For those who wisely stay out of the blogsphere’s sea of meta-storms, Charles Johnson and his website Little Green Footballs (“LGF”) are probably unknown to you. This is why the fact that Johnson was the subject of three simultaneous profiles by the LA Times, the NY Times, and Vanity Fair deserves mention.
Johnson’s original blogging focus was the post 9/11 threat of Islamic terrorism, and also a fanatical defender of Israel. Where he went astray in those days was in using the latter as a litmus test for the former; as a result he earned quite a reputation as an Islamophobe which (in my opinion, unfairly) persists, to this day. But what makes Johnson noteworthy is how he has stood by his principles and now left the conservative blog movement which he semi-founded. And he has paid a price for doing so, noting that
“The kinds of hate mail and the kinds of attacks I am getting from the right wing are way beyond anything I got when I was criticizing the left or even radical Islam.”
I think this observation speaks volumes about our political atmosphere today. Not to mention being a pretty accurate proxy for assessing the relative threat. The right wing would love nothing more than to see Johnson silenced, rather than have him speaking out in defense of global warming, against Creationism, and domestic right-wing terrorism. Of course, Johnson remains a devoted fan of Israel, and a severe critic of Islamists and extremism. After all, in a way Johnson has never changed. It’s just that the world has – and he reacts accordingly.
Now, I’ve my own history with Johnson – he accused me of “blood libel” against the Jewish people for a monumentally stupid post I wrote as a newbie blogger back in 2003, where I accepted at face value a now-discredited report in the UK’s Sunday Times accusing Israel of developing biological weapons. I’m not proud of how gullible I was back then (for the record, the idea of Israeli bioweapons is paranoid nonsense, but falls far short of being a blood libel). However, though I’d only been blogging for a few years at that point, I had a record of being critical of Israeli policy but supportive of Israel overall. I’ve also always been a ferocious critic of violent Islamic extremism (ie, hirabah) and Palestinian terrorism in particular, but unfortunately it only took one gullible post to erase that credibility and undermined everything I’d written in defense of Islam to that point.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons about blogging and the blogsphere from that episode, especially about how dangerous it is to outsource your critical thinking to the mass media. By the time Johnson led the crusade against Dan Rather with incontrovertible proof of forgery, I was able to be convinced depite my partisan preferences. So to an extent I credit my thrashing at Johnson’s hands for this.
The blogsphere is a pretty harsh, unforgiving environment. That’s the lesson that Charles and his courtier websites taught, as they dispensed their ideological judgements. There’s considerable irony in the fact that those courtiers, who always took the green football of anti-Islamist critique and ran far deeper into the virulently Islamophobic endzone than Johnson himself ever ventured, have now turned on him. To Johnson’s immense credit he has repudiated the Islamophobia industry because he realized that his allies were essentially beccoming ideological brethren with racist, fascist and supremacist groups in Europe (another irony – the very Christian analogue to the Islamic extremists themselves).
The muslim immigrant population of Europe is particularly vulnerable to this kind of hatred, and Europe has a history of letting that kind of hatred get out of control. Muslims in the US are far more integrated, assimilated, and empowered to defend themselves under the law from the persecution and infringement of liberty that muslims in Europe must accept. Kudos to Charles Johnson for recognizing this and speaking out against it – and if in so doing he has earned the hatred of people who claim to be defending the West but still see Islam through the same lens as Osama bin Laden, then that’s all the more reason to congratulate him.
Related – the NYT profile was more critical of Johnson than the other papers, and he has a couple of posts in response. Also see the coverage of Johnson at Talk Islam. And I’m still critical of Israeli policy while remaining supportive of Israel overall.