yes, the Atlantic has an Islam problem

1. Of course I take the question of European anti-Semitism seriously. And taking that question seriously involves discussing it responsibly, and discussing it responsibly means meeting an evidentiary basis. It’s a mark of how unhealthy our conversation about this topic is that discussion of that evidentiary basis occurs under the shadow of threat, threat of being labeled anti-Semitic for asking whether a rise in anti-Semitism is or is not occurring. Whether or not Islamaphobia is real at all is a question that The Atlantic finds perfectly permissible to ask. I invite you to consider whether the magazine would ever even think to ask a similar question about anti-Semitism.  No conversation about these issues can possibly be constructive or worthwhile without acknowledging that casting aspersions on Islam is a permissible, mainstream activity for popular publications like The Atlantic in a way that it is not for Judaism. No conversation about these issues can possibly be constructive or worthwhile without acknowledging that the United States and the broader Western world has engaged in a ceaseless campaign of violence against the greater Muslim world for decades. If you write a piece in which you argue that Muslims are responsible for persecuting other groups without discussing the relentlessly campaign of invasion, manipulation, espionage, and slaughter that has been carried out against them by the most powerful governments in the world, you are not a journalist, you’re a propagandist.

2. I don’t expect Conor Friedersdorf to police his writing in order to avoid attracting the support of bigots, as the comments section of his piece demonstrates he surely did. I do  expect him to acknowledge that the mainstream media in general and his magazine in particular is perfectly willing to ask dark questions about the nature of Islam and whether it is a threat to modernity in a way that it would never ask of other religions, and I further expect him to acknowledge that this tendency has teeth, given the incredibly casual way with which this country treats Muslim life. Of course we have a responsibility to be vigilant about European anti-Semitism. That responsibility is universally acknowledged in the American press. Is there any similar unanimity when it comes to protecting the lives of innocent Muslims living in the tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan? To protecting the due process rights of Muslims rotting in Guantanamo? To protecting the human rights of Muslims in the Palestinian territories?

3. Along with many, I am of the opinion that the constant frivolous accusations of anti-Semitism that are used to discipline and exclude those who are critical of America’s foreign policy actually make it more difficult to identify and challenge actual anti-Semitism. Every time protest of Israel’s illegal, brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories is attacked as inherently anti-Semitic, our ability to identify genuine anti-Semitism is damaged. Every time that happens, we lose an opportunity to engage those who are not possessed by hatred of Jews but who are adamant in their criticism of Israel. Whether the priority should be to engage those who are capable of being engaged or to ritualistically shame and exclude those who do not toe the mainstream line on Israeli policy is up to the conscience of the individual.

4. Employing David Frum and Jeffrey Goldberg, giving them carte blanche to peddle calls for violence against the greater Muslim world, is not the same as the other kinds of failings I regularly criticize in the media. It’s not the same because Frum and Goldberg have blood on their hands. Through Goldberg’s horrendous failures to satisfy the most basic requirements of journalism, whether due to incompetence or careerism or political bias, he directly and umambiguously contributed to one of the greatest disasters in the history of American foreign policy, one which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Employing someone who admitted in his book to participating in the abuse of prisoners while working as a prison camp guard is not the same as publishing dumb things on education or the economy. Having a writer stake your magazine’s credibility on a cover story saying an attack on Iran by Israel was imminent, when there was every reason to suspect that the writer was being played by hardliners within the Israel government to make war seem inevitable, and then rehiring him is not the same as publishing people whose work I don’t like. Employing the man who coined the phrase “Axis of Evil,” and in so doing helping to ruin the best chance for detente between Iran and the United States in a generation, is not the same as publishing something I disagree with politically. Giving a man who was a key architect of the case for war on Iraq a platform to constantly troll of yet-more American war on Muslims targets is not the same as publishing something annoying. To reward people who have such a record of miserable failure and existential professional incompetence by giving them a platform of such prominence to continue to deepen their mistakes is something different entirely, and I will not withhold criticism of The Atlantic for fear of hurting the feelings of other writers it employs.

5. If you are a young journalist or political writer, and you review the post-Iraq careers of those in the media who were for or against the Iraq war, the message is powerful and incontrovertible: when the next war effort comes around, as it surely will, be for it rather than against it. For if you go person by person through the rolls, you will find that those who were on what we widely acknowledge to be the wrong side of the question have achieved vastly more career success in media than those who were right. Those who were wrong, terribly, disastrously wrong, have gone on to far greater fame and fortune than those who were right, in dominant majorities. They are, as a class, speaking from positions of the greatest mainstream authority or drowning in VC cash, with the black swan exception of Judith Miller simply serving to prove the rule. That’s true whether the writers in question engaged in the apology theatrics that briefly came into fashion. (Such “apologies” usually took the form of being “wrong but for the right reasons,” of course.) No publication better reflects this tendency to reward those who were unforgivably wrong about the biggest foreign policy mistake in decades than The Atlantic.

People ask why media never gets better. It never gets better because its members have no incentive to get better. When failure is rewarded and success ignored, the result is a series of broken institutions. At the airport, yesterday, I watched Wolf Blizter and his “terrorism expert” guest busily validate the case for ground war against ISIS. So: which way do you think the ambitious young strivers in our media will ultimately break?

6. How badly would you have to fail in your job as a journalist or opinion writer before The Atlantic would refuse to hire you? Just how badly do you have to fail before the publication says “no thanks”? This is a question that I have been asking for years and years. I find it a perfectly uncontroversial question given the hiring history of the magazine, and yet it is constantly dismissed as axe-grinding, as obsession, or as ad hominem. I will ask again: how badly does someone have to screw up that The Atlantic would refuse to hired them? Given, that is, that they are towing the right line to satisfy the magazine’s self-identified neoconservative owner. It’s not a rhetorical question.

7. Any honest consideration of The Atlantic‘s publishing history in the last fifteen years must admit that an inordinate number of their pieces take as their subject whether Muslims are uniquely violent, uniquely incompatible with modernity, uniquely deserving of suspicion, inherently bent towards extremism, or worthy of being considered the subject of bigotry and oppression. I am willing to discuss the magazine’s history on these matters but I am only willing to do so with those who are committed to doing so honestly. On the very day that Friedersdorf’s piece appeared, so did yet another Frum piece inveighing against the refusal to blame Islam for extremism, and so did Graeme Wood’s infinitely self-impressed piece taking the courageous, bold, contrarian stance that ISIS is bad, which has been widely interpreted as an argument for the inherent extremist tendencies of Muslims. (Update: read Jacob Bacharach on Wood’s historical illiteracy and absurd pretensions to daring.) The magazine occasionally publishes pieces that cut against this narrative, including some from Fridersdorf, for which I’m glad; it constantly publishes Muslim-trolling articles. You want to defend the magazine from these charges? Go ahead. But don’t tell me that I’m not identifying real aspects of the institutional and editorial culture of a publication that has given endless space to those who grind the axe against Islam, and in so doing helped normalize prejudices that are already mainstream.

103 responses

  1. I am wondering how #3 fits in with your recent comments on political correctness. You say “there is currently no theoretical or practical shared understanding on the left about when and how to intervene in a situation where you believe that the intensity of political criticism is unfair and not constructive” that is that much of the left relly has issues with deciding whether given claims of discrimination are frivolous. Why is it then that much of the left does have this ability when it comes to claims about antisemitism and Israel? Is it because claims of antisemitism about Israel are much more likely to be false than claims about discriminatation in America (but doesn’t this sound like a standard conservative response to claims about discrimination)?
    (P.S. I am drawing from http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2007/01/card-me.html and other things on that website)

    • There’s no contradiction implied by this comment, so I’m not sure how you’re unclear at how it fits.

