Nothing Brings out the Worst in Andrew Sullivan like Islamic Terrorism
The Dish, an invaluable aggregator of news, opinions, and general interest minutia, to which I am a subscriber, has been more blindly emotional and demagogic than usual in recent days.
The Tsarnaevs’ bombing of the Boston Marathon last week, and the ensuing manhunt, set Twitter and the national news media into a frenzy. I, like many others, could pay attention to little else but the unfolding real-life spectacle. But for some, the events of the past week have been more profound. They are part of an ongoing legacy of terrorism, religious fanaticism, and wars which necessarily have no end.
For Sullivan and others, they fit into a well-worn geopolitical narrative, a story about the clash of civilizations, the world-historic evolution of liberal democracy and secular cosmopolitanism. Or something like that. How else to explain his virulent armchair psycho-analyzing of last week’s bombing and the two responsible for it?
What alarms me isn’t that intelligent people like Sullivan think the bombing is an act of jihad, a terrorist plot inspired by certain strands of Islamic belief, but how eager they are to assume it as the core motivation, and to add it as another data point to their neat and coherent picture of “Islamic terrorism.” It’s the understandable but irrational desire to simplify the world and let the details run bleeding into one another that is so dangerous—that gives us Iraq, Afghanistan, and the continued bombing of people around the world.
“Yes, Of Course It Was Jihad,” writes Sullivan. Per Sullivan there’s a lot of nuance to this story, a lot to learn, and a lot of motivations at play, but none of that matters because something, something, something, look at this “liberal self-parody” from Glenn Greenwald.
As is his preferred mode of argument, Sullivan admits what his opponent says but then turns around right away to claim something that is tangentially contradictory to it. “Legally, the case for the presumption of innocence is absolutely right. But come on.”
Since Sullivan expects “come on” in italics to speak for itself, I’ll let it do the same.
In addition to the accurate accusations of bombing and shooting, Sullivan also blames the Tsarnaevs for shutting down the city. This small detail is notable, I think, in so far as it hints at just how deranged Sullivan’s reasoning is on this topic. The city and federal government responded to the manhunt as both entities saw fit. That included shutting quasi-shutting down Boston for a day. To locate the Tsarnaevs as the perpetrators of that event is to endow them with a power and agency that is disproportionate. It’s to play into the fetishizing of vulnerability which, in its ultimate forms, leads countries to spend more resources combating phantoms than more likely causes of death and destruction (environmental crises, everyday homicides, lack of access to good health care, etc.).
The kicker (note another use of the “yes, but not yes” construction):
“And yes, of course, this decision to commit horrific crimes may be due in part to ‘some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature.’ But to dismiss the overwhelming evidence that this was also religiously motivated – a trail that now includes a rant against his own imam for honoring Martin Luther King Jr. because he was not a Muslim – is to be blind to an almost text-book case of Jihadist radicalization, most likely in the US. Tamerlan may have been brimming with testosterone as he found boxing an outlet for his aggression, bragging to his peers of his coolness and machismo and piety, and all of that may have contributed. Who knows if the delay in his citizenship application because he was beating his wife was the proximate cause. But does Glenn wonder why Tamerlan thought it was ok to beat his wife, whom he demanded convert to Islam?”
Sullivan has to show that religious extremism was the main motivation, and that this extremism which evolved into massive harm to other people was made uniquely possible by Tamerlan’s Islamic beliefs. I’m not sure whether he never attempts to show this because a) he can’t, or b) he doesn’t in fact know what is required for him to substantiate his grossly overstated claims, because, in the end, they’re so obviously true–I mean: come. on.
Sullivan focuses on the young man’s anger and alienation. I too often feel angry and alienated, feelings the depths of which are too vast to explore here. I have never done, or thought about doing, what Tamerlan did though. For Sullivan it seems that Islam is an ideology uniquely suited to catalyzing this anger and turning it into violence (though of course Sullivan will be the first to argue that atheists can be just as ideologically prone to destructive behavior. See: Stalin).
He says things like, “When will some understand how dangerous religious fundamentalism truly is?” But I don’t think he means religious fundamentalism more generally—after all, Sullivan, as far as I know, believes that Christ is the son of God and died for his sins. That is the fundamental tenet of Catholicism. That makes Sullivan a fundamentalist Catholic. Of course, if Sullivan is willing to admit that there are degrees, and types, and that really this question of religious fundamentalism is extremely complex, he would have to find a new target for his baseless war mongering.
Sullivan has always had a double-standard when it comes to his religion vs. other religions. His monotheism “entirely eschews violence,” where as Islam does not. Is that a claim with which his fellow Catholics would agree? Is that a reformed interpretation of Catholicism? Is that a claim based exclusively on Sullivan’s unique reading of the religious texts upon which his religion is based? And if we’re to take all of these things into account—how can we possibly make such blanket statements about a religion that is so much more decentralized and doctrine-less?
“This was an act of Jihad,” writes Sullivan, and one that “only makes sense in the context of immediate Paradise, combined with worldly fame.” How small his imagination must be. But that’s not surprising, given how small an imagination is required to take on such a narrow and impulsive world view in the first place.
A textbook case (as Sullivan likes to say) of demogugery,
“But just as silly as jumping to conclusions prematurely is the posture of aloof skepticism when the bleeding obvious is staring right at you.”
Thank God someone’s willing to cut through the PC crap and tell the simple truths.
[Update II]–Freddie calls for a logician, and one of the Dish readers makes the point better than I,
“How many contingencies do you have to stuff into the interpretation and practice of a religion before you realize those contingencies matter a hell of a lot more than the words in the document everyone’s reading into in whatever way suits their condition? What a logically, linguistically, and sociologically inept attempt to baldly enforce your double standards of religious causation upon your readers.”
Sullivan counters with a series of dubious distinctions between Christianity and Islam.
[Update III]–Sullivan triples (quadruples?) down on calling out “liberal bullshit on Islam,”
“Bill Maher backs me up. I’m not Islamophobic; I’m trying to tell the truth and understand what happened last week.”
[Update IV]–Corey Robin knows it,
“I have massive amounts of evidence, outraged testimonies from the family, a horrifying web history, bombs that follow to the letter instructions from an al Qaeda publication, public, extremist spats with his own mosque, and on and on.”