Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lessons Still Not Learned; Hamas and Hezbollah

Hezbollah and Hamas feed from the same source--providing services to the poor of their countries, something we've been unable to do in the West and don't value sufficiently.


The common thinking (at least in this country) is that Hezbollah and Hamas are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and that al Queda is obsessed with the demise of America.

Both surmisings are wrong and, because they are wrong, America is likely to find itself in an unending as well as an unwinnable conflict against terrorism within the Muslim world.

Arabanger There is certainly very little doubt that Israel is despised by a very large proportion of the Arab population. Equally, no one in their right mind, after the destruction of the World Trade Center, would deny that al Queda and a good bit of what is loosely termed ‘the Arab street’ are anti-American. Yet the point has still been missed. The price for missing it is going to be more than we want (or are able) to pay.

America is the current power structure in the world, unequalled by any other nation of the face of the earth. As such, it takes the blame and the credit for much of what goes on, just as Britain and the powers that preceded the Brits took the same heat, all the way back to ancient Roman and Persian Empires. Being the sole power has changed the rules and yet the power centers in American government are playing the diplomacy-game as if it was pre-1989.

It isn’t. We need to get over our simplistic bad-guys and good-guys sense of the world, to look very carefully and see it as it is. Seeing it as it is means we have to leave behind almost an entire history of  seeing it as it isn’t. It is no longer

  • A test of wills with other systems, as it was in communist days.
  • The balancing (and arming) of offsetting and often corrupt power structures.
  • An armaments race (with whom, the Chinese?).
  • Systemic American support of despots in order to maintain all of the above.

Many reading this will do a double-take, because in all of these examples, America continues to plod along, doing business-as-usual as if there were no consequences. 9-11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, North Korea are all consequences.

Poverty There was a short period of time, between the collapse of communism and the terrorist strikes in New York and at the Pentagon, when the world took a kind of collective breath. There was talk of a peace dividend in those brief and heady days before the arms industry lobbyists checked in. Misery, poverty and hopelessness—the collective stew of forty years of brinksmanship and hypocrisy that attended the ‘cold war’—stood shakily, blinked, rubbed its eyes and hoped for better.

What they got was greed and power-plays, mafia and Janjaweed, a world with the lid off. Nations staggering from oppression towards something better were overwhelmed. Russia, China and America had swamped the world in weaponry. The dreaded ‘bomb’ was still in its sheath, but the small nations of the planet were drowning in armaments and 13-year-olds brandished AK-47s. Whoever had the momentary power or opportunity grabbed the guns and the modern age of chaos and terrorism was off to the races.

Just as the colonial powers abandoned their colonies after the 2nd World War to whatever fate lay down the road, so the end of Russian-American confrontation left a similar vacuum. From this void, two forces emerged; those who wanted it all and those who had nothing. Inexorably caught in the rictus of the only game it knew, America came down time after time on the side of those who wanted it all.

Oil was part of it, has always been part of it, since the days when Patton fought Rommel across the sands of North Africa two-thirds of a century ago. America continued propping up dictatorships and monarchies, as we aided (read that armed) Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq (yes, Iraq), the Emirates, Pakistan and Jordan, leaving Lebanon to its Syrian occupiers and Palestine to the dogs.

Iraqiresistance_1 So, there you have the public face America presents to the ‘Arab street.’ The most powerful nation on the face of the earth, supporting one repressive Arab government after another and all the while, apparently bowing to Israel. I say apparently, because all that matters is what is apparent to those who have nothing left to lose. Don't show them statistics, feed their families. Those with nothing to lose are the victims of everyone--governments, poverty, disease and religious extremism.

Israel wasn’t the enemy, the enemy was the Saudi royal family, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and the Arab power-structures. They allowed no protest, brooked no dissent, jailed and killed and tortured and deported all who protested.

The Muslim argument is with their governments, not all of them Arab.

Muslimantisemitism_1 What these repressive regimes did allow was hatred of the Jews. As Hitler allowed (and encouraged) hatred of the Jews to cover a host of internal weaknesses in pre-war Germany, so the Arab power structures have allowed hatred of Israel (and its protector, America) as a pressure-valve for the man in the Arab street.

We are stand-ins for the guilty and have allowed ourselves to be seen as such, out of habit rather than purpose.

Hezbollah is succeeding because it provides services to the poor. Not fear or repression, but schooling and food and medicine to a population forgotten by their country and unnoticed by the larger world. Our opportunity is to work for their betterment rather than their continued repression. Supporting Hosni Mubarak of Egypt with weaponry so that he can suppress his press and his people isn’t a very pro-active way to accomplish that.
Hamasspokesman
Hamas won the first democratic election in Palestine not because Palestinians hate Israel, but because Hamas is the only organization in the entire country that gives a damn about the welfare of its people. Hezbollah all over again, same values, same reasons for their empowerment.

The ‘Arab street’ is not sophisticated. It’s idea of America is a kaleidoscope of music, movies, commercial products, all of it seen through narrow Muslim religious strictures. It’s also jumbled by warfare, both civil and national. Dead children and blown apart neighborhoods are the here and now, juxtaposed against what America says and what it does.

In our own country, we Americans are very troubled and agonizingly split by what is going on in a Muslim world we hardly understand. A sophisticated, educated and supposedly worldly-wise country such as America, not knowing a Shiite from a Sunni Muslim, gives a useful lesson about how misunderstood our culture is in the desert kingdoms.

We will learn or we will fail. The future of this conflict does not depend upon weaponry. If we don’t catch on to the ways in which the world has changed since the cold war ended, we’re in for a very long and very messy century.
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