  2. For if you go person by person through the rolls, you will find that those who were on what we widely acknowledge to be the wrong side of the question have achieved vastly more career success in media than those who were right. Those who were wrong, terribly, disastrously wrong, have gone on to far greater fame and fortune than those who were right, in dominant majorities.

    When you say stuff like this, one thing I would love is if you dropped in a list of names. It’s not that I personally don’t believe you, but I feel like sometimes you make claims like this without showing the evidence, while at the same time suggesting that the evidence is very easy to find.

    • Bill Kristol. Andrew Sullivan. Jeffrey Goldberg. Ezra Klein. Peter Beinart. Christopher Hitchens. Ross Douthat. Leon Wieseltier. Fred Hiatt. Lawrence Kaplan. Jacob Weisberg. William Saletan. Kenneth Pollack. Matt Yglesias. Bill Keller. Paul Berman. Michael Inatieff. Anne-Marie Slaughter. Jon Chait. And many, many more.

      Contrast with, say, Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Alexander Cockburn… John Judis is doing OK, I guess. So you tell me: who’s doing better?

      Frankly, the evidence is so overwhelming I’m amazed I have to justify it at all.

      • It’s not a question of not believing you or thinking the evidence isn’t out there. I don’t know, it’s…weird to have to argue in favor of supporting one’s claims with specifics? I generally assume you know your stuff, but not all of us who read you follow this stuff as closely as you do; and when I get the sense you could spit out a list of names in three minutes or less, it’s nice to have the information. Thanks.

      • I agree with virtually the entire entry. It needs to be said.

        I do wonder if you have the cause and effect correct when it comes to being for or against the Iraq War. I’m not sure that the evidence supports the idea that being against the War was actually detrimental to one’s career per say. I mean virtually every media outlet, every writer and every politician was beating the drum for war. I really felt our entire country had lost it’s mind at the time. I saw one interview with Hans Blix done by Charlie Rose, who of course did his considered best to not have an opinion, and I could tell that the pro-war case was complete bullshit.

        However, to prove that that one issue made or broke anyone’s career, you’d have to have more examples of media players who came out against it and suffered because of their opinion. Ralph Nader was more of an unsuccessful politician than a member of the media by the time of 2002-03. Michael Moore did just fine with his next two movies about health care and corruption after the case for war had unraveled among the public at large. It’s hard to argue his career suffered, and in fact, among those of us who opposed the war – making such a well articulated mainstream film about it probably helped his stock rise in 2004.

        I do agree with your larger point that the media decides on a narrative. Very serious adults decide what the correct point of view is, and that is almost always pro-war when it comes to Muslims. And there is zero price to be paid when they are profoundly wrong about everything. To the extent that the Iraq War is just an example of this, I agree completely – so perhaps I’m misreading what you meant.

  3. So I’m really unclear: Are you denying that anti-semitism in Europe is on the rise? That The Atlantic made that up?

    • I’m denying that a series of anecdotes that are not at all assembled into a compelling narrative and which are unsupported by responsible data represents a meaningful argument for the same. I am also claiming that, contrary to your implication, the notion that anti-Semitism is increasing should simply be assumed at all times without providing evidence. I am finally claiming that the idea that anti-Semitism must always be considered to be on the rise, lest we be accused of anti-Semitism ourselves, is pernicious and unhelpful.

      Does that clarify things for you?

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        disemvoweled for baseless anti-Semitism charge

  4. This is just a baldfaced lie from the Bacharach piece: “Graeme Wood doesn’t appear to hesitate before he informs us that ISIS’s allusions to the renewed practice of slavery represent a truer interpretation of Islam than that of the 1.6 billion other Muslims who say that this is not the case.”

    What Wood says is that ISIS claims justification by actual lines of Islamic thought (however crazy) dating back to the beginning of the religion, and therefore it is nonsensical to call it “un-Islamic” even though they are in conflict with the vast majority of present Muslims. The asshole who assassinated Rabin was not “un-Jewish” even though the vast majority of modern Jews reject his murderous beliefs. As Reza Aslan tweeted (and Wood re-tweeted), “ppl intentionally misreading @gcaw @TheAtlantic piece, which rightly says ISIS motivated by Islam, to mean Islam is responsible for ISIS.” https://twitter.com/rezaaslan/status/568064639247847425.

    I think Wood is a bit too credulous about whether the ISIS leadership (as opposed to the foot soldiers) actually believe the medieval crap rather than using it as a justification for political power, and therefore would be happy to abandon and/or modulate some of it as necessary to expand or protect their power. But most of the criticisms of the piece I’ve seen either flat misrepresent what he wrote or are reading it very uncharitably to suggest that blames Islam for ISIS.

    • Of course ISIS believes it. And I’d agree with Wood that they’re most likely quite correct about what ‘true Islam’ requires than most hippy-dippy ‘tolerant’ Muslims. If your religion was founded by a devil-inspired mass murderer, you can’t expect it to be particularly tolerant.

      I’ve always been a fan of what Manuel Palaiologos said at the court of the Sultan: “Show me just what Muhammed brought that was new, and I will show you only things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

        • Whoah, whoah- ban who you want, but determining the reality of the devil is a bit above your pay grade, I think.

          • You’re entitled to believe what you want. Personally, I don’t believe that a man with horns and a pitch fork lives in the center of the earth. I don’t need everyone to agree, but I don’t know how to have a conversation about real political events that are justified by appeals to the devil.

        • 1) Did you? Apparently the ban didn’t work. Try again.

          2) Whate evidence do you have of that remarkable claim? I love the ‘of course’, by the way.

          • The “remarkable claim” is that there is a man in red pajamas who lives in a mystical world of fire at the center of the world where he is engaged in the vocation of eternally poking the unchurched dead with his pointy little pitchfork. Please provide evidence to back this assertion. Preferably photographic evidence.

            By the way, in saying the devil is not real (“of course”) Mr. DeBoer is denying not just a tenet your religion, but of the religion you’re so dead-set against, which should make you happy.

          • The only devil I believe in is Leviathan, but your argument would probably go over better if you didn’t jump straight to dismissal via mockery, rather than the intellectual rejection of the supernatural.

          • Freddie, it’s typical of secular cultural liberals that you focus on things like the center of the earth and pitchforks.

            I believe in the existence of the devil, as a supernatural power of evil. I think that’s the only way one can make sense of human history, and of the existence of evil. No clue what He looks like, though.

      • You are right, Islam is inherently evil- it is right there in the Koran. Justification of horrific murder and oppression.
        “As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When Allah hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that Allah has given you.”
        “The people of Syria must bear the consequences of their guilt because they rebelled against their God. They will be killed by an invading army, their little ones dashed to death against the ground, their pregnant women ripped open by swords.”
        “Suppose a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they discipline him. In such cases, the father and mother must take the son before the leaders of the town. They must declare: ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey.’ Then all the men of the town must stone him to death.”
        “While the Prophet was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. “Go up baldhead,” they shouted. The Prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of Allah. Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces.”
        How can anyone support a religion based of a booked filled with such evil?
        Straight from the Koran is the justification of rape, murder, infanticide and slavery.

