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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Others writing about Hamas and Hezbollah;