Glenn Greenwald on the sage foreign policy wisdom of the ‘Underwear Bomber’

Glenn Greenwald’s response to the terrorist attack in Boston should come as no surprise to those familiar with his ‘Comment is Free’ blog, and his previous blog at

In addition to smearing as ‘Islamophobic’ anyone who suggested, in the early hours and days of the investigation into the attack which left 3 dead and over 200 injured, that the culprits may be Islamists, his reaction once it seemed clear that the terrorists were radicalized Chechnyan Muslims was to argue, in a fashion similar to Richard Falk, that such attacks should ‘inspire’ us to reflect on US policy in the Mid-East.

Greenwald’s April 24 post at ‘Comment is Free’, entitled ‘The same motive cited for anti-US terrorism is cited over and over‘, provides another good example of such reasoning.

Greenwald writes thusly:

In the last several years, there have been four other serious attempted or successful attacks on US soil by Muslims, and in every case, they emphatically all say the same thing: that they were motivated by the continuous, horrific violence brought by the US and its allies to the Muslim world – violence which routinely kills and oppresses innocent men, women and children.

He then quotes the complaints against US foreign policy expressed by several convicted Islamist terrorists, such as Faisal Shahzadthe Pakistani-American convicted of an attempted bombing attack at Times Square in 2010, Nidal Hasan, who will soon stand trial in a military court for the Fort Hood massacre, as well as the “Underwear Bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

bomberGreenwald cites the following grievances of Abdulmutallab, which he expressed in a US court before pleading guilty of trying to murder hundreds of people on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009:

I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants.”

Greenwald, while making it clear that violence is still not justified, added the following:

But it is nonetheless vital to understand why there are so many people who want to attack the US as opposed to, say, Peru, or South Africa, or Brazil, or Mexico, or Japan, or Portugal.

…so many Americans, westerners, Christians and Jews love to run around insisting that the only real cause for Muslim attacks on the US is that the attackers have this primitive, brutal, savage, uncivilized religion (Islam) that makes them do it.

As the attackers themselves make as clear as they can, it’s not religious fanaticism but rather political grievance that motivates these attacks. Religious conviction may make them more willing to fight (as it does for many in the west), but the motive is anger over what is being done by the US and its allies to Muslims.

it’s crucial to understand this causation because it’s often asked “what can we do to stop Terrorism?” The answer is right in front of our faces: we could stop embracing the polices in that part of the world which fuel anti-American hatred and trigger the desire for vengeance and return violence.

However, to add some context to Greenwald’s explanation of ‘why they hate us’, here’s a relevant passage from the court transcript at Abdulmutallab’s sentencing.

Defendant poses a significant, ongoing threat to the safety of American citizens everywhere. As noted previously, in pleading guilty, defendant reiterated that it is his religious belief that the Koran obliges “every able Muslim to participate in jihad and fight in the way of Allah, those who fight you, and kill them wherever you find them,” and that “participation in jihad against the United States is considered among the most virtuous of deeds in Islam and is highly encouraged in the Koran.”

The court sentencing document continues to explain what inspired him to jihad:

In August 2009, defendant left Dubai, where he had been taking graduate classes, and traveled to Yemen. For several years, defendant had been following the online teachings of Anwar Awlaki, and he went to Yemen to try to meet him in order to discuss the possibility of becoming involved in jihad.

Anwar Awlaki was the American and Yemeni Imam, killed in a US drone strike in 2011, who U.S. government officials believe was an al-Qaeda regional commander, and a senior ‘talent recruiter’ and motivator for the terrorist group – and who is believed to have influenced the jihadist rampage of the Fort Hood shooter.

Here’s an additional passage from Abdulmutallab’s sentencing:

Defendant by that time had become committed in his own mind to carrying out an act of jihad, and was contemplating “martyrdom;” i.e., a suicide operation in which he and others would be killed. Once in Yemen, defendant visited mosques and asked people he met if they knew how he could meet Awlaki.

Thereafter, defendant received a text message from Awlaki telling defendant to call him, which defendant did.

Defendant took several days to write his message to Awlaki, telling him of his desire to become involved in jihad, and seeking Awlaki’s guidance. After receiving defendant’s message, Awlaki sent defendant a response, telling him that Awlaki would find a way for defendant to become involved in jihad.

So, in short, the ‘Underwear Bomber’ sought out the advice of a senior leader of an Islamist movement which calls for global jihad, seeks states governed by religious autocracies similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, advocates death for homosexuality, and believes Jews are the embodiment of evil.

The suggestion that we should listen to the foreign policy ‘analysis’ of such homicidal jihadists is akin to imputing wisdom to the suicidal rants of conspiracists and radical cults – as if we should see the “revolutionary mass suicide” initiated by Jim Jones as a learning moment about the need for “social justice”, or that the US should incorporate the militia movement-inspired complaints of Timothy McVeigh into federal policy.

The ideological proclivity of some on the far-left to empathize with those, like Abdulmutallab, who willfully embrace the most violent, reactionary and racist movements in the world represents a dynamic as dangerous as it is baffling. 

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