        Oh wait… those are all bible quotes!

        • Um, you’re rather making my point for me. You do realize that one of the (innumerable) things that makes Christianity superior to Islam is that Christianity has abrogated the Mosaic Law, and Islam hasn’t? Most of the reason Islam sucks today is precisely because they’ve imported the Old Testament worldview and hold that it is still in effect.

          • I focus on the popular depiction of the Devil because the existence of an actual, physical being in an actual physical location would be a falsifiable proposition. But have it your way: Please provide evidence for the existence of the supernatural. Photographic evidence, preferably.

            There is no burden of proof that must be met to assume the nonexistence of things for which no evidence is present.

          • Not that it’s without some stiff competition, but this may be the stupidest thing you’ve said yet. The “Mosaic Law” that was abrogated comprised rites like circumcision (still far from unheard of in the Christian world). The bloodthirst and aggression of the Old Testament was embraced early on by organized mainstream Christianity as any reading of European history will show you. It wasn’t just tolerated: it was lauded; it was orthodox. Post-Reformation, the Protestant leadership promoted & performed acts of equal violence. In recent years, conservative pundits have literally called for a Crusade— hardly a reference to the Old Testament—and the policies for which they were propagandizing resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Christianity never has abrogated the violence that is its legacy: only humanism has done that; only humanism ever will; and only humanism can confront Islam in a way that will slow the cycle of violence.

    • “Wood calls slavery truly Islamic” = accurate.
      “Wood calls slavery more truly Islamic” = just a baldfaced lie.

      I think you’re overstating the case a bit.

  5. I argued pretty strongly on behalf of Steven Salaita when I felt that charges of anti-Semitism were being used in an effort to bully people who thought the firing was unjustified, and do think there is a lot of conflation between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

    That said, I thought Graeme Wood’s piece was pretty good, and the fact that the only thing you can say bad about it is that the author is “infinitely self-impressed” and then a guilt-by-association thing where you link to the fact that some people are using it on Twitter as evidence that the Mooslims are bad. Would appreciate hearing what exactly you think is wrong with that article that doesn’t rely on people projecting their own anti-Islam first principles onto it.

  6. Europe’s big Muslim problem is that they aren’t demanding that they ether A) stop behaving like savages and adapt to the norms of Christian civilization, or B) leave.

      • Well, obviously, I’d prefer that all Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc. converted to Christianity., and I think churches should make stronger efforts to convert them.

        Failing that, I don’t care if you want to worship Allah, Ganesha, or Prince Phillip, but you’re expected to behave in a civilized manner.

      • Certainly those norms include not being so crass as to actually *videotape* your burning of people to death.

        • How about not burning them to death to begin with.

          Oh whoops, the immaculate and perfect Muhammad did that himself.

          • As did the Pope and his organization centuries later. As did the US government by the thousands in Vietnam over a millennium later. As did the US government by the tens and hundreds of thousands in Germany and Japan. I mean if you are going to have a standard, at least apply it equally.

            That said, I’m not sure who exactly is arguing that ISIS isn’t a terrible government? It’s certainly quite possible that ISIS is a terrible government, yet the Western world, particularly the United States is also doing horrible things in that part of the world as well. ISIS did not form in a vacuum.

            It’s also quite possible that fundamentalist views about religion, or even better about ideology in general, are a huge problem for the world. At the same it is quite possible that the governments with the means and motivation to devalue human life that isn’t their own to the point of apartheid in Israel and endless wars of choice by the United States is also a huge problem for the world. None of this is mutually exclusive. In fact, it seems to me that one reinforces the other when it comes to groups like ISIS and governments like the US and Israel.

  7. I’m denying that a series of anecdotes that are not at all assembled into a compelling narrative and which are unsupported by responsible data represents a meaningful argument for the same. I am also claiming that, contrary to your implication, the notion that anti-Semitism is increasing should simply be assumed at all times without providing evidence.

    Freddie, the standard of proof you demand when it comes to trends or patterns of anti Semitism is totally out of whack with the standard of proof you require to accept trends with most other forms of bigotry.

    Consider that almost all jews in France who wear yarmulkas stopped wearing them in public out of fear of being attacked. This isn’t a survey, or a couple of anecdotes, this is a real step undertaken by jews in France in order to adjust to their current reality of violence and harassment. Think about how bad it would have to get for, say, muslims in the u.s. before they collectively decided to stop wearing their hijabs in public.

    But if you need “responsible” evidence, there’s this: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/anti-semitic-violence-has-very-different-roots-us-and-europe

    I have no issues with an honest discussion on the topic, but im not certain which piece of the narrative youre suggesting isn’t true.

    • Can I reiterate that I explicitly and specifically criticized Friedersdorf for claiming that an uptick in anti-Semitism was real, and then turning around and demurring in the final paragraph?

      • You certainly kept the explicit text of your posts to the subject of Friedersdorf’s demurral, but the thinly-veiled implication has been, in both pieces, that such an uptick was not, in fact, occurring. The Guardian piece was almost entirely a single anecdote – exactly the kind of incoherence you rightly decry in Friedersdorf’s piece – supported by a single, obsolete data point. It seems strange to unload a full broadside on this one post for not doing the research to ensure the writer doesn’t fall prey to his preconceived notions and then turn around and fall into the same exact trap.

        Especially for a writer like Conor Friedersdorf! Barely a month ago his headline was “Islamophobia is not a myth”: theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/01/islamophobia-is-not-a-myth/384502/
        Does he need to embed links to that post, his stellar reporting on the FBI’s surveillance of Muslims, and Goldberg’s “striking Iran” story at the top of all his pieces?

        • This line of criticism has been asked and answered; Friedersdorf made an explicit, positive claim, in an essay devoted entirely to that claim, failed to adequately defend it, and then withdrew it in the last paragraph.

  8. >Do the norms of Christian civilization involve, say, being Christian?

    Was that question rhetorical? Because it’s certainly not trivial. The cultural transformation that centuries of Roman Catholicism, its laws, and its deliberate social engineering put western Europe through is difficult to overstate. Christianity no longer holds that sort of legal authority, but it still plays a strong role in defining the limits of acceptable ideas.

    So, no, the norms of Western civilization don’t demand that you be Christian, merely that you mostly think like you were one.

    • It works better if they are Christians though.

      Honestly, European countries should just pay Muslims to leave. It would be a win win situation for everyone.

        • We would pay them plenty of money to leave, so it would be voluntary. I’d also pay Asians and Indians to leave, frankly. Sounds likes good deal to me.

  9. I have no comment about Goldberg as a reporter since I don’t know enough of his work, but I read his book and thought it an excellent insider’s account of modern Israel. It’s a bit self flattering as any such account probably would be, but I think very valuable nonetheless. If we ban such people from employment, how many insiders would be willing to tell us their stories?

  10. Whenever people like Hector demand that others adhere to “modern, Christian norms” I always wonder if invading countries and using drones to target civilians is what they mean by Christian.

    Go ahead and tell me that drone strikes are necessary to preserve American safety, that certain acts of violence save lives. Then…try to figure how that utilitarian use of force fits with anything in the Gospels.

    • Matthew 2?

      >”When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”

  11. That Jacob Bacharach piece is terrible. It has absolutely nothing to say about what the article is actually doing, describing the rise and beliefs of ISIS, but is instead saying it is purely war apologia (Wood actively mentions how ISIS desires a western invasion and how such a thing would be playing into their narrative, in the piece itself) and then reads into it under this predetermined conclusion.

