The United States has intervened militarily in far too many Muslim-dominated countries for far too long. Unless you’re a neoconservative, this statement will hopefully resonate with you to a substantial degree. Were it not for the vast pools of oil beneath the palaces inhabited by the tinpot tyrants who rule the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the geopolitics of the region would arouse nary a concern from the U.S., save with respect to the security of Israel. As far as the U.S. would care, everything else would warrant all the attention of a sub-Saharan civil war. Instead, the U.S. has manacled itself to the region, and this has fomented resentment among the people there and furnished terrorist leaders with some fine recruiting material.
Acknowledging these realities is a necessary first step in talking honestly and coherently about U.S. foreign policy in the MENA region and South Asia — specifically Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there is another crucial element here, and that is radical Islam. Unfortunately, there are several well-known pundits who either ignore radical Islam outright as a source of terrorism in their commentaries, or explain it away as the inevitable byproduct of U.S. and Western foreign policy. Glenn Greenwald is one of these people, and his most recent screed against the U.S. perfectly illustrates the intellectual blindspot that afflicts a staggering number of liberals for whom it’s inconceivable that Islamism would be a problem regardless of U.S. policy.
In this respect, one passage in Greenwald’s latest article exemplifies the kind of dismissiveness we’ve grown accustomed to when it comes to tackling radical Islam. Speaking of Islam’s critics, such as Bill Maher, Greenwald states,
“There are no gay bars in Gaza, the obsessively anti-Islam polemicists proclaim—as though that… is the most important metric for judging a society. Reflecting their single-minded obsession with demonizing Muslims… they notably neglect to note thriving gay communities in places like Beirut and Istanbul, or the lack of them in Christian Uganda. Employing the defining tactic of bigotry, they love to highlight the worst behavior of individual Muslims as a means of attributing it to the group as a whole, while ignoring… the worst behavior of individual Jews and/or their own groups (they similarly cite the most extreme precepts of Islam while ignoring similarly extreme ones from Judaism).”
Greenwald’s disingenuousness is astounding. Maher could’ve replaced Gaza with almost any other region where Islam is the dominant religion, and his point still would’ve held true. While Greenwald can cite a couple of gay oases in a vast Islamic desert of homophobia, what does he think would happen to him and his husband were they to take up residence in a Muslim-majority country and live openly as gay men? In case he needs some assistance answering this question, here is a helpful map courtesy of the Pew Forum via The Washington Post:
As you can see, homosexual acts are illegal in most Muslim countries. In the 10 countries where Greenwald and his husband could be executed by the government just for being gay, all of them are Muslim-majority states. Lest he think these anti-gay laws don’t represent the will of most Muslims, here’s what else Pew discovered:
Even in Turkey and Lebanon — cities of which Greenwald cited as examples of “thriving” gay Meccas — 3% and 1% of Muslims respectively think homosexuality is morally acceptable. Lebanon has about 2.2 million Muslims, which means you could fill Yankee Stadium with the number of Lebanese Muslims who think homosexuality is morally acceptable. Twice. With 6,000 seats to spare.
Greenwald’s disingenousness doesn’t end with his grossly misleading remarks on gay rights in the Muslim world (there’s virtually no such thing). He proceeds to underhandedly accuse Islam’s critics of — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — bigotry, without actually calling anyone a bigot. He says, “Employing the defining tactic of bigotry, they love to highlight the worst behavior of individual Muslims as a means of attributing it to the group as a whole.”
This claim is just the latest example in a string of seemingly endless charges from critics of critics of Islam that they are lumping in all Muslims together. At this point it can be said that the more a person criticizes Islam as a religion, the probability of that person being accused of generalizing about all Muslims approaches one, even if that person specifically states that not all Muslims think or behave a certain way. This is because people like Greenwald either can’t or won’t differentiate between criticism of Islam as a religion and criticism of individual Muslims.
“Greenwald lives in a fantasy world,” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, “where facts don’t matter and the experiences of those suffering from religious extremism are viewed as tools to expand Western Imperalism.” Al Mutar is an Iraqi writer and activist living in the U.S., and is the founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement, and has been critical of Western liberals unwilling to recognize the failings of Islam. “Greenwald refuses to acknowledge any of that because it doesn’t fit his agenda of white guilt,” says Al Mutar.
Finally, Greenwald’s claim that Islam’s critics “cite the most extreme precepts of Islam while ignoring similarly extreme ones from Judaism” rings utterly hollow. It can be easily granted that the Torah is one of the worst, most sexist, homophobic, racist, xenophobic books ever written, or maybe even the most. But where on Yahweh’s green Earth are the Jews today who execute people for adultery, or blasphemy, or breaking the Sabbath, or practicing witchcraft? Where are the Jews who commit genocide or enslave people in the name of Judaism because their holy book tells them to? As soon as Greenwald points to these religiously-motivated killers and enslavers, I will be the first to express my horror and revulsion.
Greenwald’s narrow explanation for the root cause of terrorism also fails to account for the fact that the vast majority of victims who endure and suffer religiously-motivated terrorism and violence are in fact Muslims, especially women. The misogyny, homophobia, and sectarian violence that is so rampant from North Africa to the Middle East to Southeast Asia cannot be dismissed on the grounds of imperialism, and the ease with which mobs of thousands can be stirred to anger by the drawing of a cartoon or the burning of a Quran is a testament to the plain fact that the problems in countries where Islam is the dominant religion go well beyond Western policy.
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