My Twitter Exchange With The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg

Immediately after the Oslo bombing, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a post entitled “Mumbai Comes to Norway,” in which he rushed to implicate Muslims (“jihadists”) for the attack (as so many others did).

His post, which stirred up plenty of controversy at the time, was just one of several that came from mainstream journalists who, without facts or evidence, rushed to profile the violence as being perpetrated by Muslims. (Another high-profile example was an odious piece from The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin.)

Yesterday, after Goldberg Tweeted about his dismay at the domestic far-right’s anger at Muslims, I challenged him, asking:

David Harris-Gershon (David_EHG) on Twitter 1
For those who cannot see the screen capture: @Goldberg3000 Do you not think you contributed to that anger when you wrote this immediately after Oslo? (link to his post)

And that’s where things began to unravel a bit.


First, to backtrack, here is what Goldberg wrote in the immediate wake of the Norway bombing, in which he implicated “jihadists” for the attack:

I’m following news of the Norway attacks like the rest of you, and am curious to see, among other things, Norway’s response. I hope it is not to pull troops out of Afghanistan; this would only breed more attacks. So, why Norway? It doesn’t seem likely, on the surface, if this is jihadist in origin. There are many countries with more troops in Afghanistan than Norway; and there are several countries whose newspapers have printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. My first reaction is two-fold: 1) Jihadists did this in Norway because they could. Norway is pretty well-known among homeland-security types for being among the softer, less-defended countries of the West, and 2) Norway is making moves to expel a jihadist called Mullah Krekar, who is one of the founders of Ansar al-Islam, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that operated in Iraqi Kurdistan with some help from Saddam’s intelligence services. This could be a message about his coming deportation.

When he responded to my original Tweet, which asked if his rush to judge Muslims could not be seen as a part of the problem, adding to the general fury on the right, this was his response:

Jeffrey Goldberg (Goldberg3000) on Twitter 2
@David_EHG Only if you equate jihadism with Islam. And I’ve been writing against anti-Muslim extremism for a long time. But you knew that.

He seemed, it appeared, to be justifying his post by claiming that a clear distinction could be made by his readers and the general public by his writing “jihadists,” and not “Muslims,” as though he was clear of any wrongdoing in his rush to judgement after the attacks through linguistics. (And yes, “jihadist” and “Muslim” should never be equated.)

I challenged him on it:

David Harris-Gershon (David_EHG) on Twitter 3
@Goldberg3000 Writing about anti-Muslim extremism acknowledged. But not equating jihadism for w/ Islam is your defense for “Mumbai” post?

And this is where I got the response that was troubling (and offensive) on several levels:

Jeffrey Goldberg (Goldberg3000) on Twitter 4
@David_EHG Doesn’t need a defense. Do you not think it normal to suspecct al Qaeda after mass terrorism? Have you not been paying attention?

First, the personal: Goldberg, I’m quite certain, knows my history with terrorism; he knows my story of trying to reconcile with the terrorist who tried to kill my wife. And yet he wrote this: Have you not been paying attention?

But that’s the personal affront. What I found most troubling was his claim that, in the wake of the Norway tragedy, there was no need to defend rushing to judge “jihadists,” which for many is (obscenely, of course) code for “Muslims,” for having perpetrated the attacks. In essence, Goldberg was saying this: nobody has to apologize for profiling violence.

I should have Tweeted: have I not been paying attention? Are you not familiar with Oklahoma City? Virginia Tech? Columbine?

But instead, I wrote this:

David Harris-Gershon (David_EHG) on Twitter 4
@Goldberg3000 We disagree on this: immediately implicating Muslims (jihadists) is profiling violence, something I find damaging/indefensible.

And that’s where the crickets started their chirping.

I am troubled by those in our media who defend profiling violence, who defend rushing to implicate groups as the smoke is still settling before any facts have been established. Because doing so not only damages those groups being implicated, but serves to feed into the frenzy of hatred that swirls in our society.

Goldberg should have done better. And he refuses to admit it.


Author’s Note: I want to clarify that I wrote this diary not as a personal attack against Goldberg, but as a microcosmic example of this endemic problem in the media, a problem that must be solved.

For violence is going to continue. And we cannot allow a particular people to be profiled immediately before facts are established, for doing so is harmful and dangerous.


About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on July 29, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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