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    Understand what is at stake


    by Sunny on 9th August, 2006 at 12:06 am    

    I said recently that the problem with Tony Blair’s approach to world events is what looks like a limited understanding of religious and non/religious politics.

    In this weekend’s Observer Henry Porter made a similar point quite succintly:

    That is not the thinking of neocon policy makers, so it is well to remind Mr Blair what Henry Kissinger said to the World Affairs Council in 1999. ‘In America, there has been a tendency to divide foreign policy into two schools of thought. One that identifies foreign policy as a subdivision of psychiatry and another that treats it as a subdivision of theology. The psychiatrists think relations among nations are like relations among people and you bring peace through this strenuous exercise of goodwill. The theologians believe that all foreign policies are a struggle between good and evil and the thing to do is to destroy the wrongdoer once and for all, after which normalcy returns.’ Kissinger was psychiatrist; the Prime Minister and President Bush are theologians.

    Exactly right.

    There is a tendency to make current events in Israel / Lebanon by people on all sides as a fight to death between ‘good and evil’. No one is on the side of evil from their own perspective of course. For neo-cons (loosely) it is a fight between the “peace and freedom loving” west versus those “evil death-loving fanatics”. Or something.

    We are not supposed to figure out why those people left their families to embrace death because then we become “apologists”. Tony Blair keeps insisting it’s nothing to do with religion since Islam teaches people to be peaceful (I don’t disagree here). But how and why did they go from being Islamic to Islamists? Any idea? Errmm… no. Don’t ask such silly questions.

    On the other hand we have Muslims in the Middle East (and Britain) who also want to paint this as a struggle between Islam and the west. The latter are always painted as the aggressors. On the one hand they want sympathy from the west (consider the disgraceful photo-editing antics of Adnan Hajj) but they also hide the anti-semitic racism in the Middle East and are happy to support an organisation like Hizbullah who keeps firing rockets at civilians. You are either against the killing of innocent civilians or you are not.

    Of course the answer is somewhere in the middle. Religion is being used as a tool by both sides to justify their irrational hatred.

    A little noticed article in the Observer this weekend, published first in the NYT last week, Robert Pape, an expert on terrorism, makes this point very academically.

    Evidence of the broad nature of Hizbollah’s resistance to Israeli occupation can be seen in the identity of its suicide attackers. Hizbollah conducted a broad campaign of suicide bombings against American, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986. Altogether, these attacks, which included the infamous bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, involved 41 suicide terrorists.

    Researching my book, which covered all 462 suicide bombings around the globe, I had colleagues scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and biographies of the Hizbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. We were shocked to find that only eight were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a female secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

    What these suicide attackers - and their heirs today - shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hizbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.

    Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective. Most often, it is a response to foreign occupation.

    This does not deny that the leadership of Hizbullah is anti-semitic and its leaders will not rest until they destroy Israel. This also does not deny that Lebanon and the Israel will never live in peace until Hizbullah vanishes. But it is important to understand the nature of the threat in order to defeat it.

    Weakening it and removing the support for its existence will require embracing the Lebanese and their democracy, not trying to bomb them into submission. Until Tony Blair and Bush recognise this there will never be any peace.



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    25 Comments below   |  

    1. Bert Preast — on 9th August, 2006 at 12:49 am  

      Suicide bombers are usually fairly well educated. The Japanese kamikaze were hardly the dregs of their society, and there’s no reason to expect that the martyrs of others will be either. It’s one of the things that makes them so dangerous.

      Another thing that makes them so dangerous is the propaganda value. Values have gone astray somewhere, it seems.

    2. Sahil — on 9th August, 2006 at 10:05 am  

      “This does not deny that the leadership of Hizbullah is anti-semitic and its leaders will not rest until they destroy Israel. This also does not deny that Lebanon and the Israel will never live in peace until Hizbullah vanishes.”

      Hi Sunny, I think that’s a little unfair. I think that the PLO lost much of a negotiating position when it recognised Israel, but the latter didn’t consider the 1967 border, or compensation an acceptable solution. In a sense even though Hizbullah may be pragmatic about the end-point: if it already provides Israel with recognition, whilst Israel and the US don’t recoginse it, or the number of Lebanese nationals held in limbo in Israeli jails, whats the point? This conflict didn’t start just start because of the kidnapping of soldiers, but because of failure to negotiate ‘fairly’. As for the no. of people who keep saying that all muslims want all jews dead, I think you’ve also said that’s complete nonsense. I think much of the resentment and bigotry has little to do with race or religion, but sense of injustice and lack of means to ‘right’ what has been done ‘wrong’.

    3. Roger — on 9th August, 2006 at 10:21 am  

      Sahil: it isn’t all muslims saying they want all jews dead in this case; it’s the leadership of hizbullah. There’s no reason to suppose they’re sincere in their rhetoric here or that people who support them actually agree, but that’s what they say.
      One problem is Israeli paranoia about its enemies. The PLO may or may not have been sincere in saying they recognised Israel but Israel behaved as though it was insincere, which didn’t help: part of the way international relations work is that people pretend something is true for long enough and it does become true. With Hizbullah they know where they stand, so negotiations needn’t have any pretence about being anything but entirely pragmatic and short-term ends. After all, what is the long term but a load of short terms piled together?

    4. Sahil — on 9th August, 2006 at 12:22 pm  

      “One problem is Israeli paranoia about its enemies. The PLO may or may not have been sincere in saying they recognised Israel but Israel behaved as though it was insincere, which didn’t help: part of the way international relations work is that people pretend something is true for long enough and it does become true.”

      Exactly, the many Israeli administrations have argued that they don’t have a viable partner for peace anywhere in the middle-east. They’ve based their entire politics on this premise. But many Arab states and factions have explicitly and implicity argued that they are willing to recognise Israel and settle for 1967 even without compensation to displaced refugees. I also want to state that I’m well aware of the 1 millions jews displaced after 1948, and they should also be compensated for their losses.

      Even Hamas has implicitly said that they’ll recognise Israel if its willing to negotiate along the 1967 border. But the various Israeli administrations do not want to lose that land, and will just continue to argue that there are no partners. How can you possible have a sustainable settelement if both sides are not satisifed with the settlement. Indeed Israel has argued that its primary concern is security, so would they not revert to 1967 borders if it could lead to peace. But I don’t think they want that. I’m also wondering whether the fact that the Knesset is filled with ex-military persons aggravates the situation. If the conflict stopped, there would be fewer defence contracts.

    5. El Cid — on 9th August, 2006 at 1:30 pm  

      So where we do fit in the realpolitik of Kissinger, Bismark, Macchiavelli et al? Or maybe that was Henry’s point.
      As I said the other day, “Be ferocious in battle, magnanimous in vistory” is a Machiavellian principle Israel has never really grasped.

    6. Refresh — on 9th August, 2006 at 2:08 pm  

      El Cid - I think the principle is “Be ferocious in battle, for only then will you reduce their numbers”.

    7. Kismet Hardy — on 9th August, 2006 at 2:11 pm  

      Al;so the bit about being magnus magnusson in victory is flawed

      Even though he hosted Mastermind, he only knew the answers because they were written in front of him

      Moral of story: It’s not victory if you cheat

    8. sonia — on 9th August, 2006 at 2:19 pm  

      school of psychiatry or theology - heh that’s a good one. pretty good metaphor.

      good post sunny.

      interesting re: the book by robert page.

      foreign occupation and suicide bombers? why that sounds like it could apply to iraq too…

    9. sonia — on 9th August, 2006 at 2:21 pm  

      i suppose anti-semitic - we’re referring to just anti-jewish.

    10. AsifB — on 9th August, 2006 at 2:58 pm  

      Sunny - interesting analysis from Robert Pape.

      Much as I appreciate the psychiatrist/ theologian metaphor though, Kissinger and Nixon are responsible for more Third World conflict deaths (running into the millions) than Bush is likley to manage (assumming Cheney is not able to activate the Rapture…)

      Overthrowing Allende in 1973 Chile was the cherry pip of the iceberg. There’s prolonging colonial wars in Africa and propping up military regimes throughout Latin America. And as for Cambodia, Vietnam…
      Plus it is regularly overlooked that Kissinger’s greatest achievement (Nixon’s China talks) is tainted by his realpolitc with Zulfi Bhutto and the Pakistan military junta’s massacres in Bangladesh.

      So I say boo to Dr. Strangelove. He will always be the Kissinger of Death to me.

    11. sonia — on 9th August, 2006 at 3:06 pm  

      asifb - just cos kissinger was a dodgy fellow doesn’t mean what he said ain’t got some grains of truth to it! perhaps he was feeling unusually reflexive that day? :-)

    12. sonia — on 9th August, 2006 at 3:07 pm  

      i’d say personally kissinger was a more dangerous version of bush..

    13. AsifB — on 9th August, 2006 at 3:14 pm  

      Sonia - I totally gree with nos. 11+12 ( i said i apprecaited the metaphor did i not)

      I bet that K was being his self serving self in 1999 though.

    14. Jackie Brown — on 9th August, 2006 at 3:51 pm  

      I’ve heard the argument that the struggle in the Middle East is exacerbated [caused by?] lack of access to basic resources e.g. WATER more so than religious extremism.

    15. Gaz — on 9th August, 2006 at 4:22 pm  

      JB, I have heard the same thing. Indian farmers have actually visited Israel as they wanted to learn how Israel grows such a wide range of crops in what is essentially desert. Israeli agricultural firms as every bit as ingenious as their more renowned technology firms. I understand Israel actually imports some of its water supply by boat from Turkey. It would be very interesting to see how a completely independent third party would carve up the land based solely on equal access to vital resources.

    16. Simon Barrow — on 9th August, 2006 at 5:36 pm  

      Spot on Sunny. Though I’m bound to point out that Blair and Bush are ‘theologians’ pretty much in about the same way that members of the Big Brother House are ‘public intellectuals’ - they shape our culture of thought and apprehension… even though they actually fail to think or apprehend in any serious way. My paper on ‘Redeeming Religion in the Public Square’ (on Ekklesia) looks at how to handle the problem of religion and violence/oppression from a UK angle. On the US stuff, I’d really recommend Michael Northcott’s ‘An Angel Directs the Storm
      : Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire’ (I. B. Taurus, 2005).

    17. El Cid — on 9th August, 2006 at 8:23 pm  

      Refresh, yeah maybe that is the Israeli interpretation… and maybe the quote is not directly attributable to The Prince, although I read it twice a long time ago and it rings true.
      Magnus Magnusson.. like it.. very good
      The point is Bismark was relatively generous to the Austrians when he defeated the Hapsburgs and removed Austrian influence over Bavaria and the rest of southern Germany for a Greater Prussia (i.e Germany). So they got over it and remained cool with them. Maybe you could say they had no choice.
      But the opposite was true after the Franco-Prussian war when — against the wishes of Bismark, at least according to the historians I studied — the French were made to pay a heavy indemnity and lost Alsace-Lorraine.
      The result was that a desire for revenge guided French policy for the following half-century.
      Come the end of WW1 and the boot was on the other foot, and the Germans were made to pay a very heavy price which, as all schoolboys know, contributed to the collapse of the German economy, a weak German polity and the rise of.. you know who.
      My question is, what has Israel done to secure the peace after its recent “victories”.. has it offered to give back land taken, or to share Jerusalem, or to stop building settlements.. In fact, after 50 years has it managed to secure its long term future?

    18. Chairwoman — on 9th August, 2006 at 8:35 pm  

      When Jordan controlled West Jerusalem , Jews weren’t allowed there at all, let alone to visit the Western Wall. Correct me if I’m wrong (you’ll probably correct me if I’m right as well), but don’t Muslims live in West Jerusalem and worship under the Dome of the Rock?

