A friend recently asked me why I attacked Glenn Greenwald for his Intercept article Brexit Is Only the Latest Proof of the Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions.
Specifically I was asked:
It’s strange that your focus is on the reputation of the person who wrote and also whether what is said is unique or not. Neither are relevant. Do you agree with what is said?
Where journalistic integrity is known to be lacking it’s worth pointing out to those that might not know, and in this case it is relevant.
I agree and disagree with Greenwald on various points. What he says in this piece is not unique. This is what I said initially:
These articles always say the same thing within their own place and time frames. We’ve just been commemorating the Somme, when millions of ordinary people were manipulated by elites and the masses revolt. Who the elites are, and who the masses are, change over time and place. There’s always enough truth in them to make them viable narratives; but their claim to insight into some unique and recent phenomenon doesn’t bear up. For journalists everything is a new disaster.
Greenwald has history, and his agenda can’t be easily separated from the case he’s making. So, sorry, but here goes.
This is how Greenwald starts:
Media reaction to the Brexit vote falls into two general categories: (1) earnest, candid attempts to understand what motivated voters to make this choice, even if that means indicting their own establishment circles, and (2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-Leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility.
His points 1 & 2 are fair representations of the treatment of the issue by various media outlets – but the point of criticising Greenwald was that he’s guilty of 2 as much as anyone, on other issues that he’s particularly biased about. And, these points, his attack on the press, is cover for yet more anti-west self-hate.
Virtually every reaction that falls into the former category emphasizes the profound failures of Western establishment factions; these institutions have spawned pervasive misery and inequality, only to spew condescending scorn at their victims when they object.
That’s one of his particularly modes of reporting: over generalisation. Of course there are factions within political elites that hold self interested views, but Greenwald here is exaggerating. Profound failures? Spawned massive misery? Spew condescending scorn? The first and last sound like a description of Greenwald, but the middle one would have to be hilarity and irritation.
Another part of the typical Greenwald rhetoric is to disguise his attack on the west as a concern for the ‘common people’, but many that voted to leave have a very clear understanding of why they voted: population density and population increases, coupled, brought to a head at this time, by the action of some EU states to conflate economic migration with genuine refugee status.
A few years ago nobody would bat an eye over the usual control of a state’s international borders. All nations prevent uncontrolled economic migration because rapid increases in population density puts more strain on infrastructure, services, like housing and the health services, at a time when the existing population is already struggling with the austerity measures put in place to control the state’s finances. Even if one thinks the measures are too austere there certainly isn’t the capacity to increase infrastructure and services at a rate that would be demanded as the result of uncontrolled borders.
These issues changed the game:
- Economic migrants merged with genuine refugees intentionally to find a way in, so that it was virtually impossible to carry out border checks to be carried out without causing greater humanitarian concern. If the border controls couldn’t be mustered together quickly enough to process arrivals in a timely and humanitarian manner, what on earth do we think is going to happen with other services and housing?
- The guilt ridden Germans welcomed migrants with open arms – without any concern for the less wealthy states that got in the way. Merkel has been as brutal with them as she was with Greece – and this bullying hasn’t gone unnoticed and is a component of the EU power base that many EU citizens object to.
- Many of the Syrian and Iraqi genuine refugees will be a mix of people of various religions, and some of none, that no longer want to live in the den of religiously motivated conflict that is the Middle East – but they will be a minority. And, even if there are a few ISIS sympathisers among them that in itself is a short term problem (albeit with potentially dangerous consequences). The biggest problem with the economic migration is the religious cultural makeup of most of the migrants that is antithetical to secular liberal democracy.
- It might take some time for Germany to provide citizenship to the new arrivals (the process isn’t that quick, but that’s besides the point), but once they do that means those citizens are then free to move within the EU.
These are the underlying details that raised concerns over the last couple of years that have been coincident with the referendum. At any other time, or without these conditions, the referendum result could have gone the other way.
And had the result gone the other way, what would have been Greenwald’s story? Oh, the British people have voted to agree with the political elite? A few percentage points, a slightly different voter turnout, and Greenwald’s case collapses?
