interesting discussion from the segment shown above – Greenwald makes three very good points: First, that violence in the name of religion is not unique, second, even if they are acting violently, our responsibility as Americans is not to focus on their backwards but to assume our share of the blame. I think that last point is crucial and is the one I try to live by, at least on this blog. My goal is to critique the societies and cultures to which I belong, not the ones for which I am either ignorant or simply have no ability to influence.
In this vein, I particularly agree with Greenwald’s when he writes in an older piece,
Beyond all that, I find extremely suspect the behavior of westerners like Harris (and Hitchens and Dawkins) who spend the bulk of their time condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the bulk of their time working against the sins of their own country. That’s particularly true of Americans, whose government has brought more violence, aggression, suffering, misery, and degradation to the world over the last decade than any other. Even if that weren’t true – and it is – spending one’s time as an American fixated on the sins of others is a morally dubious act, to put that generously, for reasons Noam Chomsky explained so perfectly:
“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it.
“So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.”
I, too, have written before about the hordes of American commentators whose favorite past-time is to lounge around pointing fingers at other nations, other governments, other populations, other religions, while spending relatively little time on their own. The reason this is particularly suspect and shoddy behavior from American commentators is that there are enormous amounts of violence and extremism and suffering which their government has unleashed and continues to unleash on the world. Indeed, much of that US violence is grounded in if not expressly justified by religion, including the aggressive attack on Iraq and steadfast support for Israeli aggression (to say nothing of the role Judaism plays in the decades-long oppression by the Israelis of Palestinians and all sorts of attacks on neighboring Arab and Muslim countries). Given the legion human rights violations from their own government, I find that Americans and westerners who spend the bulk of their energy on the crimes of others are usually cynically exploiting human rights concerns in service of a much different agenda.
Now with regards to Maher’s convenient assertion that Islam and its followers are uniquely backwards and inherently violent and thus incapable of living under democracy, citing the Arab Spring as his example, I would like to add the following: Continue reading