Are you comfortably numb?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I'm scared about posting this but I'm going to do it anyway.

Few can have failed to notice the turbulent and tragic events occurring in the Middle East of late. A conflict which has been existent for many decades, nay, thousands of years, is rearing its ugly head once more, and attitudes are becoming more extreme than ever. Having witnessed a great deal of coverage on this matter over the last few weeks, I wish to share some of my reactions here. Although a few of you reading this may be well-acquainted with the issues in question and far more expert in dealing with them, I write this so that those who have perhaps only been fed a lopsided media diet of the facts can engage more with the real situation. And also so I can get a lot of things off my chest.

(By the way, this is going to be really long so feel free to just scan it or read the bits that you find most relevant, without distorting the overall meaning.)

Being a student, it is easy to see how ‘the Left’ appeals to people of my age group. University can be a melting pot of extreme opinions (although these days you have to search a lot harder for an opinion than 20 years ago) and it is easy for people to be ensnared in deceptive and dangerous ideologies in the name of activism. Ah, activism, the lifeblood of student politics. But activism, just like apathy, can be a dangerous thing, depending on whose side you are on.

I’m now going to explain what I see as a rather important point that has been ignored by many people. The image painted in the media is now one of an aggressive Israeli state, hell-bent on terrorising women and children and unnecessarily invading everyone within a 200-mile radius. If you just read The Guardian or The Independent, you’d be forgiven for thinking groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are meek and mild entities who are just asking for somewhere to live without being bombed.

If you think this, you are very much mistaken. Let’s cut through all the reports you hear in the media and actually focus on what each side believes and what they preach to their people. First of all, Hamas and Hezbollah are not cuddly lefties ‘resisting’ in order to reach a peaceful two-state solution. They are not even ‘militants’ who get a bit carried away. No, Hamas’ political agenda consists, amongst other things, of destroying the state of Israel. Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, has a President who denies the Holocaust and wants to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the earth’. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this kind of thinking is restricted to those holding political and military power. A debate on our university message-board recently revealed the attitude of one of my Muslim peers to be that Israel should not be allowed to exist. And remember that footage of Palestinians dancing, celebrating in the streets as thousands of people fell to their deaths from the World Trade Center? (Note: I know many, many Muslim moderates deplore the violence of Islamist terrorist groups and also desire a two-state solution; I am merely pointing out that these extremist views are not confined to the leaders of such organisations.) Meanwhile, the vast majority of Jews want a peaceful two-state solution and do not organise in order to harm their Muslim neighbours. They are on the defensive, not on the attack. Ehud Olmert can be criticised for responding disproportionately to Hezbollah, but one cannot accuse him of wanting to destroy Muslims worldwide (see below).

The reason Israel refused to negotiate with Hamas when they came to power was because you cannot and should not negotiate with people who refuse to recognise the right of you and your countrymen to exist, not only as a nation, but as a people. And let’s not forget that the reason Israel has attacked Lebanon is because Hezbollah captured two of their soldiers (who were on Israeli land by the way) and fired rockets over the border. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said ‘If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide’.

What is this, but gross anti-Semitism and hatred of the vilest nature? Yet where are the cries of protest from the Western Left? Where is the uprising against such violence and racism? To be found in the voices and on the placards of those who march AGAINST ISRAEL, claiming unity with Hezbollah and proclaiming that Israel is a terrorist state.

I don’t know if there has actually been a seismic shift amongst the Left in Britain of late or if I’m only just beginning to notice its true colours. Whichever, I am horrified by the statements being bandied around by those on the ‘Left’ who claim to be pioneers of democracy, freedom and human rights. Much of the Left has now become the poodle (where have we heard that expression before?) of groups who proudly preach the doctrine of terrorism, hatred and destruction. I need only to say the name ‘George Galloway’ to provide a working example of this. George Galloway, icon of the modern Left, who recently stood up in London and said "I am here to glorify the resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify the leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah”.

60 years after a man named Adolf Hitler murdered six million Jews, anti-Semitism is rife, and it is spreading like a disease. Except it’s now called ‘anti-Zionism’. The average Jew will patiently explain that Zionism, in their view, is the belief that Israel deserves to exist as a nation. Anyone who is anti-Zionist according to that definition is anti-Semitic. Yet the term “anti-Zionism” is now used as a huge smokescreen to hide far more sinister beliefs. The vague notion of anti-Zionism is now used by much of the Left, many of whom probably see it as a trend that will increase their cool points – because let’s face it, being a Leftie gives you a lot of street cred in some circles.