No, he would be making the same case by other means – and of course he has Trump to focus on.
When it comes to the Middle East and North Africa there have been millennia of conflict fuelled by religious and political differences. The west has played its part in both fueling the strife further, and making ham fisted efforts to reduce it. Damned if you get involved, damned if you don’t. And that’s what Greenwald relies on.
Greenwald makes his money out of bashing the US. He used to be a lawyer of sorts and treats everything as a courtroom battle – in it to win it, not to find the truth. His fame was won on the pure luck of Snowden choosing him as one of the recipients of the NSA files (Greenwald lives in Brazil and isn’t as easy to get at as someone living on US soil). He’s a student of Chumpsky when it comes to the demonisation of the west. This article of his is riddled with it.
Take his reference to the Guardian article “Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police”, claiming that the poster incites racial hatred. Well it does so because the likes of Greenwald make it about race when the poster itself isn’t about race, it’s about the numbers of migrants and the fact that very clearly in the image it’s mostly young healthy men. This is a genuine issue. Where are their families? Where are the old people, women and children in that photo? There are plenty of other examples of healthy young men fighting with police and border agents – even when they are already allowed into various states. There is a refugee crisis – but this immigration issue is not just the refugee crisis it is made out to be.
Remember Ben Affleck’s admonition to Sam Harris on the Bill Maher show, that ISIS couldn’t fill a ball park. Well, in 2015:
According to IOM and UNHCR estimates, around one million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe till 21 December 2015, three to four times more than in 2014. Just 3% (34,215) came by land to Bulgaria and Greece; the rest came by sea to Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.
So, the ‘immigrant crisis’ is very clearly primarily about numbers, and has associated with it the destabilising religious-political cultural of the majority of arrivals.
And of course lots of the arrivals that made the dangerous water crossings into Europe were the fault of who? The migrants and the gangs that they use? No. Western governments, for not having open borders to anyone that wants to come. Sorry, but the world isn’t ready for that no matter how you might dream that it should be.
Instead, this is Greenwald and others making it about race. What an opportunity, what luck, that all the migrants come from a region where the predominant skin colour isn’t white; how could Greenwald miss the opportunity to make it about race. That poster very clearly expresses the concerns that many people have – the ones I listed above. 17M Leave voters are not racist xenophobes.
And let’s not forget the political capital that was made of a dead child on a beach – all the fault of the uncaring west, of course, and nothing to do with the parents that left refugee camps in Turkey where they were safe – uncomfortable maybe, but not dead.
This isn’t to say there is no cause for complaint when it comes the foreign policies of western governments; but what Greenwald neglects to tell us is how difficult it is to weigh the odds when people like Greenwald twist every event to their own agenda.
Look how Greenwald jumps on the bandwagon of ‘Muslim Lands’. They are Muslim lands and not merely places of a variety of conflicts because that’s the nature of Islam – it’s very core is the notion of Muslim lands (of which it wants to include the whole world).
Take the bombing of ISIS by the UK. Should the Kurds and Iraqis be left to fight the well backed Islamic State? Or should they be given air support? It’s clear that they need help, but the ‘Muslim Lands’ trope prevents anything more direct than having advisors in there and bombing specific targets. It’s not as if there are no genuine issues to be raised in there – for example, how bombing raids seem to coincide with the PM going off to some meeting with allies and being congratulated on Britain’s latest contribution to the fight against ISIS. But the mantra that ‘all politicians are evil, especially the US ones and those of their allies’ is the only tune Greenwald knows.
What did the Regressive left and Greenwaldians make of the UK decision to bomb ISIS? Not bombing ISIS, but ‘Carpet bombing Syria’, ‘Bombing Muslims” – they were actually a phrases used. And, I thought ISIS weren’t Muslims (at least according to Obama, Greenwald and others). This is the nature of Greenwaldian rhetoric.
We all complain about our politicians. By shear common sense politics must attract some power hungry self interested psychopaths. But many of us in our local constituencies know that the local people we elect that eventually go on to be members of parliament, and form governments, are not the demons that the media make them out to be. They are people struggling to make sense of a very complex world. Governing a nation is difficult – as this referendum with its near equal split only goes to show – no matter who wins, everyone else will kick you the politician in the nuts for letting it happen.
