Helen Thomas Deviates From the Terrorism Script

Following up
on Thursday's
post
concerning our collective refusal to discuss how American
actions and policies fuel Terrorism: at a White House press conference
yesterday with Janet Napolitano and John Brennan, Helen Thomas shows --
yet again -- that she's one of the very few White House reporters
willing to deviate from approved orthodoxy scripts. She asks the
prohibited question about the motives of Terrorists, and keeps asking as
she receives complete non-responses, unt

Following up
on Thursday's
post
concerning our collective refusal to discuss how American
actions and policies fuel Terrorism: at a White House press conference
yesterday with Janet Napolitano and John Brennan, Helen Thomas shows --
yet again -- that she's one of the very few White House reporters
willing to deviate from approved orthodoxy scripts. She asks the
prohibited question about the motives of Terrorists, and keeps asking as
she receives complete non-responses, until they all just decide to
ignore her:

Brennan's answer -- they do this because they're Evil and
murderous
-- is on the same condescending cartoon level as the
"They-Hate-us-For-Our-Freedom" tripe we endured for the last eight
years. Apparently, if Brennan is to be believed, Islamic radicals, in
their motive-free quest to slaughter, write down the names of all the
countries in the world and put them in a hat and then stick their hand
in and select the one they will attack, and the U.S. just keeps getting
unlucky and having its name randomly chosen. Countries like China,
Brazil, Japan, Chile, Greece, South Africa, France and a whole slew of
others must have really good luck. That Al Qaeda is evil and murderous
and perverts Islam is a judgment about what they do, not an answer as to
what motivates them.

The evidence of what motivates Terrorism when directed at the U.S.
is so overwhelming and undeniable that it takes an extreme propagandist
to pretend it doesn't exist. What is Brennan so afraid of? It's true
that religious fanaticism is a part of their collective motivation, but
why can't he just say what's so obviously true: "they claim that
the U.S. is interfering in, occupying and bringing violence to their
part of the world, they cite things like civilian deaths and our support
for Israel and Guantanamo and torture, and claim that their terrorism
is in retaliation"?
Indeed, Brennan's boss, the President, has
often claimed that things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib help Al Qaeda
recruitment (and it seems
clear
it was part of Abdulmutallab's hatred for the U.S.), so
clearly U.S. actions are part of the motivation. Yet Brennan is afraid
to acknowledge that not just past actions, but current ones, fuel the
desire to target the U.S. for attacks. Speaking of fear of
acknowledging reality, note how Charles
Krauthammer in yesterday's column
-- when mocking Obama's
(obviously correct) view that Guantanamo helps fuel Al Qaeda recruitment
-- describes the first two grievances cited in Osama
bin Laden's 1998 fatwa against the U.S.
(troops in Saudi Arabia and
death to extremely high numbers of Iraqi children through
sanctions) while completely omitting the third (U.S. support for
Israel).

As I said on Thursday, to acknowledge motive is not remotely to
imply legitimacy or justification. In fact, the opposite is
true: pretending motive doesn't exist legitimizes it more than
acknowledging (and refuting) it would, since that fantasyland behavior
creates the impression that one is afraid of its being aired and heard.
That's certainly the impression that one gets watching John Brennan
feed cartoon idiocy to the public in response to Helen Thomas' questions
and then having everyone just move on when she tries to get an answer.
It's just amazing, given how much endless chatter there is over
Terrorism, how rare it is for this question to be raised.

UPDATE: As I did on Thursday, Juan
Cole examines
all of the evidence regarding what motivated Humam
al-Balawi, the Jordanian physician who killed 7 CIA agents in
Afghanistan last week, to convert from a CIA asset into an Al Qaeda
suicide weapon, and he notes the "way al-Balawi's grievances tie
together the Iraq War, the ongoing Gaza atrocity, and the Western
military presence in the Pushtun regions." Cole notes that his suicide
video specifically decreed the attack to be in retaliation for a U.S.
airstrike that killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and Cole
explains why it's so vital to address these issues forthrightly:

Morally speaking, al-Qaeda is twisted and evil, and has committed
mass murder. . . . But from a social science, explanatory point of
view, what we have to remember is that there can be a handful of
al-Balawis, or there can be thousands or hundreds of thousands.

It depends on how many Abu Ghraibs, Fallujahs, Lebanons and Gazas the
United States initiates or supports to the hilt. Unjust wars and
occupations radicalize people. The American Right wing secretly knows
this, but likes the vicious circle it produces. Wars make profits for
the military-industrial complex, and the resulting terrorism terrifies
the clueless US public and helps hawks win elections, allowing them to
pursue further wars. And so it goes, until the Republic is bankrupted
and in ruins and its unemployed have to live in tent cities.

At least theoretically, "The American Right wing" is not in charge
of any parts of the government, so to the extent these policies
continue, they're not a legitimate scapegoat. Whatever else is true,
having discussions about how our policies motivate and fuel Terrorism is
crucial to having any sort of minimally rational public debate about
what we should be doing. But as long as the patronizing, propaganda
cartoons that we heard from John Brennan prevail, it's simply impossible
for any of these considerations to be examined. That, to me, seems to
be the whole point of why those comic book narratives predominate and
why the taboo persists: to preclude any awareness of the true costs of
our actions and therefore to preclude any meaningful public questioning
of them.