I’ve had time to digest the news coming out of Lebanon. I like to survey all the reports, both left/right, immediate and considered. There’s the rush to be first with the scoop, the dramatic and shocking images. Reporters battle each other for a different angle or an image that seems to contradict official press releases. However, all too often these initial reports miss important detail. We have to wait for the second wave of more in depth journalism from those who are more experienced and know how to sift through the propaganda from all sides (not ‘both’ sides, because conflict is usually not between two sides, but multiple views).
Of course we can do a formulaic AQAL analysis of the conflict. I assume that most readers will be able to do so. Yes, there are all quadrant causes but what interests me the most is the divergent narratives being spread in regard to this conflict and how we might sort through those narratives and their biases to separate truth from myth/fiction and try to find a solution and predict likely consequences.
Israel seems to have lost the propaganda war. This is a great pity because I believe their action is fully justified – and I’ll explain why. They have lost the propaganda war because the immediate media response is to concentrate on the most dramatic images and the greatest loss of life. There is then a emotional public reaction to these graphic images and an immediate need to place blame. In this case it is against Israel because it appears that they have over-reacted and have caused the loss of ‘innocent’ lives. We are dealing here with perceptions and it appears as if Lebanon is the weaker victim of Israeli strength and aggression.
But now information is coming out that suggests that one of Hezbollah’s tactics is to intentionally draw fire towards civilians and UN peacekeepers. There is even mounting evidence that Hezbollah has forced civilians to act as human shields at gun point. This is a common guerilla tactic usually justified by arguing that the guerilla force has to resort to this because of the superior firepower of the enemy – they have to hide amongst civilians otherwise they will easily be picked off. What is less acknowledged is that it is a powerful propaganda weapon – particularly against the West because the Western public has a relatively low tolerance for the loss of ‘innocent’ civilian life. So insurgent forces dress as civilians and operate in densely populated areas (and in the ME hide in mosques) in order to cause as much of a propaganda advantage as possible. And in Lebanaon Hezbollah is doing exactly this, moving their missiles from town to town and firing from within so that if they are attacked there is high ‘collateral’ damage – and where there is a UN post they go toward it in order to draw fire. Of course, there is another very sound reason – and one I would use myself – there is a chance the enemy might not fire because the collateral risk is too high.
This last point is important because Israel and the West do consider the collateral risk and do pull back from certain actions. This is not a moral consideration that Hezbollah makes. Whilst Israel makes some attempt to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to target only combatants Hezbollah makes no such distinction – which is where we get into competing narratives. Hezbollah fires its missiles randomly toward non military targets. It regards all Israelis and Jews as enemies.
There has been considerable talk about proportionality. In the first days people were shocked that Israel would go to such an extent to recover two soldiers. But this conflict is not really about that – the kidnap was only the straw that broke the camel’s back. This conflict is about one thing – destroying Hezbollah. Israel would have known very early that there was a high probablity that their action could have seen their soldiers killed, so it’s not about their return. In which case the response has been proportionate, even measured – because it is now apparent that Hezbollah was better armed and better organized than Israel first thought.
Let’s be clear about this, both Hamas and Hezbollah want one thing – the complete destruction of Israel. Whilst both organizations hold this aim they cannot be trusted and any cease fire is temporary. Hezbollah may accept a cease fire but only if they are in a weak position, in which case they will use a cease fire to regroup and find other ways to undermine Israel.
And this is where we face another argument – that Israel is a bully that has the ‘unfair’ advantage of a large military (supplied by the US). But how easily people who hold this view forget history. Israel has always had to defend itself against powerful elements in the ME who want its complete destruction. This is not about the moderates on both sides who do reach out to each other and who do suggest solution after solution. It is about the extremists who undermine the moderates. In this climate the only way Israel has survived is through its ability to hit back and hit back very hard. Who is the bully? The person who does not want you to exist at all, or the person who demands they have a place and is prepared to fight back? Does Israel make mistakes, does it go overboard? No doubt – but who knows where the balance lies? Opinions vary widely. If Israel had not had the capacity to hit back hard does anyone seriously think that it would still exist?
Whether you accept this view depends on whether or not you accept that Israel has a right to exist. Of course, if you think as Hezbollah does, that the Jews have no right to Palestine then all of the Zionists actions have been acts of aggression. If you believe that Israel has a right to exist then you are likely to interpret aggression as justified defence.