This cheap shot piece by Greenwald is the very stuff his article is supposedly complaining about – bad journalism; popularism (don’t blame the people that voted, blame the politicians, again).
Again, there is some truth in there – just not the story Greenwald wants you to take away. There are genuine concerns about the clash of cultures. How many examples of the awful implementation of Islam around the world does it take make politicians sit up and notice that when a hate ideology is admitted and unchecked, radicalisation ensues.
Greenwald is part of the regressive left that will do anything to blame the west for all the sins of the world, will excuse states of ‘Muslim lands’ any culpability in the millennia of conflicts in the region, will proclaim that there’s a race called ‘Palestinians’, will ignore the anti-Semitic teachings in schools in pretty much all Islamic states in the middle east, but will jump on the one democracy in the middle east because it gets pissed at having its citizens bombarded by rockets.
Have you noticed how much fuss is made about Israel and the British mandate that brought Israel into existence? How about the Sykes-Picot agreement that even earlier divided up the Middle East?
The latter is raised occasionally for the opportunistic reason of bashing the west. It’s a fair criticism in some sense, in that it was another case where ill informed governments had too much of a hand in dividing up the region without taking account of local sensibilities. But what’s not mentioned is why there were such crucial sensibilities to be accounted for: the shear hatred that peoples in there region have for each other. So, okay, some fair points but this is only ever raised to bash the west.
What about the former case, of Israel? The very core of the Israel problem is the hatred for the Jews very freely and openly expressed and supported by governments in ‘Muslim Lands’. Hamas have the wiping of Israel off the map as part of their manifesto. Mosab Hassan Yousef the Palestinian son of a Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef himself has said, “Palestinian State Is a bad idea because for 60 years, the Palestinians tried to destroy Israel. Israel Is the solution, not the Problem.” Again, this isn’t the whole story because sure enough there are extremist Jews who steal land from Palestinians and the Israeli government doesn’t do anything of note to stop them. But remember there never was a Palestinian people, as if some historic ethnicity. The region around Israel has been predominantly tribal, many related to Jews and other nearby ethnicities, until Islamic conquests introduced Arabs to the region.
But none of this matters to Greenwald. In which nation do Arabs live in peace and are members of a genuine democracy? Israel. How does Islam dictate their fake democracy works? Only Muslims can hold high office, and non-Muslims are second class citizens. At this point it’s usual for someone like Greenwald, or one of his mates, like Reza Aslan, to roll out a list of Muslim nations where there’s great democracy and freedom for women – only on inspection to find these are democratic republics where Islam plays a minor role, or even if the state religion doesn’t have the power it does in the middle east ‘Muslim Lands’, or that many Islam inspire atrocities occur.
All this is part of the back story that determines what Greenwald writes and the rhetoric he uses to present it. Take this, from near the end of his piece [my emphasis]:
So they [the media, or which he is a part] search and search in vain for some rationale that could explain something like Brexit — or the establishment-condemning movements on the right and left — and can find only one way to process it: These people are not motivated by any legitimate grievances or economic suffering, but instead they are just broken, ungrateful, immoral, hateful, racist, and ignorant. *** Of course, it is the case that some, perhaps much *** of the support given to these anti-establishment movements is grounded in those sorts of ugly sentiments.
Greenwald is simultaneously doing the following:
- Blaming western governments for every ill.
- Blaming the media for collusion (a media he is a part of, a Guardian writer not so long ago, a media that savages pretty much everyone in the political establishment).
- Excusing the proletariat when they protest against western governments.
- Blaming the proletariat when the the reason they don’t like their government is because they are excusing cultural and religious systems and object to the import of these ideologies that often enjoy barbaric practices that Greenwald hardly ever mentions.
Yes, there are truths in his piece, and like many truths they are presented as a front for an entirely dishonest agenda. I don’t think Greenwald gives a toss for Leave or Brexit voters, as his *** comment shows.