    My personal favorite was that the inclusion of the phrase “even dentistry” is apparently not what most people would read it as – that these beliefs can even play into situations in which you’d think they would have no opinion either way – but is instead the author trying to get us ready for war.

    This response has made me notably less skeptical of the Wood piece.

    • In fact, Bacharach’s piece recognize’s Wood’s extreme lack of historical understanding, his moral confusion, and his ham-handed attempts to inspire fear, a sure sign of journalistic vulgarity.

      This response has made me notably less skeptical of the Wood piece.

      That is a profoundly stupid way to operate in the world, regardless of whether Wood is substantially right or wrong.

      • What is the valuable historical correction that Bacharach offers? Non-sequiturs like the fact that the Branch Davidians were not an offshoot of an existing religious tradition? Or maybe the remarkable claim that theological differences did not lead to massive war and violence in European history because “it’s complicated”? Really? Bacharach offers nothing but a snarky attitude, a couple bald mischaracterizations of wood’s piece and an extremely thin complaint about Wood’s tone and style. It’s exactly the type of moral preening and social signaling gesture pretending to be an argument that you’d correctly criticize if it were on any other issue.

        • The correction that Hitler and Orwell are invoked constantly by our journalist class to undertake the requisite “the current Big Bad is the worst Big Bad of all time”? That all historical villains have been caused by the confluence of complex socioeconomic conditions, most certainly including ISIS? That there are threats in the world today that don’t receive this kind of schlongform treatment, because those threats aren’t Muslim?

          • Others have responded below, but your harping on the Hitler/Orwell stuff shows that you read a piece that exists in your head and not the actual piece. Second, the fact that all historical conflicts have a complex array of causes does not mean that violent maniacs historically (including Christians), and ISIS today, have not taken inspiration from, and justified themselves by, religion. That’s so fucking obvious it’s hard to imagine anyone would dispute it. Your last point is just a complaint that the author did not write the exact piece you wanted to read. So it goes. These are not evidence of Wood’s “historical illiteracy” (your words in the OP). These are not even examples of actual errors (or alleged errors). These are the equivalent of you not liking the cut of Wood’s jib.

          • Second, the fact that all historical conflicts have a complex array of causes does not mean that violent maniacs historically (including Christians), and ISIS today, have not taken inspiration from, and justified themselves by, religion.

            So? What is the purpose of this analysis? For what reason and to what end? How does it guide action? How does it change opinion? How does it dictate how to meet the threat? The only way this changes anything is to give yet more fuel to those who would tar all Muslims with association with ISIS, which is both precisely the result the piece has had and what Wood surely knew would happen. I still do not understand what this piece is supposed to reveal, other than to tell people things they already know and things they want to hear.

            That’s so fucking obvious it’s hard to imagine anyone would dispute it.

            Indeed. Exactly so. It is indeed obvious. So obvious that no one disputes that ISIS considers themselves a religious force. So what? How does that observation substantially change the actual facts on the ground? And why are you and others lauding Wood for his supposed courage in stating something you yourself see as plainly obvious?

            Every observation Wood makes is to the obvious and to the way that his audience wants to see the world. Every one he doesn’t make is the one that we actually need to hear.

          • As i say below, the invocation of Orwell is the author’s self flattery, nothing more.

            That all historical villains have been caused by the confluence of complex socioeconomic conditions is unremarkable, given that Bacharach does almost nothing to say what those socioeconomic conditions might be, or why they invalidate Woods piece. Saying “its more complex than that” is a (mostly valueless) complaint that you could lodge against any argument. Without more, it is meaningless. Go back and reread any article you have ever written, is “its more complex than that” true? Probably. Would you accept it as a rebuttal? Not without something more.

            Likewise the “there are bigger threats” argument. Would you accept that as a rebuttal of some issue that concerns you? That something isnt the biggest issue we face doesnt make it unimportant.

      • I think your fondness of that piece has more to do with your distaste of the Wood piece than anything else. Anon is right, Bacharach does little to refute the actual claims made by Wood, and what little refutation he does, he does badly.

        Its hard to pick just one example of his clownish “logic”, but ill go with this:

        Bacharach picks the following quote from woods:

        “The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest.”

        Not only does the quote run counter to Bacharach’s thesis, that Woods is trying to scare his readers into fighting “a primitive evil which must be ultimately eradicated, or else.” (Bacharach’s words), but his response is incoherent:

        “Which renders it rather lesser in either its ideological import or its historical significance or, God knows, even its “humanitarian cost” than the Third Reich, and I’m reminded, as I so often am when I read alarmist Anglo-American narratives of the rise of this or that existential enemy of the ever-beleaguered yet somehow still-standing West, of the charmingly sincere Charlotte York of Sex and the City:”

        Wow, not as significant as the Nazis? And following that up with a Sex and the City quote? How does any of that have anything to do with anything? Especially considering that the only reason Wood brings up Hitler or Orwell at all is to note that he (Wood) like Orwell doesnt find the ISIS people that objectionable.

        • “I think your fondness of that piece has more to do with your distaste of the Wood piece than anything else.”

          Perhaps.

          “Especially considering that the only reason Wood brings up Hitler or Orwell at all is to note that he (Wood) like Orwell doesnt find the ISIS people that objectionable.”

          Personally, I’m reminded of Mary McCarthy’s response to Lionel Abed’s claim that in Arendt, which I learned of from Corey Robin. Abed had written, “Eichmann is aesthetically palatable, and his victims are aesthetically repulsive.” McCarthy responded: “This is more of a judgment of Abel than of Miss Arendt: reading her book, he liked Eichmann better than the Jews who died in the crematoriums. Each to his own taste. It was not my impression.”

          • Yea, i can see that. Still to be fair (to Orwell, not Wood) having the clarity of thought and intellectual honesty to say “I know i should hate this guy, but i dont” is commendable. Thats not an easy position to take.

            Wood on the other hand is taking the much easier, and more fashionable position of “im just like Orwell”. No, Wood, you arent.

          • Orwell is making the point that unlike PC cultural liberals, at least the men of ISIS aren’t wusses.

  12. That Bacharach piece is offensively stupid. He takes a long, nuanced essay and attacks it in a handful of places by trying to claim absurdities where there are none, and then basically says “You get the drift. Remember about the fake WMD’s”.

    I mean, seriously, on a rhetorical level, how are these moves valid?

    1) The Zetas are as violent and dangerous as ISIS but we don’t explain *them* by their religion.
    2) Orwell wasn’t actually a deep thinker, so we can dismiss an observation about Hitler’s charismatic appeal, especially since it was before the Blitz.
    3) ISIS doesn’t control as much territory as Nazi Germany and hasn’t killed as many people so the previous observation was absurd.
    4) Sex and the City made a joke about how talking about the Holocaust ruins things, so 2) and 3) were just bad form.
    5) Comparing ISIS to David Koresh is inaccurate because the Seventh Day Adventists aren’t mainstream Christians.
    6) Comparing the conflict in Syria to the wars of the Reformation is inaccurate because there were political and economic forces involved back then.

    And everything else is just Tu quoque.

