Creating people's geographies
Informed Comment/ Juan Cole 8 August 2006
Bush is on vacation, his favorite place to be during a major crisis. The August retreat is the only open admission he makes that Cheney and Rumsfeld are actually running the country, and he just doesn’t need to be in his office. The only difference between his stonewalling of Lebanon and the way he let New Orleans drown is that he has put away the banjo this summer, at least in public view. He had someone tie a necktie on him and stopped manically clearing brush for long enough to come out with Condi and hold a press conference. He lied, saying that no one wants to see the violence continue. He wants to see the violence continue. Otherwise he would insist on a ceasefire. You see, if you don’t have a ceasefire, the violence continues. If you oppose a ceasefire, you are saying you want the violence to continue. He does.
‘They try to spread their jihadist message — a message I call, it’s totalitarian in nature — Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism, they try to spread it as well by taking the attack to those of us who love freedom. ‘
There are many problems with this passage.
The first is that the Israelis are not confining themselves to bombing Muslim radicals. They dropped 3000 bombs on Aitaroun in a single day. They are leveling the towns of the south altogether. They are hitting people who are not Muslim fascists.
In fact, they are hitting Christian areas such as Jounieh.
It is the kind of place where they play the pop music of Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram in the nightclubs.
Not only have the Israelis bombed out the bridges at Jounieh, destroying the local economy and harming the Christians there, but their air raid on the Jiyye oil refinery has caused an enormous ecological disaster and the ruining of the beach resorts along the coast. So much for Jounieh and its “Islamic fascists.”
I guess that will show them. (The oil spill also threatens Cyprus and Turkey).
The Israelis have also bombed Ashrafiyah, a Christian area of Beirut. They have ruined Christian businesses– restaurants, nightclubs, retail shops, by destroying bridges, roads and ports and by killing tourism for years to come.
The Syrians, about whom the Bush administration complained so bitterly for their role in Lebanon, had actually protected the Lebanese Christians from the PLO back in the 1970s and never did to them a hundredth of the damage that Israel has now done.
I don’t mean to suggest that one should only worry about Lebanon’s Christians, who form 40 percent of the electorate.
The Shiite Muslims of the south have been subjected to collective punishment on a mass scale. Whole towns and villages have been destroyed. Nearly a million people are displaced and homeless. The deliberate deportation or forcible transfer of a civilian population during war time is a crime against humanity, as is unnecessary expulsion of civilians from their homes.
Lebanon is a small country, with a population of only 3.8 million. A fourth of the country is homeless! That would be like a disaster that left 70 million Americans wandering around with just the shirts on their backs, living in shelters and schools, wondering where their next bite of food would come from, their homes in rubble, their lives destroyed.
Relatively few Shiite Muslims of Lebanon are fascists of any sort. There are all kinds of Shiites. The father of the renowned entertainer Haifa Wahbi is Shiite.
Her paternal relatives now live in a place that looks like this, thanks to the Israeli air force:
Look closely at this AP photo from Monday, captioned “FLIGHT FROM TERROR: A woman runs past a destroyed building, still in flames, after it had been attacked by Israeli warplane missiles, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon yesterday.” Look at the woman. This is the Shiite “Islamic fascist” that BushMert is making war on?
Then there are other problems with what Bush said. He contrasted “Islamic fascism” to “democracy,” presumably a reference to the Lebanese Hizbullah.
This point is incorrect and offensive for many reasons.
It is a misuse of the word “Islamic.” “Islamic” has to do with the ideals and achievements of the Muslims and the Muslim religion. Thus, we speak of Islamic art. We speak of Islamic ethics.
There can be Muslim fascists, just as there can be Christian fascists (and were, in Spain, Italy and Germany, and parts of Central and South America; the Spanish fascists and the Argentinian ones, e.g., were adopted by the United States government as close allies.)
But there cannot be “Islamic” fascists, because the Islamic religion enshrines values that are incompatible with fascism.
Fascism is not even a very good description of the ideology of most Muslim fundamentalists. Most fascism in the Middle East has been secular in character, as with Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Fascism involves extreme nationalism and most often racism. Muslim fundamentalist movements reject the nation-state as their primary loyalty and reject race as a basis for political action or social discrimination. Fascists exalt the state above individual rights or the rule of law. Muslim fundamentalists exalt Islamic law above the utilitarian interests of the state. Fascism exalts youth and a master race above the old and the “inferior” races. Muslim fundamentalists would never speak this way. Fascism glorifies “war as an end in itself and victory as the determinant of truth and worthiness.” Muslim fundamentalists view holy war as a ritual with precise conditions and laws governing its conduct. It is not considered an end in itself.
The lazy conflation of Muslim fundamentalist movements with fascism cannot account for their increasing willingness to participate in elections and serve in parliamentary government. Hizbullah, for example, ran in the 2005 elections and had 12 members elected to parliament. Altogether, the Shiite parties of Hizbullah and Amal, who have a parliamentary alliance, have 29 members in the Lebanese parliament of 128 seats. Hizbullah and Amal both joined the national unity government, receiving cabinet posts. This is not the behavior of a fascist movement tout court.
Indeed, Hizbullah has made political alliances with Christian parties, most recently with that of Michel Aoun. Opinion polls have shown that a significant proportion of Lebanese Shiites who voted for Hizbullah are more secular-minded than the party is. Hizbullah has authoritarian tendencies, but has shown itself willing to compromise and act pragmatically within the Lebanese system, and has demonstrated an ability to gain support from voters that do not share its fundamentalist ideology.
Hizbullah is a poor people’s movement. It could have been moderated over time, and its adherents could have been pulled into more moderate, mainstream politics if the world had devoted itself to seeing that the Lebanese economy flourished and its government was gradually strengthened. That was the achievement of the Lebanese and regional political elite in the 1990s. If the Israelis had not aggressively occupied the Lebanese South, there would have been no Hizbullah. If the Israelis had left ten years earlier, Hizbullah would have disarmed when all the other militias did. Hizbullah could have been nurtured out of existence if Lebanon had been helped.
Now, extremism has been strengthened. Lebanon is abject, on its knees, stricken with a plague inflicted on it by Bush and Olmert. The abject, the humiliated, the impoverished do not, as Bush and Olmert fondly imagine to themselves, lie down and let the mighty walk over them. They blow up skyscrapers.
The idea that the whole Eastern Mediterranean had to be polluted, that the Christian Lebanese economy had to be destroyed for the next decade or two, that 900,000 persons had to be rendered homeless, that a whole country had to be pounded into rubble because some Lebanese Shiites voted for Hizbullah in the last election, putting 12 in parliament, is obscene. Bush’s glib ignorance is destroying our world. Our children will suffer for it, and perhaps our grandchildren after them.
posted by Juan @ 8/08/2006