Thursday, August 10, 2006

Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences

By Ayaz Amir

"THIS mortifying war", as a columnist in the Israeli
newspaper Haaretz describes it, was supposed to
destroy Hezbollah quickly. But it has now entered its
fourth week and far from being destroyed Hezbollah is
proving more than a match for the Israeli army.

This is something totally new, no Arab army able to
withstand Israeli might for so long
. While the Arab
street has been electrified, Arab leaders, clients of
the United States, look on despondently. For nothing
has made them look more impotent. Even in that citadel
of silence, Saudi Arabia, there have been small
demonstrations in support of Hezbollah.

On Wednesday the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert,
in a stern TV broadcast (shades of Churchill?) said
that Hezbollah had been crippled. The same day
Hezbollah fired more than 200 rockets into Israel, the
highest number since this war began, giving a new
meaning to the idea of crippling.

Hezbollah knows how to fight. Even though the Israeli
army, desperate to salvage something from this
conflict, has launched a massive assault across the
Lebanese border, and its air force is carrying out
round-the-clock bombings, Hezbollah is standing its
ground. No Arab army has successfully done this except
once before when Hezbollah forced the Israeli army to
withdraw from South Lebanon in 2000
, and now again
when Hezbollah is giving the Israeli army its toughest
time since the founding of the state of Israel. And
this is a guerrilla organization whose hardcore
fighting strength is no more than 5-6000.

There is talk of the Israeli army wanting to advance
up to the Litani River. Nothing would suit Hezbollah
better because the more the Israeli army is extended
the more vulnerable it becomes to Hezbollah guerrilla

And so, not surprisingly, we are seeing subtle changes
of mood and atmosphere
. Even the tenor of western
reporting is beginning to change. Until a few days ago
BBC and CNN were sounding no better than mouthpieces
of the Israeli foreign ministry (not to mention Fox
News which always sounds like the mouthpiece of the
Israeli army.) They were simply unwatchable. Now when
Israeli claims and propaganda are measured against the
actual performance of the Israeli army on the ground,
we can detect the first stirrings of scepticism.

In the Security Council we are now hearing the first
reports of progress towards some kind of a ceasefire
resolution. The US and Israel wanted it differently:
the smashing of Hezbollah before any ceasefire was put
in place.
But with Hezbollah refusing to crack and
international condemnation of Israeli atrocities
growing, even the US is being compelled to modify its

Even that most hardline of neocon nuts, the US's UN
ambassador John Bolton, has had to soften his
utterances about Hezbollah
. (On Wednesday, the BBC's
UN correspondent could scarcely hide his astonishment
when he was reporting Bolton's "almost emollient"
remarks about Hezbollah. For someone like Bolton this
is little short of heresy.)

All this is part of something larger happening across
the broad sweep of the Muslim world. I can do no
better than quote Robert Fisk, widely respected across
the region for his outstanding reporting:

"You heard Sharon, before he suffered his massive
stroke, he used this phrase in the Knesset, you know,
`The Palestinians must feel pain.' This was during one
of the intifadas.

"The idea that if you continue to beat and beat and
beat the Arabs, they will submit, that eventually
they'll go on their knees and give you what you want.
And this is totally, utterly self-delusional, because
it doesn't apply anymore. It used to apply 30 years
ago, when I first arrived in the Middle East. If the
Israelis crossed the Lebanese border, the Palestinians
jumped in their cars and drove to Beirut and went to
the cinema. Now when the Israelis cross the Lebanese
border, the Hezbollah jump in their cars in Beirut and
race to the south to join battle with them.

"...the key thing now is that Arabs are not afraid any
more. Their leaders are afraid, the Mubaraks of this
world, the president of Egypt, King Abdullah II of
Jordan. They're afraid. They shake and tremble in
their golden mosques, because they were supported by
us. But the people are no longer afraid. Whether this
is because they've grown tired of being afraid — you
know, they say once you lose your fear you cannot be
re-injected with fear, you can't start being
frightened again — or whether it's because our western
forces are now at war with Islamists, not with

Mark this distinction. Nationalist and secular forces,
including the PLO, have been discredited
. They were
not up to the task before them. They became corrupt
and soft. And so their place was taken by Islamist
which are now the only elements in the entire
Muslim world struggling against Israel and the US (two
sides, sadly, of the same coin).

Islamists are battling Israel in Gaza, Islamists
engaging Israel in Lebanon, Islamists fighting the US
occupation in Iraq, Islamists battling the
American-propped Karzai puppet government in
Afghanistan, Islamist guerrillas fighting the Pakistan
army to a standstill in North and South Waziristan and
an Islamist regime in Iran standing up to the US and
providing support to Hamas and Hezbollah. Syria which
is secular alone bucks this trend. But even Syria
finds itself in alliance with Islamist forces.

So note the spreading arc of turbulence: from the
shores of the Mediterranean to the borders of Pakistan
this entire region in ferment, the arrogance and
stupidity of American policy fanning the flames of
unrest and revolt.

Hezbollah already is a symbol of defiance far beyond
the confines of Lebanon, its leader, Sheikh Hasan
Nasrallah, arguably the most popular figure in the
Islamic world today. So what will the Israeli
aggression against Lebanon, and American policy
supporting it, achieve? Hezbollah will still be
around. But with the one big difference that more
youngmen and women will be ready to join the Islamist
cause, more people holding up Hasan Nasrallah as an
icon of resistance.

Personally I find myself in a strange position. I am
as secular in my thinking, if not more than most other
people. I was born a Muslim but as is not uncommon in
any religion, I count myself among those who have
never been very particular about observing the rituals
of the faith. Indeed, some of my personal habits are
such as not to accord with anyone's definition of
correct Muslim behaviour. I also don't like the
intrusion of religion into politics and find the
average maulvi's ready stock of pomposity and
hypocrisy amusing.

My secularism, however, collides with an unpleasant
reality: the picture of the Islamic world in thrall to
American power, Muslim elites dancing to America's
tune, Muslim countries little better than satellites
orbiting around the US. I see this in my own country
where there is too much American influence, much of it
of the wrong kind. If the Muslim world is to progress,
this bondage has to be broken.

Even democracy won't come to the Muslim world unless
this influence is overthrown. It's one of the biggest
myths of our time that America wants democracy to
flourish in the lands of Islam. How can it when
democracy doesn't suit its interests? If we have
popular governments in Muslim countries the first
thing they will demand is an end to American hegemony.

The Americans were happy with the Shah, they can't
abide democratic Iran. They can't abide Hamas which is
the elected representative of the Palestinian people.
They can't abide Hezbollah which has a representative
status in Lebanese politics. Democracy in the Muslim
world and the interests of American foreign policy
just do not mix. That is why any kind of popular
movement in the Muslim world finds itself on a
collision course with US interests.

Now if we take it as correct that American domination
of the Islamic world is not a good thing and deserves
to be resisted, it becomes hard for so-called
secularists like myself to close their eyes to the
uncomfortable fact that the only forces resisting this
domination, often successfully, are those which, in
some form or the other, draw their inspiration from

Savour then the irony of it. The "war on terror" was
meant to fight and contain radical Islam. Instead, the
Bush administration has turned out to be its biggest
supporter, through its arrogance, lies and blind
support of Israel giving radical Islam an impetus it
could never have hoped to achieve on its own.

No comments: