Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fanatics Or Patriots?

The Washington Post has an interesting story, which puts a rare face on the "terrorists" fighting Israel. In the aftermath of the war, the commentary from Hezbollah fighters challenges the perception that these men are religious fanatics, first and foremost. As a matter of fact, maybe the reason they fought so hard, wasn't because of fanaticism, but civic duty:
"Either we live with dignity and strength or death is better," he said...

There was a word repeated time and again Monday in Khiam, by both fighters and the residents who chose to stay through the war. It was karama , or dignity. In the speeches of Arab leaders, ridden with clichés that often provided the rhetorical buttress of authoritarian regimes, it had come to lose much of its meaning. But in Khiam, it was uttered so often, so fervently, that it felt different.

"This is our land," said Bilal Ali Saleh, a 42-year-old beekeeper. "Can we leave our land? Would you leave your land?"...

My view, my sense of this, is that no one who comes from their land and is attached to it can ever be defeated," he added. "It is the land of their fathers, it is the land of their grandfathers."

It is estimated that more than 20000 shells landed on the village of Khiam. Despite the leveling of the village, Israel wasn't able to dislodge the Hezbollah fighters. Listening to the IDF officials, they attribute this fierce resistance to fanaticism, but the more you listen to the participants, the more you think they fought for their country. Their land, their identity, which seems entirely reasonable and, dare I say it, honorable by historic standards. Was the south of Lebanon armed for an offensive operation, or was it merely a "cold war" mentality, meant to deter a perceived aggressor?

The main criticism of the "terrorists" during this campaign was their use of the katusha rockets that indiscriminately targeted civilians, and who's sole purpose was to inflict death. While not condoning this tactic, I think it important to put this action into perspective, when choosing moral sides:
The director of Nabatiyeh National Hospital in the south, Dr Hassan Wazni, has been quoted as speaking about "vacuum bombs''. 'They vacuum the air out of the body and that stops the breathing and thus the heart stops operating.' He also speaks about one 'death' case, that of Sadek Hamed (12) whose cause of death is still unknown (medically).

Dr. Bashir Sham, member of "French Association of Cardiovascular Surgeons", explains that the way the corpses look when they reach the hospital, especially those from the 'air strikes' in Doueir and Rmayleih, is very abnormal. "One might think they were burnt, but their colour is dark, they're inflated, and they have a terrible smell. All this, and the hair is not burnt nor do the bodies bleed.' Several doctors have claimed that white phosphorus has been used in the south of the Lebanon. They have no doubts. Certainly cluster shells have been used...

Guess what, there are no good and bad guys in this fight, as the propaganda suggests. Maybe, all we have is a tragic case of two opposing sides, who unfortunately view the other's destruction as their only path for survival. There is an underlying commonality at play, despite the polar opposite impressions.


Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi Steve,

I think I get the gist or you post. First, characterizing Hezbollah as terrorists or patriot freedom fighers depends on perspective. Second, no one side is a saint.

(1) Some suggest that one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, but this type of relativism doesn't hold much water. The UN Sixth Committee came very close to defining terrorist in Article 2 of its report to the UNGA. The exploitation of the civilian population is an integral part.

Additionally, regardless of one's perspective on Hezbollah, UNSC Resolution 1701 outlaws the group as a military force, pursuant to PP10, OP8. The only loophole is for Hezbollah to integrate within the Lebanese army.

(2) Definitely.

Steve V said...

"The only loophole is for Hezbollah to integrate within the Lebanese army."

I predict Hezbollah becomes the Lebanese Army, for all intent and purposes. Eliminating the stigma of the militia, intergration will allow Hezbollah to stay armed and effectively run the army. In the eyes of the Lebanese people, these fighters are now the country's vanguard.

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi Steve,

Whether or not Hezbollah is seen as the "country's vanguard", I would think that attitudes will change, especially if the group becomes the Lebanese military, as you suggest.

First, how will the Sunnis and the Christians take it if the Shia militia (ie, Hezbollah) takes over? The Lebanese civil war wasn't that long ago.

Second, a powerful Hezbollah presence within the Lebanese military will likely have huge consequences regarding the country's sovereignty vis-a-vis Syria and Iran. If this is correct, then it's like going back to it was before the Cedar Revolution.

Anyway, I wonder what your impressions are of the group.

Godammitkitty said...

Great find (and commentary), Steve. I wonder how allegiances will shift when Hezbollah comes through with restructuring & aid. It's astounding how much Lebanon has had to live through.

I'm also curious to see what happens with Shebaa farms. They didn't really deal with that in UNSC 1701 (they kind of punted on it). Bill Scher was on Air America the other night and he suggested that nobody wanted to touch that issue. Siniora wanted it included so that Hezbollah would lose one of its raison d'etres but others thought it was just too much to bite off. Anyway, thanks for the great post!

Steve V said...

Hey Rebecca:

I don't see how they can achieve a lasting peace until they deal with the farms. It reminds me of the Palestinian negotiations where they kept putting off the issue of Jerusalem. These things don't just go away, instead they fester and guarantee permanent hostility.

Steve V said...

tar heel

"how will the Sunnis and the Christians take it if the Shia militia (ie, Hezbollah) takes over?"

I'm no expert, but from everything I read and saw, non-Shia were turning to Hezbollah's side. Eventually Hezbollah may meld into something more palatable for all Lebanese, but I can't see how they don't dominate the a largely toothless army.