    19. Bert Preast — on 9th August, 2006 at 10:25 pm  

      El Cid wrote: “Come the end of WW1 and the boot was on the other foot, and the Germans were made to pay a very heavy price which, as all schoolboys know, contributed to the collapse of the German economy, a weak German polity and the rise of.. you know who.”

      This is something we hear about all the time, but I don’t buy it. Hitler wasn’t the first facist, and I don’t see how we can blame ourselves or the treaty of Versailles for his rise to power. The treaty stipulated heavy reparations, yes - but Germany never paid them anyway. And how does one explain the rise of facism in Italy, Hungary, Spain etc., none of which were subject to draconian conditions from the UK and France after WW1.

      I like Germans, because they like beer and have amusing shaped heads. But I suspect the Versailles excuse for the rise of Hitler is actually something put about after WW2 to stop people laughing too much at the shape of German heads, and getting nasty about it.

    20. El Cid — on 10th August, 2006 at 12:54 pm  

      What are you on about Saggy Tits? “I hear this all the time but I don’t buy it..” what arrogant nonsense
      Economic disarray didn’t create Hitler but it did severely weaken Germany’s first-ever attempt at democracy and tainted the Weimer Republic domestically, ensuring it never took root in the affections of the populace.
      I could say other stuff about Hungary, Spain, Italy.. but enough!!!
      Answer the fucking question in hand: What has Israel done to secure the peace after its recent “victories”.. has it offered to give back land taken, or to share Jerusalem, or to stop building settlements.. In fact, after 50 years has it managed to secure its long term future?

    21. Chairwoman — on 10th August, 2006 at 1:38 pm  

      El Cid - it shares Jerusalem, not in the way you want it to share, but it shares a whole fucking lot better than Jordan did when it had control of the holy sites. OK? But of course you will either ignore or deny this.

    22. El Cid — on 10th August, 2006 at 1:53 pm  

      Is that it Chairwoman?
      I invite you to put tribal loyalties aside and think outside of the box: What has Israel done to secure the peace after its recent “victories” ?

    23. Bert Preast — on 10th August, 2006 at 2:04 pm  

      El Cid - I only quoted that paragraph because that was the only bit of your post that I had any beef with. Versailles is not the main reason for the rise of the nazis. It’s one of my favourite things to say to annoy people.

      I’ll have a crack at your question if you like, though. Israel has handed back Sinai - supposedly ensuring peace with Egypt, and to date it’s worked. It’s also begun the withdrawal of settlers - which is a start to some sort of peace with the Palestinians. And they’ve allowed the UN in to the Golan in an attempt to stop war with Syria flaring up. Though of course we’ve seen how well that plan works over the last month.

    24. El Cid — on 10th August, 2006 at 8:24 pm  

      Sinai aside, it’s not as if they haven’t left behind some cause for continued revanchism… why did they build the settlements in the first place and why have the Golan Heights never been offered up for negotiation to Syria and why has Israel never addressed the situation of the Palestinian diapora.. to the victor the spoils, while you losers can just fuck off?
      Let’s face it, Israel has militaristic and imperialist instincts.. whether that’s down to the collective memory of the Holocaust or because it has access to so much weaponry is academic.. the fact remains that even after 50 years, it hasn’t endeared itself to its neighbours and it’s security needs remain unfufilled.. at which point does the blame fall on Israel for that?

    25. Bert Preast — on 10th August, 2006 at 8:43 pm  

      I had to look up revanchism. And you accuse me of talking bollocks? :D

      Why is Sinai aside? Shouldn’t it be being held up as a model of what might be achieved? They built the settlements to try to take root in Arab land. The Golan heights may be up for negotiation - but I doubt it’ll come until it’s part of a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. And yes, to the victor the spoils. If the victor was not the aggressor, that’s the only sensible way for these things to work.

      Israel is certainly militaristic, but where do you get the imperialistic from? I don’t see any demands for an empire, just for a bit of lebensraum. And the Palestinians have also, in 50 years, completely failed to endear themselves to their neighbours, and I’m not just talking about Israel. It’s a huge goatfuck, isn’t it?

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