    • It’s not at all stupid to say a) that the West is in the constant habit of hyping threats from the Muslim world, far beyond the actual danger posed by them, b) that analogies to Hitler and Orwell are a sure sign of this type of historical chest beating, c) that there are comparable threats in the world that are largely ignored by the US media and government because they don’t fit into a clash of civilizations narrative, and d) that the way in which we discuss whether religion causes bad behavior is entirely inconsistent and arbitrary.

      Oh, and the pose, adopted both in the piece and in his media appearances since, that his position is one of daring and risk, when in fact it’s exactly what our media and government want to hear.

      • It is stupid when the author you mean to criticism for a (that the West is in the constant habit of hyping threats from the Muslim world, far beyond the actual danger posed by them) specifically says:

        “The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest.”

        Which, to my reading is Wood saying that the Muslim threat in this case is not as dangerous to the US as is commonly claimed.

        And b (that analogies to Hitler and Orwell are a sure sign of this type of historical chest beating) is a reference to the author’s views (he sees himself as Orwell not being able to condemn Hitler). And in any event, are we now unable to reference Hitler or Nazism at all lest we offend someone’s rhetorical sensibilites?

        And c (that there are comparable threats in the world that are largely ignored by the US media and government because they don’t fit into a clash of civilizations narrative). So an article about ISIS is wrong because it doesnt spend time surveying all the other threats to the US? Do you do that? When you write an article about, say, the NYPD killing black people do you write pages and pages about all the other threats to American society that might be comparable or worse? Would you accept that as a refutation? That some other threat/problem/issue exists?

        • That that Wood checks his ass in an aside to say that the threat isn’t that great does not excuse the fact that his entire piece spends thousands of words practically begging readers to draw the opposite conclusion.

          • I disagree. Wood is trying to get his readers to the conclusion that ISIS is highly religious and abhorrent to the west, but not necessarily a threat. Consider the following, which was large, bolded text in the Alantic:

            “Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it appears the best of bad military options.”

            Or this:

            “And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?”

            Hardly the words of someone trying to sell ISIS as an existential threat, in my opinion.

      • Those are reasonable criticisms but he didn’t argue those points. He threw out a bunch of limited counter examples that might vaguely lead you to those points, *if* he had put any weight behind them.

        Just to take the first “argument”, are ISIS and the Sinaloa cartel the same kind of organization? Do we understand the role that religious fatalism plays in the brutality of the cartel enforcers? More importantly, is it possible that people in Mexico could be motivated by one set of factors and people in the Middle East by another? No, all we get is the one-off zinger about candles.

        Below you wonder about the possible purpose for the Wood article. IMO one of the main purposes of the Wood article is to argue that ISIS is fundamentally different from the Muslim Brotherhood or even al-Qaeda in that *those* organizations are motivated by political considerations. You ask, why does this need to be said, since it’s ‘obvious’? First of all, it hasn’t been obvious up until very recently, which is why ISIS seemingly came out of nowhere. ISIS behaves in fundamentally different ways from the other groups that the US has been in conflict with for the last 10 years. They hold territory even when it exposes them to bombing; they fight for symbolic territory like Kobane at great cost; they perform spectacles like burning people alive that alienate other Muslims in the Middle East; they promote immigration to the caliphate rather than lone wolf attacks. All of these things are peculiar when viewed from a straightforwardly political or military perspective. So this “schlongform” is making the case that, well, this isn’t just politics or socioeconomics in religious garb.

        Maybe that’s a boring point. Or maybe it’s true but inconvenient, or you should only say it in private, or something. But I don’t see how it’s not valid on its face. To be dissuaded I would need to hear a good counterargument. Which the Bacharach piece is so not.

  13. “I don’t expect Conor Friedersdorf to police his writing in order to avoid attracting the support of bigots, as the comments section of his piece demonstrates he surely did.”

    Conor styles himself a Libertarian and one thing I’ve noted over the years is that wherever one finds Libertarians there are sure to be neo-Confederate bigots lurking nearby. It’s not fair to say that all Libertarians are neo-Confederates; however, the two camps have always been a bit too chummy for my comfort. We have Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and Murray Rothbard to thank for this: in the early ’90s they opened the doors of the Libertarian movement to the bigots with their “outreach to the rednecks” project.

    I like Conor’s writing, but the support of bigots simply comes with calling oneself a Libertarian.

    • So its not fair to Libertarians are neo-Confederates, but Libertarians are neo-Confederates? Nice.

      Here is the thing, you cant stop someone from believing sort of what you believe and so if you are going to damn a line of thinking or system of belief based on the fact that some shit-head somewhere kind of agrees with you and is a shit-head, then we can just stop thinking altogether because every belief system is going to have its idiot hangers on.

        • Freddie, when it comes to Libertarians, it goes beyond dumb (or bigoted) people randomly glomming onto someone’s arguments. In the case of Libertarians, the bigots were explicitly invited to the party by Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard.

          I stress this, because occasionally you will meet people on the Left who think they can form an alliance with Libertarians. Big, big mistake.

          • In this case the dumb people are Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. Like most thinkers, they are capable of both deep insight and deep stupidity.

            Does an ill-conceived political move from decades ago really invalidate everything any Libertarian has ever believed, or is it just really convenient to tar your opponents with the racism brush based on the actions of a few?

      • My point is that Libertarians and neo-Confederates have been kissing cousins ever since Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and Murray Rothbard launched their “outreach to the rednecks” project. At best, Libertarians will offer a perfunctory disavowal of neo-Confederate bigots.

        • Yea, thats just another way of saying exactly what you just said, that even though you understand that neo-Confederate support of Libertarian ideas doesnt really damn Libertarians, you would really like to damn Libertarians due to the support of neo-Confederates.

          Replace “Libertarian” with “Left or Liberal” and “neo-Confederates” with “Marxist” and you have the equivalent (and equally stupid) argument against leftism.

          • No, I damn Libertarians for explicitly pandering to bigots to gain their support.

            Libertarians and neo-Confederates are natural allies because they share an intense animosity toward government in general, and the federal government in particular. There may be Libertarians whose animosity toward the government does not stem from the historical grievances of some Southern whites; however, Libertarians have been willing on more than one occasion to pander to those grievances to further their ends.

            There can be no alliance between Libertarians and the Left because Libertarians care about little more than property rights. They certainly don’t share the Left’s concern for human rights. Currently, Libertarians are making noises over abuses of civil liberties by police and other government actors; however, that is nothing more than a ploy to stir up animosity toward the government.

          • When I hear someone babble about human rights, I usualky want to send them to a reeducation camp.

          • I can see there is no real point in arguing with you as you are determined to believe in some deep connection between Libertarians and bigots despite the evidence being quite thin (the actions from several decades ago of a few people who hold libertarian beliefs is hardly some general trend) and despite the fact that even if those particular libertarians very much held that belief (which, judging from the fact that the only evidence you site is some obscure motions from the ’80s is very much in doubt) that says nothing about all libertarians, or libertarian thought.

            I especially like the part where you claim that libertarian concerns about civil liberties (Reason.com has been covering this issue for a long time now) is actually just to foment dissent. It takes a special kind of intellect to claim that people who explicitly state their commitment to liberty, heck, whos world view is *defined* by the supremacy of personal liberty, arent actually concerned with civil liberty because Lew Rockwell did some shit decades ago. Glad to see you are up to the task.

            You are right about one thing, though. there can be no alliance between Libertarians and the Left because far too many people, such as yourself, are more concerned with tribal identities than actually changing anything about society.