The Left has now become a hypocrite of Behemoth proportions. Whilst whinging on about Guantanamo Bay and Blair and Bush’s ‘war crimes’, whilst preaching the values of freedom of speech and expression and democracy, whilst campaigning for equal rights for women and homosexuals, it is actively supporting and sponsoring groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who hate all these values and want to destroy them. The plight of gay Muslims is barely known in this country, but I can assure you it is not a pretty one. While the likes of the Stop the War Coalition happily proclaim the rights of the homosexual in this country, they with the same mouths glorify the regimes that love to torture and kill their Muslim counterparts. Not to mention the amount of ignorant and aggressive criticism that Christianity takes from individuals on the Left, while they merrily identify themselves with a religion that preaches war and inequality.

The Guardian, the key left-wing newspaper of the country, has plumbed new journalistic depths during this conflict. Cosying up to terrorists, it seems, is now an obligation if you want to call yourself a leftie. But this is not the true Left. This is not the Left that truly believes in democracy, equality of opportunity and social justice. And let’s not forget that the Right has had its moments of deep shame, also; I don’t remember Thatcher and Reagan being anything but apologetic for the deeply evil regime of apartheid in South Africa.

I’m aware that this has been a bit of a rant, and I’ve probably alienated half my readership (which brings it to less than a whole number now). But I cannot go on any longer watching the television and reading articles that refuse to recognise the wood for the trees. Thinking that Israel is a terrorist state and then supporting Hezbollah is like having a plank in your eye and judging someone else for the speck of dust in theirs.

But we are all missing the point. The point is not to take sides (although sometimes it is hard). The point is to do what we can to treat people humanly and humanely and to be compassionate and loving. A Palestinian mother who has lost her husband/brother/son is no different from an Israeli mother in the same situation, in terms of the human struggle she faces. Both sides are suffering. We must do all we can to bring an end to the conflict. But in doing so, we must denounce evil with no exceptions. We must not apologise for the actions of those who worship the creed of killing. And we must pray.


  • Bec, This is really interesting in its timing. I've just finished "The Little Drummer Girl" by le Carré, and ended it realising how confused I was about the whole Israel -Palestine issue. So I have appreciated your observations. Only God knows why and where it is all leading, so we should pray for the gospel of Christ to reach all those involved in these terrible acts of war.


    By Blogger Cora, at 9:43 pm  

  • Good article...

    By Blogger Jon, at 12:26 am  

  • Hi, Bec.

    I agree with a lot of what you say. However, few people in the West think that Hezbollah are "meek and mild". There are even a fair number of Arabs, by all accounts, who think that their attacking Israel and kidnapping soldiers was at best mistimed, and few Islamic states have expressed much sympathy for Hezbollah. But the response of Israel ("taking Lebanon back 20 years") is not proportionate, can barely be considered to be within international law, and will stoke the conflict for years to come. This isn't just about "ideas" - in addition to the hundreds of deaths (Israel places a far higher value on the lives of its own citizens than on the lives of foreign nationals, it seems - is this a good thing?) an eighth of the population of Lebanon has been displaced already. That's families, children, old people whose lives have been uprooted in the height of the summer - and why? Simply because they lived where they lived. Yes, Hezbollah may have started it and stoked it, but Hezbollah isn't the population of Lebanon.

    Supposing the French air force dropped leaflets over Birmingham saying that because there were thought to be Islamic militants in Birmingham (which there may well be), the entire civilian population should move out, because the city was going to be bombed. Would this be considered proportionate?

    You also need to be careful with your terminology. Both Jew and Arab are semitic peoples, so the attitudes of Islamic fundamentalist groups can hardly be considered to be "anti-semitic".

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 11:38 am  

  • Great article, thanks :)
    You should post it on the Radish.

    By the way: Paul, your "both Jew and Arab are semitic peoples" argument is a tired old point that people wheel out to muddy the issue. The fact is that the phrase "anti-semitism" is used exclusively today to mean discrimination against Jews, and has de facto come to mean just that. Why should she be "careful about her terminology" if everyone knows exactly what she means?

    By Blogger Simon, at 7:55 pm  

  • Simon: Because the phrase "anti-semitic" is technically incorrect. Why use an incorrect long word when a correct shorter one is available? Use "anti-Jewish", or "anti-Zionist" if that's what you mean. Using "anti-semitic" if you mean "anti-Jewish" is itself muddying the issue, as is your rising to that rather than the main thrust of my argument.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 11:09 pm  

  • I'll let Paul and Simon battle this one out, but just to throw another point into the debate, Paul, would you say that it is wrong to use the word 'paedophile' because it means 'lover of children'? The phrase 'anti-Semitic' is now exclusively (as far as I know) used to mean anti-Jewish, as Simon pointed out... your point is duly noted though and maybe I should refer to 'anti-Jewishism' in future?!