We are now at a very perilous point. I think we’ve quietly slipped into WW3 – slipped quietly liked Iraq has slipped quietly into civil war. Al Qaeda has called for jihad in Lebanon. Just as the invasion of Iraq created an anarchic situation which Islamist insurgents, Saddamists and opportunists could exploit I believe this conflict will descend into a similar situation. I believe Israel knows this and it explains why they want to completely wipe out Hezbollah. If any there are any remnants they will carry on an insurgent war, regardless of whether the UN or NATO sends a peacekeeping force. Lebanon will become another unstable front in a global war against an aggressive brand of Islam.
But what about the many moderate Muslims? Indeed, what about them? Where the hell are they? This is the other unfortunate aspect of this global war. The extremists are advancing and the moderates retreating. I don’t know if people have been monitoring the global situation but Islam is turning further inwards, not outwards. Islamists have taken control of Somalia and are imposing harsh sharia law – and in the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslim nations conservatives are gaining ground. Indonesia is poised to introduce harsh censorship laws based on sharia, despite the constitution promoting the Panchasa system, the right of the five major religions to co-exist. There was a news report this week that at first seems trivial, but it is the sign of things to come. The conservative Muslim group the Islamic Defenders Front has filed a complaint against Indonesia’s Miss Universe candidate, Nadine Chandrawina, for indecency because she wore a swiming costume. She could face two to five years in prison. I hope it doesn’t succeed, but it might. A similar wave of conservatism is affecting Malaysia and Turkey (which now has full body swimsuits with built in hijabs so conservative Muslim women can go swimming – in time pressure will mount to ban bikinis).
The war in Lebanon will further polarize the Muslim world and it will inspire even more converts to extremism and conservatism. In which case it might be argued that it has been counter-productive. Yes, but I believe the Israelis knew this but had no choice. I’m trying to remember which movie this scene is in (I think it’s either Sinbad or one of the Indiana Jones movies) – the hero is attacked by a skeleton but every time he smashes the skeleton the bones grow into even more skeletons. If he continues the skeletons will eventually over run him but if he stops they will kill him. Hezbollah was building up arms with the sole intention of eventually attacking Israel. The longer Israel waited the better prepared and armed Hezbollah became. Hezbollah had become a state within a state and was growing in influence. Its state sponsors, Syria and Iran were making increasingly belligerent, anti-Israeli statements. Hezbollah saw an opportunity to create a second front as Israel attempted to stop
Hamas militants firing Qassim missiles from Gaza into Israel (a situation they had allowed to continue for some weeks in the hope there was a non-military solution).
This larger polarization will affect every Muslim population and only increase the move toward militantcy, including increasing the risks of home grown ‘terrorist’ actions.
What can we do? Not a lot, except defend ourselves. I’ve looked at this issue from all sorts of angles and I don’t believe that the bottom-line causes are within the West’s control. Peripheral issues certainly are. I think this is all about a perception of injustice as opposed to real injustice (besides, the idea of justice in Islam is different to the Western idea – the creation of the state of Israel is considered an injustice). We are ultimately fighting Islamic supremacists and triumphalists – people who fervently believe that this is a war between Islam and the infidels which Islam must and will win simply by virtue of the fact that it is the absolute and final word of God. There are many in the West who cannot grasp the relentless logic of this quest. The destruction of Israel is only an initial step. As Zarwahiri has just said, Islam must triumph from Spain to Iraq (yes folks, Spain must return to Muslim rule).
What about international law you say? Doesn’t matter. The Koran and sharia are understood to be the only basis for any law. If it ain’t Islamic law it doesn’t count and several jurists have declared that the reconquest of Spain was illegal. Which is why the West must inform itself about Islamic law and the Islamic narrative/view of the world.
And this is why Israel must have a powerful army because under Islamic law the Jews do not have the right to a separate state, they are meant to be subservient (as are all other faiths) to Islam. It was thus before the Zionist movement even conceived of the idea of a Jewish homeland. To a conservative Muslim it is simply an outrage that Jews and Christians (Hindus/Buddhists) even dare to assert themselves in anyway. Israel has always faced significant resistance from forces who never wanted it to exist.
Again, what of the moderate view? It’s there and they are as appalled by the hardline view as anyone, but they are in retreat. Someone help me here but I can’t think of a moderate gain in the last year anywhere in the Muslim world.