  14. I agree with most of the analysis presented by Bacharach , especially the point that Wood’s piece is insufferably self-congratulatory with its tone of supposedly ‘speaking truth to power’. His analysis fits in very, very well with a drumbeat of rhetoric that presents ISIS as an incomprehensible alien entity.

    Where I do have a criticism lies with Bacharach’s analysis of where the real motivations of ISIS lie. At the risk of oversimplifying, Bacharach proposes that these groups are driven by anger that arises from an anti-imperialist impulse in response to the unjustified war in Iraq, not primarily by religious fervor. In particular:

    “But I happen to remember that, among other recent events, the United States and a few pals went in and smashed Iraq to smithereens, then warehoused a lot of its very angry young men in hasty prisons, out of which came the kernel of any number of currently belligerent groups, including ISIS.”

    And fair enough; such an experience is bound to create a powerful backlash. But I think there’s a tendency on the left (and I include myself in the category) to see religious motivations as window dressing or affectation; as being somehow less genuine or less real than economic drives. Some of this comes good old superstructure theory, but some of it comes, I would say, from a dearth of understanding on the left about religious belief. Leftists on the whole are a secular bunch, and I think getting into the mindset of a true believer is something that comes naturally to comparatively few of us. People, by the billions, really do believe in religion and really will take actions based on religious tenets. Religious radicalism is not just a useful vehicle for the expression of anti-imperialist or economic sentiments. It’s easy to imagine that, without politicized Islamism, there would be equally militant groups operating in Iraq right now on nationalist, traditionalist, or even communist/radical lines instead, but I’m just not sure that’s true. Sometimes when people say “God wills it” they actually don’t mean “This will resolve the underlying economic injustice that’s been inflicted on me by the neoliberal system of oppression.”

    I don’t say any of this to deny that there have been and continue to be real and egregious crimes committed by the West against the Muslim world; there clearly have been. Likewise I don’t mean to necessarily accuse Bacharach (or Freddie) of arguing that religion is completely irrelevant; I don’t think they are. But I think the one takeaway from Wood’s piece that I really do agree with is the argument that theological and religious considerations matter substantively. The impulse to dismiss those considerations as purely derivative from economic concerns (or worse, to fall on the tired and unhelpful ‘opiate of the masses’ cliche) is one I think the left should resist.

    • I think it certainly is the case that religious and other motivations are the drivers of many of the brutal people in the world. What’s most important to keep in mind, though, is that the most powerful actors in a given situation bear the greatest responsibility for its contours. If brutal actors like ISIS are finding traction in the Muslim world the first place to look for a cause is the relentless brutality the West has visited there, occasionally through direct intervention but mostly through proxies. That is to say, people with a sociopathic interpretation of religion will always exist, but their ability to fill a social vacuum will be proportional to the size of the vacuum that the powerful create.

      • Definitely; and I think the dearth of public responsibility the US has taken says a lot (none of it good) about how we choose to approach the effects of our global policies. But the point I was trying to make was less about responsibility for ISIS’ atrocities and more about decoupling religious motivations from economic/anti-imperial motivations. I think we need to confront the raw, ideological appeal that ISIS and other fundamentalist movements hold in and of themselves. The left can, and should, offer economic relief and physical assistance against the depredations of global capital. But if we don’t create a higher narrative of dignity and purpose (something that’s extremely difficult, I’ll be the first to admit), I think we will nonetheless see young men living otherwise comfortable lives streaming for the black flags. Capitalism preys both on human bodies and human souls, and it’s the duty of the left to solve both of those problems. Bread and roses, and all that.

  15. the constant frivolous accusations of anti-Semitism that are used to discipline and exclude those who are critical of America’s foreign policy actually make it more difficult to identify and challenge actual anti-Semitism.

    Commenter #1 raised a good response to this, and I’m sorry to see you didn’t really engage.

    Perhaps you should consider that it might not be your place, as a non-Jew, to declare what is real anti-Semitism when directed against Jews and what isn’t. The projection of “constant” bad faith and dishonesty onto so many Jews seems hardly any different from the right-wing mantra that black people are just “race hustlers” who “play the race card” all the time. The link from David Schraub is very relevant as well.

    What if all of these Jews really aren’t lying in a conspiratorial ploy to stifle discussion? And if they’re not, what does it say about the people who accused them of doing so?

    • 1. In fact very many of the people who make these accusations are not themselves Jews, and I never suggested they were, so please don’t act as if I did.

      2. The large majority of people who make the identical claim to mine are themselves Jews.

      3. Your rule is totally incompatible with the work of a liberal democracy, particularly since Israel’s self-appointed advocates constantly make anti-Semitism a matter of public debate. As long as they put it on the table, you can’t insist that others are not capable of discussing it.

    • Suppose your interlocutor is a Jew who says that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to antisemitism. Are there any terms under which the conversation can proceed if your own position is that Israel is deserving of some criticism?

      • Every Jew I’ve ever known and every Israeli author or columnist I’ve ever read, running the full gamut of all perspectives of Zionism, has been a critic of Israel. Alan Dershowitz self-identifies as a critic of Israel. Do you think left-wing Isaac Herzog and right-wing Naftali Bennett are running against Netanyahu by agreeing with him?

        I think you’ll find that people are more likely to declare criticism to be anti-Semitic if it holds Israel to a different standard of behavior than any other countries, be they other democracies, other countries with state religions, other countries that receive U.S. foreign aid, other countries targeted by terrorist militias, other countries that hold military territorial occupations, or all of the above.

        • And I am more than willing to have that discussion. I just don’t know how to avoid talking about whether something is or is not anti-Semitic when that discussion figures so prominently in our political debates.

          • Anyone can discuss anti-Semitism, just as anyone can discuss racism or rape allegations. But the proactive proclamation that it is regularly or even usually a lie, is troublesome.

            Perhaps we could start with an example. What would you say was a specific case of someone making a bogus claim of anti-Semitism just to try to shut someone up, and what exactly did they say? When are you the most sure that they just had to have been lying? Hey, maybe they were.

          • Who said usually, exactly? If you want to have a conversation with whomever it is your arguing with, please, go right ahead, but you certainly aren’t arguing with me.

            And this desperate attempt to pretend that what I’m talking about hasn’t been widely discussed, again very often by Jewish writers themselves, is just totally phony and obtuse. Here’s several words by Glenn Greenwald on the subject, although you could easily find dozens of other people making the exact same point I am.

        • Saying that everybody’s a critic (even Alan Dershowitz) and accusations of antisemitism are only leveled at unfair critics of Israel is very convenient. By this meaningless standard virtually everybody on earth is a critic of their own country. You aren’t suggesting that only Israelis and Jews may criticize the actions of Israel, are you? Russians the actions of Russia? And so on?

          • Saying that everybody’s a critic (even Alan Dershowitz) and accusations of antisemitism are only leveled at unfair critics of Israel is very convenient.

            It is! It conveniently asks people to reconsider their martyrhood mythology under which all criticisms of Israel get them attacked and some made-up thing called “antisemitism” is trotted out to silence them. It is convenient for asking people to fully consider the implications of their arguments and why they are making them.

            Like – you just up and abandoned your hypothetical premise where some imaginary nasty person was going to tell you no one can ever criticize Israel in any way. The next step will be for you to ask yourself why that was the first hypothetical example you came up with.

          • “It is! It conveniently asks people to reconsider their martyrhood mythology”

            Now you’re just resorting to freshman level fallacy. If you have any intention of discussing this honestly let us know.