    In direct response to Paul's first comment, which was a good one:
    I by no means condone what Israel has done in the last few days, and I agree that they are almost unarguably guilty of war crimes amidst disproportionate retaliation. But with all due respect and perhaps somewhat cheekily, haven't you muddied the waters of my own argument? My point was not an unequivocal defence of Israeli foreign policy but a strong criticism of one major aspect of the modern 'Left'. See future post on Michael Moore for further reference, whose videos are used and glorified by Hezbollah, incidentally. The post would now benefit from a more 'balancing' article outlining my (poorly formed) views on what Israel are actually doing in Lebanon, but it was written before I or anyone else understood the full extent of the attack.

    By Blogger Bec, at 11:25 pm  

  • In all honesty the reason I didn't respond to your main point is because this is a debate I've had time and again over the past week or two, both online and off, and I didn't care to get involved in another one. You can read my response to a similar argument on the Radish forum I mentioned, at Incidentally I've posted some very interesting external analysis in that thread which you may be interested to read.

    I object to your point of terminology not on grounds of technical accuracy, but because it doesn't contribute to the debate about the current situation in any meaningful way whatsoever. I've heard it now at least three times this week alone, and it's getting old!

    By Blogger Simon, at 12:37 am  

  • Estou contente - mais que contente - que a minha filha está achando uma voz, e um tom, cada vez mais adequados para esse tipo de debate. Li o artigo com lágrimas nos olhos. Parabens, Sladger

    By Blogger Andrew and Cora, at 4:59 am  

  • Hmm. Having just consulted some online dictionaries, I see that again language has moved on without consulting me. You and Simon are correct: anti-semitism is now used to mean "anti-Jewish". Sorry. However, I have to say that to suggest that there is an equivalence between semitic people and Jewish people won't do anything to defuse the arguments - which son of Noah should the Arabic people identify themselves with, then? Have they been cut off from this line?

    Simon: I'm sorry to bore you, but whilst this argument may be old to you, you have to bear in mind that others may not be in the privileged position of having time to discuss world politics. If you aren't engaged by something, you always have the option of not rising to it.

    Bec, I wrote what I wrote at least in part following your comment on John's blog - "Stupid Indie" - when the Independent were making the point that the only people not calling for a cease fire were the US, the UK and Israel. Thus it looked as though you were aligning yourself with ... er, well, not to put too fine a point on it, the US, the UK and Israel. Like you, I know about the anti-Jewishness of the media, and the hypocrisy of the left that is prepared to support the most intolerant Islamic extremists, whilst being prepared to oppress Christian organisations that believe in tolerance and freedom - like you, I understand theologically why this is inevitable - and like you, I think it is unacceptable that organisations should be allowed to seek the overthrow of sovereign states. But what Israel has done to Lebanon is simply not acceptable and has to stop. It is Israel who has muddied the water, not me - by running so quickly downhill from the moral high ground. At the moment, what is most urgent is to prevent another middle-east humanitarian catastrophe from taking place.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 5:15 pm  

  • I was aligning myself to some extent with the US, UK and Israel. The reason I said 'Stupid Indie' is because yet again they had a front page that not only simplified the issues beyond meaning, but was sensationalist and detracted from the intelligent debate people should be having about these things.

    By Blogger Bec, at 6:56 pm  

  • Well, I have to consider myself a legitimate target for the frustration of Islamic militants on a day-to-day basis. This action will only increase the number of such militants with nothing to lose, and the determination to strike a blow against the "zionist forces" - whether this is a reasonable position or not. George Bush could pick up the telephone and pull the Israeli forces back with a word. But of course he won't, because Hezbollah is a target in his so-called "war against terror" which is itself a legal nicety to allow him to evade his responsibilities under international law - and having somebody else engaging with Syria and Iran's surrogates saves him having to risk his own popularity by committing US forces. And Tony Blair's relationship with George Bush looks more and more like that between Thatcher and Reagan. I had a lot of sympathy with the Independent - "Here we are - isolating ourselves in world opinion. And for what? What exactly are we going to achieve by not trying to stop the fighting?"

    Israel may be "right" - but this conflict won't deal with Hezbollah and the problem of Islamic militants.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 8:18 pm  

  • The Decent Left gains another one then..

