The outspoken actor-musician Russell Brand recently filmed himself as he camped outside the headquarters of Fox News in New York City to raise awareness of alleged islamophobia perpetuated by the network. He even entered the lobby after being asked to leave, and was nearly arrested. His arguments in the video seemed well founded to me, especially considering that I’ve myself indulged in the decadent alarmism that is Fox News quite a bit.
There was one moment where Brand is lecturing the camera that came off as disingenuous: he brings up the issue of female circumcision that is commonly perceived as being practiced in Muslims countries. He disputes this by bringing up an argument recently made by Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan that the practice is actually a problem in certain areas of Africa, even in Christian countries. Brand’s video then breaks to a clip of Bill O’Reilly discussing Islam in a negative light, but with no mention of female circumcision. This is strange, as Aslan did recently make the argument, but he did so in opposition to an anti-Islamic tirade by liberal commentator and comedian Bill Maher.
For years now Maher has made a name for himself by going against the multicultural grain of liberalism by citing the Islamic religion as a specific threat to the West. He seemed to have coined the term “9-11 liberal” on a September 2012 episode of his HBO show Real Time while he was having a conversation with none other than Salman Rushdie, who seemed to like the name. Maher defined the term as meaning someone who is “liberal on almost every issue, but not the Muslim issue.” Since then many of Maher’s progressive pals like Sam Harris; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Richard Dawkins have come on his show to support and expand on Maher’s assertions about Islam. Many other well-known personalities from the left have come on during these talks, and at least showed respect for Maher’s viewpoint, but he has run into resistance from guests with more traditional, liberal values.
At the beginning of this month, Maher had Sam Harris on his show, and once again the threat of Islam was discussed. This time however, actor Ben Affleck was on the panel. He became agitated, and got into a heated argument with the pair, going as far as calling their rhetoric racist and ugly. Even though I agree with some of the “facts” and assertions concerning Islam discussed by Maher and Harris, I couldn’t help but have respect for Affleck defending his values, no matter if those offending them were liberals or not. Unlike Russell Brand, Affleck didn’t seem unwilling to confront an apparent rift in the left. The clash got a lot of media attention, but I still got an impression from it that traditional liberalism is under siege.
Maybe it is.
Since Obama took office, he has presided over a military surge in Afghanistan; U.S. involvement in a NATO air campaign to help overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and ratcheted up drone strikes in several countries a great deal after Bush left office. The U.S. recently carried out its 400th drone strike in Pakistan since 2004. Of these, about 50 took place under President Bush, mainly near the end of his administration. Of the over 100 drone strikes carried out in Yemen since 2002, all but one was under Obama. The current president has also authorized an unusually large number of special forces raids, including the one that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
I wouldn’t attempt to convince anyone that George W. Bush was a warm, fuzzy kitten compared to Obama, or even that he made sound decisions regarding the War on Terror. I do though seem to recall massive anti-war protests regarding the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan during his presidency. One of the complaints the anti-war faction had was about the secular nature of the way Saddam Hussein ruled. Everyone seemed to admit Saddam was a monster, but he was argued to be someone who kept radical religious forces under control, even though he himself was Muslim.
One of the first major anti-war protests under Bush took place on September 29th 2001 in Washington D.C.. This was shortly after 9-11, during the preparations the U.S. was making for the invasion of Afghanistan. U.S. forces under Bush hadn’t yet fired a shot, and yet this protest reached as high as 20,000 participants. On April 20th 2002, another demonstration in D.C. reached 75,000 participants. This was after the Taliban had been ousted, and before the invasion of Iraq. Once the latter took place, Iraq took most of the focus of anti-war demonstrations. After Obama took office, the war in Iraq was wound down to our eventual complete pullout in 2011, but in Afghanistan our troop levels were surged. The conflict intensified, and our casualties greatly increased there. Yet, at no point during Obama’s administration has there been an anti-war demonstration in the U.S. as large as the one in September 2001 that took place before the shooting even started.
While it might seem like I’m making an argument about the hypocrisy of the left, I’m not sure myself that I am. It’s been over 13 years since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and the left might have had a shift in values since then. People can become used to a low-intensity, spread out conflict like the War on Terror. Also, the Vietnam-era activists who still took a leading role in many of the early protests under George W. Bush are starting to take up the rocking chair. I can’t imagine the younger people who would replace the older are as sensitive to violence as past generations. The steady bombardment of violent movies and video games, along with a vast reduction in reading comes to mind. I think Americans in general have just gotten used to the idea that our government frequently whacks Islamic extremists. I’ll take it a step further and state that nearly every bomb, every missile or other major piece of ordnance used by the U.S. government since 9-11 has been against Muslims. The Somali pirates that U.S. forces have skirmished with were motivated by greed perhaps, but they still come from an Islamic background, and likely practiced that religion on some level.
Are Islamic extremists the only sinister people in the world? In 2011, the Obama administration sent about 100 soldiers to help the government of Uganda capture the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony. The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) leader remains free to this day. I’ve found no evidence that America has fired a single shot to help bring about his fall. In Mexico, the Zeta Cartel has murdered thousands of people, and even some on the American side of the border, and yet the U.S. has done little more than support Mexico with funds and logistics. They have gone as far as to fly reconnaissance for the Mexican government with unarmed drones though.
Last year, the Obama Administration threatened to launch limited strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria over a Sarin gas attack that took place in Damascus on August 21st 2013. Over 1,400 people were killed, and his government was rightly blamed. Russia put a lot of pressure on the U.S. not to meddle. There were even some anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. urging the government not to attack. In the end, Obama let Congress decide on the issue of strikes, and they said no. Putin (not Obama) organized an agreement for Syria to disarm its chemical weapons stockpiles. This seems to have been a partial success, as Assad now only uses the less-lethal Chlorine weapon when he needs to gas folks. While Assad is a member of the minority Alawi Shia faction of Islam, he is much like Saddam Hussein was, regarded as a secular leader. This is confirmed by Assad himself in an interview he did with Charlie Rose in September of 2013, where he states the virtues of a secular government at the end of the interview. I can’t help but think this attitude had given Assad some special consideration in the mind of Obama and the members of the U.S. Congress who opted not to launch punitive attacks against his regime.
So here we are, bombing Syria and Iraq on a grand scale against another group of Islamic radicals; particularly nasty ones, who have carried out executions of Americans. On camera, Obama at first seemed reluctant to engage in an air campaign, even though the Iraqis had been asking us to start one for some time. This time he used his presidential authority though, and didn’t pass the decision to Congress. Less than two months after airstrikes started against ISIS in Iraq on August 8th, the air campaign began in Syria on September 23rd , where the bulk of the ISIS group is located. On that first day of Syrian airstrikes, we also took the opportunity to strike the Khorasan Group that allegedly was planning an imminent attack against the West. We also struck at the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, killing their leader as well as 4 British members. Mission creep doesn’t describe how rapidly the intent of the strikes spread: from protecting American personnel and religious minorities threatened by the advance of ISIS, to striking desired targets in a conflict zone because – hey, the bombs are falling anyway. It’s very similar to NATO’s air campaign in Libya in 2011. The enforcement of a UN mandated no-fly zone quickly turned into providing the rebels with the air force they needed to oust Gaddafi.
So, it really has nothing to do with any term coined by Bill Maher, or the rhetoric he and his pals are making acceptable for people on the left to utter. In the end, bombs speak louder than words. In the case of America’s 9-11 liberal president, you have to ignore his words and pay attention to the bombs. A bullet (or a Hellfire Missile) always tells the truth.