  16. I’m pretty sure the supposed quote “I’ve never been able to dislike Hitler” does not appear in Orwell’s review. Someone could check me on this but I couldn’t find it.

  17. “No conversation about these issues can possibly be constructive or worthwhile without acknowledging that casting aspersions on Islam is a permissible, mainstream activity for popular publications like The Atlantic in a way that it is not for Judaism. No conversation about these issues can possibly be constructive or worthwhile without acknowledging that the United States and the broader Western world has engaged in a ceaseless campaign of violence against the greater Muslim world for decades. If you write a piece in which you argue that Muslims are responsible for persecuting other groups without discussing the relentlessly campaign of invasion, manipulation, espionage, and slaughter that has been carried out against them by the most powerful governments in the world, you are not a journalist, you’re a propagandist.”

    Somehow you are a functioning graduate student and yet you can write this nonsense? Can you even believe this liberal silliness deep down inside? I mean why oh why would anyone want to ask whether or not Islam has a problem with violence or modernity that Christianity or Judaism doesn’t have? Where would we get such crazy ideas? I mean there are plenty of Christian/Jewish terrorists blowing themselves up all over the world, slitting non-believers throats, forcing people who don’t practice their religion into second-class citizenship, attacking other countries to conquer them and forcibly convert their people, etc.

    And who doesn’t deplore the “ceaseless campaign of violence against the greater Muslim world for decades” that we’ve apparently been waging — I mean let’s not split hairs and worry about the fact that the Muslim world is huge and includes our allies (Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, Egypt, etc.) and some of our enemies. Or that these Muslim countries have agency and may have committed actions that harmed the U.S. And that some of our enemies were at times our allies (Iran and Iraq come to mind) and that there are complicated reasons we’ve supported and/or attacked these countries (talk to the Muslim Kurds about our invasion of Iraq for an interesting perspective on whether that invasion was a bad idea). And that maybe we have good reasons to want to support or attack these countries — for example, they are sworn enemies of the U.S. and kill our citizens and our allies (e.g. Marines in Lebanon or Jews in Argentina)? I mean, why worry about all of this nuance when you can just sit back and smugly denounce the West for its “slaughter”, as if that was our goal all along — we just get our rocks off killing lots of Muslims.

    Freddie has got it all figured out and those chumps at The Atlantic need to listen to his advice!

    P.S. Israel’s occupation may be brutal (I don’t think so, but I know your sensibilities are delicate) but it is not illegal — not according to international law.

    • Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say that they guy who thinks Muslims are never given second-class citizenship by non-Muslims is not someone to take very seriously. Call me crazy.

      Or that these Muslim countries have agency and may have committed actions that harmed the U.S

      Yeah, like Iran, that did the terrible deed of kicking out a brutal dictator and stopping the British from ripping off their oil.

      And that some of our enemies were at times our allies (Iran and Iraq come to mind)

      Our ally in Iraq was Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator who oppressed his people terribly, including the Kurds you name drop a sentence later, and whom we supported because we were opposed to Iran, who were our “sworn enemies” because of this little thing of deposing their democratically-elected leader and reinstalling the brutal Shah, whose secret police tortured and murdered dissidents and who impoverished his people while collecting billions for himself. But yeah other than that they just hated us for no reason.

      Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, Egypt

      First of all, listing Indonesia among Muslim nations that you think the US has not harmed has gotta be the funniest thing I’ve ever read in my life. Second, you get that the United States is harming the populations of many of these countries precisely by defending their terrible regimes, right? Are you under the impression that the House of Saud has been a barrel of laughs for the people of Arabia? That Mubarrak was the friend of the Egyptian people? Come on, man.

      Israel’s occupation may be brutal (I don’t think so, but I know your sensibilities are delicate) but it is not illegal — not according to international law.

      Actually, it is. There is overwhelming international consensus that this is the case.

      • It’s tricky. Israel’s occupation itself might not be illegal, though I think you can make a case that it is: due to its length, you could argue that it is in fact not an occupation at all, but a de facto annexation, which is illegal. But certainly all sorts of actions associated with the occupation are illegal: the settlements, the separation/annexation wall, the de jure annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, etc.

        • Maybe best simply to say: legality is an instrument of power and a matter of point of view. When I say it, I suppose I mean that it violates basic norms of democratic governance.

          • Oh, I totally understand what you mean. I’ve just found that it’s important to be precise about this topic, since there so much obfuscatory bullshit surrounding it, possibly more than any other single issue.

            For instance, typically defenders of Israel’s occupation won’t even admit that it’s an occupation; they’ll say the territories are “disputed, not occupied.” They’ll usually continue to say this even after you point out
            that the Israeli Supreme Court has called it an occupation: “Since 1967, Israel has been holding the areas of Judea and Samaria… in belligerent occupation” (p. 1).

            I tend to err on the side of precision on this issue, just to cut off any opportunities for sophistry at the outset. You won’t convert the true believers, but you’ll prevent the unconvinced from being steamrolled by arguments that kind of sound half-plausible to people who don’t know anything about this topic.

      • Look, we aren’t going to agree on anything here in these comboxes when it comes to foreign policy (e.g. I think military dictatorship is just what the doctor ordered for Egypt, I’m glad we helped Suharto kill the commies, etc.) but let’s get at least this straight. You list some ‘sins’ of the U.S. — I would call them compromises with a flawed geo-political reality when dealing with the existential threat of Soviet communism. We’ll agree to disagree. But here’s your problem — just about any sin you can list was committed in other places around the world (e.g. Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, etc.) but we don’t see today crazed Honduran peasants blowing themselves up in downtown New York or Cambodian madmen cutting off the heads of Westerners for all our crimes against that country over the years. To say that Islam, qua Islam, is not the driving force behind the jihad against the West when these fanatics themselves say it is just displays mind-boggling ignorance.

        We do agree on one thing (I think): I hope someday that the Iranian people overthrow the clerics and we can be good friends with the great Persian nation.

        • I think military dictatorship is just what the doctor ordered for Egypt, I’m glad we helped Suharto kill the commies

          yes mass murder for political gain is actually extremely good

          You list some ‘sins’ of the U.S. — I would call them compromises with a flawed geo-political reality when dealing with the existential threat of Soviet communism.

          lol what

          but we don’t see today crazed Honduran peasants blowing themselves up in downtown New York or Cambodian madmen cutting off the heads of Westerners for all our crimes against that country over the years.

          Actually, terrorists of Latin American descent have been attacking us for quite some time. Pancho Villa and others attacked several US border towns during the Mexican Revolution (most infamously Columbus, New Mexico), a direct outcome of US meddling on different sides in that conflict.

          A group of Mexicans even drafted what the called the “Plan of San Diego” which called for the murder of all Anglos in Texas. Though the plan wasn’t very credible, they went at least some of the way toward carrying it out, killing 21 people. (imagine what they could have done if they had the ability to hijack airplanes and fly them into skyscrapers).

          In 1950 Puerto Rican nationalists tried to kill President Truman, then later tried to shoot up the U.S. Capitol building. 20 years later, they Fraunces Tavern.

          (Then there’s the fact that some of the most serious terrorism by Latin Americans hasn’t been directed at us, but at our enemies, sometimes with a wink from us, and sometimes with our active direction. And there’s all the terrorism we just carry out ourselves. But I digress.)

