Glenn Greenwald speaks at the University of Arizona. (Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC 2.0.) 

While those on the right frequently refer to Glenn Greenwald (now at The Guardian) and Bill Maher (eternally at HBO) as liberals or lefties, that is, of course, a gross simplication. So what else is new? Naturally they don’t see eye to eye on many issues, so when Greenwald was scheduled for last Friday night’s Maher show you could predict that some fur would fly.

Well, the debate started when Maher went into one of his weekly rants against the Muslim religion as being particularly and uniquely guilty of inspiring hatred and violence in the modern world. Greenwald pushed back strongly and Maher nearly lost his temper in responding. It was an unsually extended and testy set of exchanges for the show these days, and rather than summarize it, I’ll suggest you watch it here.

But what happened next was: Critics, and not just from the right, jumped on Greenwald for allegedly declaring that the United States was fully to blame for Muslim extremists and most of the other ills of the world. Greenwald, indeed, did place a lot of blame on America, but also clearly qualified that. He posted about that on Saturday at The Guardian, calling Maher “one of the most vocal and extreme advocates of the view that—while religion generally should be criticized—Islam is a uniquely threatening and destructive force and that Muslims are uniquely oppressive and violent, and that mentality has infected many of his policy views.”

In any case, the anger directed at Greenwald as a blame-America-first zealot provoked longtime ace blogger Digby (a.k.a. Heather Parton) to rise to his defense. You can read her lengthy defense here. One excerpt:

To me, it is simply indisputable that the United States’ sometimes well-intentioned but often brutal and violent use of its global dominance as a military and economic power has resulted in the blow-back we call terrorism. Is it everything? Of course not, and Greenwald was careful to say he didn’t believe so either. It’s economics, culture and yes, religion as well. All these factors play into this problem. But there’s only one factor that Americans have any direct influence over—the actions of their democratically elected government. So that’s probably the smartest first step to try and correct, don’t you think?


Do I think Islam, fundamentalist or otherwise, is unusually lethal as religions go? No, frankly, I don’t. I think the embrace of fundamentalist Islam—and especially terrorism—among a sub-set of Muslims is driven mostly by the politics of the era, probably at the hands of opportunistic leaders who use it to keep their followers on their path to power.

Greg Mitchell’s current books are So Wrong for So Long (on media failures and Iraq war) and the wild tale of MGM and Harry Truman scuttling a 1947 anti-nuclear epic,  Hollywood Bomb.  His personal blog, updated several times day, is Pressing Issues.