Glenn has now conceded that religious extremism seems to be the main motive behind the Boston bombings, so our real difference is now simply when that became obvious (a legitimate debate) and whether the younger brother was as motivated by religion as his older brother. I suspect a mixture of actual, hidden religious fanaticism and family dynamics, and this piece in the NYT remains required reading on that fact.
But Glenn insists that Anwar al-Awlaki was merely exercising his American constitutional rights in speaking out for violence against the American government, and as such was not a legitimate target at all. We’ve gone through all this before and yes, the First Amendment does apply to abstract calls for violence against the US government.
But Anwar al-Awlaki was not just abstract. Ask cartoonist Molly Harris, now in hiding after participating in “Draw Mohammed Day”. In Inspire, the magazine where the Tsarnaev brothers found their bomb instructions, Awlaki wrote of eight Western cartoonists:
“The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved.”
So this was a specific threat of violence against specific people – including a specific American – for exercising their freedom of speech. She remains under fatwa, protected by the FBI. Glenn’s response to that point would be:
@IronCurtaiNYC It's the difference between "Hey X - I'm going to kill you" and "I think it'd be justified for a citizen to kill X"—
Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 06, 2013
This, I guess, is where I differ. The sliver of difference between Awlaki threatening to murder Molly Harris himself – while calling on all other Muslims to murder her while ensconced in Yemen – is not one I consider salient.
If a mob leader orders a hit, he is not exercising his First Amendment rights. He is ordering a hit.
When that mob leader has called law-abiding American Muslims “traitors” to the true nation of Islam, when he has left the country and changed his name and joined the group designated as the enemy in wartime by the US Congress, when he has celebrated individuals who have murdered others – and been in communication with them, as with the Fort Hood shooter – then I do not recognize him as engaging in the world of ideas.
I recognize him as engaging in the world of religious murder and the incitement to religious murder. From the grave, he helped murder some more in Boston. And not members of the US military or representatives of the US government. He gave the instructions and inspiration to murder an eight-year-old boy who was waiting to see his dad finish a marathon.
(Photo: San Diego Police Department mug shot of Anwar al Awlaki after he was arrested in San Diego on April 5, 1997. As reported by KPBS San Diego.)