          But, I mean, if you want to play this game, we can. In the late 1940s, Zionists carried out a wave of brutal terrorism against targets associated with the British Empire. At the same time, Indians were waging a peaceful, non-violent struggle for independence using civil disobedience. So, if you had been around back then, you would have been saying that there must be something inherent in Jewish culture and/or religion that makes them violent terrorists, as compared with those lovely, docile Indians. Right?

          And then there’s the whole irony of saying: Look at the way barbaric, violent way those Muslims react to our barbaric violence against them. What savages!

          yeah i’m done.

          • matt s,

            Great counter examples! They really show me how all those people have been influenced over the years, just like Muslims, to attack the U.S. by their own murderous religion. Oh wait, those examples don’t make that comparison at all — they are small, isolated instances of specific groups using terrorism against a foe (the U.S. or the British) for a political reason (like the Tamil Tigers or the I.R.A. — gee, I can mention irrelevant historical examples just like you!) Unlike Islamic folks who have been on the attack since the time of Muhammad:
            Tours 732, Kosovo 1389, Constantinople 1453, much less Vienna 1527 and 1683. Does even one American in a thousand know how the “shores of Tripoli” wound up in the Marines’ Hymn?

            I could go on, but what’s the use — to you and Freddie their religion had absolutely nothing to do with their aggressive attacks on non-believers all those years. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

          • No one has made the claim that you are arguing is incorrect, and your general level of willful misreading has convinced me, I think, to just never have comments on again.

    • talk to the Muslim Kurds about our invasion of Iraq for an interesting perspective on whether that invasion was a bad idea

      Even setting aside the fact that we’ve also done horrible things to Kurds in the past like (as deBoer mentions) supporting Saddam Hussein in the 80s, cynically backing and then abandoning Iraqi Kurdish rebels in the 70’s (through the Shah of Iran), and supporting Turkey’s brutal campaign of aggression in the 90s, you’re expressing a very odd sentiment here.

      The fact that Iraqi Kurds tended to support the invasion (for understandable reasons) has no bearing at all on whether it was a good or just idea. You could justify every imperial war in history on that kind of basis, since, typically, some ethnic minority or other always supports the invasion. That’s how you divide and rule. Ask a Russian-speaking Ukrainian about Putin’s invasion of Crimea. Ask a German Sudetenlander circa 1938 about Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. Ask a 19th century Gurkha in the British Indian Army what he thinks about the British Empire.

  18. I just read Wood’s piece and came away pretty confused. He asserts that “continuing to slowly bleed [the Islamic State] through air strikes and proxy warfare appears the best of bad military options” but four paragraphs later admits that “properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case.”

    I guess Wood might support a slow bleeding of Ebola-plagued countries in West Africa through bombing and proxy warfare, since although we know the virus is unlikely to become a global epidemic we can never be too sure … who knows what terrible magic those ex-Roman Catholic jihadists might have up their long sleeves.

  19. Who said “usually [lying], exactly? If you want to have a conversation with whomever it is your arguing with, please, go right ahead, but you certainly aren’t arguing with me.

    Very well – “constantly frivolous.” That’s a distinction without a difference.

    To the example you cited – first of all, honestly, thank you for engaging. Unfortunately, it’s not a very strong case. If you steer through Greenwald’s invective to catch what he was actually talking about, it seems to boil down to whether it was anti-Semitic for a Democratic operative to tweet the term “Israel-Firster,” or whether all the Jewish / pro-Israel groups who flamed him over it were just lying. Since the term originated in Neo-Nazi publications, and is agreed to be very antagonistic by basically everybody involved in the affair (including Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, hardly on AIPAC’s speed-dial), Greenwald’s case requires ignoring every relevant bit of historical context.

    So too does Greenwald’s response to critics – “What’s wrong with saying Jews have dual loyalties? Lots of people have dual loyaltes!” One could just as easily say that a cartoon of Obama eating watermelon isn’t racist but in fact is a compliment to his sense of good taste and relatability, because everybody knows watermelon is delicious.

    • Except that when Jews criticize Israel, they are very frequently accused of being “self-hating Jews,” which means that they are punished for not having dual loyalties by the self-same people who insist the dual loyalties argument is anti-Semitic. (In my own college newspaper, for example, Noam Chomsky was accused of being self-hating days before a scheduled visit.)

      And the point of the link is that this is a well-worn conversation that you are taking out of context, and representing as though I am the first or only person to make this claim.

      • “Self-hating Jew” is an underhanded silencing tactic; it’s also pretty plainly inaccurate, as most of the Jews on whom it is deployed have tremendous self-regard and only hate other Jews (ie Gilad Atzmon, Shlomo Sand).

        Speaking of which, Chomsky got insulted (and, again, I find the term used against him to be meaningless) for doing a lot worse than criticizing Israel. He has also has written lavish praise of the scholarly rigor of Holocaust deniers like Robert Faurisson and asserted that Holocaust denial is not antisemitic; Chomsky has also sworn to the accuracy of Israel Shahak’s claim that Jews worship Satan and that 17th century massacres of Polish Jews were justified by classism. Once you cross that bridge, people are allowed to say harsh things about you. Sorry not sorry.

        you are representing as though I am the first or only person to make this claim.

        But I’m not talking to everybody, I’m talking to you. I’ve asked you for cases of dishonest smear tactics against Israel’s critics, and you gave me one chap who used an extremely well-worn dog whistle and another who is BFF with Ernst Zundel. The criticism they got was not out-of-bounds, and the people who say it was do so because they don’t know the backstory behind the case studies or the historical significance of antisemitic tropes.

        • A few minutes googling would show that you are lying about a good deal of this. Probably not terribly surprising, given that you endorsed the author of “The Case for Israel” as a critic of Israel.

  20. Freddie, in response to a commenter’s claim that groups like ISIS justify their actions by citing Islam, you write the following:

    “So? What is the purpose of this analysis? For what reason and to what end? How does it guide action? How does it change opinion? How does it dictate how to meet the threat? The only way this changes anything is to give yet more fuel to those who would tar all Muslims with association with ISIS, which is both precisely the result the piece has had and what Wood surely knew would happen.”

    What exactly are you saying here? I think a lot of the confusion in the comments has to do with some ambiguity on your part about the relationship between ideas and action — that is, the extent to which the ideas articulated within the Islamic ethico-political tradition can help explain or influence the behavior of actual Muslim people. I’m not asking for a philosophical treatise on your part, but some clarity would be greatly appreciated.

    To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I just finished my doctorate in Islamic Studies (yes, that is a mild credential-brag), and I like to think that my academic training on Islamic legal theory has given me at least *some* insight into how actual Muslims behave as juridical subjects. When you question (rhetorically?) the purpose of any analysis that gives explanatory weight to Islamic ideas, I have to wonder whether you’ve really thought through the implications.

    I’m not trying to be obnoxious about this. I agree entirely with your critique of Wood’s piece and your concerns over how Islamophobic organizations are interpreting it. But I also wonder if in your entirely deserved rant against the de-contextualization of a group like ISIS, you’re not going too far in the opposite direction.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve given a lot of thought to this very question (both about the relationship between Islamic ideas and Muslim action, and how that debate should be articulated considering the toxic political discourse we’re dealing with today) and I still haven’t figured it out. But it’s definitely an important question, and not one that should be dismissed out of hand.

    [Sorry if you think I’m being uncharitable toward what was admittedly a stray comment on your part]

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