    I pretty much agree with what you (Bec) say, though I'm not as much on the Israeli side as I was at the start. There's only so many destroyed tower blocks you can see, even taking Fiskesque journalism into account.

    The whole 'proportionality' argument I think is bunk. States have a right to self-defence; governments are mandated to defend their own people, not to have some sort of Blue Peter approved defence policy. I'm pissed off more with Israel's policies on strategic grounds (micro pissed off rather than macro, if you like). I can't remotely see the point of taking out loads of Lebanon's infrastructure, weakening its Government and alienating its people. Leb was the closest thing to a sensible country (bar israel) in the region, oh well..

    Since I mentioned Walzer (Mr 'just war', check out the link above), his take on this is here: I've not got round to reading it yet, but its bound to be pretty interesting.

    Oh and who are these oppressed Christian organisations you mention Paul? Bec alludes to this too. Until recently, Christianity was the only religion protected from extreme criticism by law. Doesnt sound too oppressed to me. Ridiculed, maybe, but its an idea and should be open to ridicule - just as liberalism, buddhism, fascism, feminism, whateverism are.

    By Anonymous marsh & stoker, at 12:25 am  

  • err unless of course you mean Christianity gets more than its fair share of ridicule, which is true. But I'd say the fact that Christian don't whine when someone draws a few cartoons shows a certain strength or confidence. Which has gotta be a good thing for you guys?

    By Anonymous Paul Heywood, at 12:33 am  

  • hmm i was thinking of Andrew Heywood actually

    By Anonymous so much for the 'boring academic political science authors' theme, at 12:36 am  

  • Hezbollah is a target in his so-called "war against terror" which is itself a legal nicety to allow him to evade his responsibilities under international law

    Could you elaborate on this, i.e. back it up? Perhaps in a post on your own blog, as it's probably too long for a comment? For example, to what international law are you referring, to what responsibilities, and what is your evidence for how he is deliberately evading this and using the war on terror to do so?

    What exactly are we going to achieve by stopping the fighting? And is isolating yourself from world opinion inherently wrong? There weren't many people around who actually thought Hitler would go back on his promise to Chamberlain. Not that I necessarily think we shouldn't try and stop the fighting, but I'd like you to hammer out your argument. If you would. :D

    By Blogger Bec, at 12:40 am  

  • "What are we going to achieve by stopping the fighting?" Put it the other way around. What are you expecting to achieve if the fighting continues? We may chop of the head of a monster - but it will grow seven more.

    "Is isolating yourself from world opinion inherently wrong?" No - not if you are right. But you have to make darned sure that you are right, because at some stage you have to rebuild the bridges.

    "What international laws?" Well ... the motley group of "undesirables" that were rounded up and transported to Guantanamo Bay (off US territory, so that they were [to begin with] also immune from oversight of US law) were not treated as citizens of their own countries (with whom diplomatic treaties existed with the US), but as "enemy combatants" in the "war against terror" - a war that had no declaration of war, and is not between defined states. Having held them in this way, the Geneva Convention should apply - as it even did in Colditz, for example. The Third Geneva Convention includes the following (Article 13) "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated." (Article 25) "Prisoners of war shall be quartered under conditions as favorable as those for the forces of the Detaining Power who are billeted in the same area." (Article 17) "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."

    Relating to the current conflict: Part III of the Fourth Geneva Convention says: "Article 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited." Shall I go on?

    I'm not necessarily arguing that there was an easy alternative. But to deliberately trample on international law "because the circumstances require it" is allowing the end to justify the means. If we expect our enemies to behave in a legal and honourable manner towards us, we can't behave in an illegal and dishonourable manner towards them.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 11:45 am  

  • Okay, thanks. I agree with all that you've said there. I'm not sure that the only reason Bush has launched the 'war against terror' is to break international law, but I do agree that he is flagrantly ignoring it in a lot of his efforts to 'rid the world of the terrorists'.

    And by the way Israel seems to have lost the plot slightly in the last couple of days... warned by the UN 10 times plus not to attack that station???

    By Blogger Bec, at 6:56 pm  

  • No, I'm sure that Bush launched the "war against terror" because it is genuinely a war against a stateless, terrifying enemy which is itself prepared to fight without any rules of engagement. I expect that the violations of the law are just expediency given the situation that the US government found itself in. But we mustn't become the monsters we are trying to defeat. What's the line at the end of Animal Farm? "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 7:41 pm  

  • Very good article. I think the 'idependant' (note the ironic '') is much worse than the guardian. BBC is as usual equally bad. Some reports i've read from the above practicallt make Hezbollah out to be nuns.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:24 pm  

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