Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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Will Hezbollah overtake Al Qaeda in the standings?

I've blogged before about how Al Qaeda is like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Without using the baseball metaphor, Bernard Haykel argues in today's New York Times that Hezbollah could supplant them in the eyes of many Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

This isn't necessarily a good thing, accoding to Haykel:

With Israel at war with Hezbollah, where, you might wonder, is Al Qaeda? From all appearances on the Web sites frequented by its sympathizers, which I frequently monitor, Al Qaeda is sitting, unhappily and uneasily, on the sidelines, watching a movement antithetical to its philosophy steal its thunder. That might sound like good news. But it is more likely an ominous sign....

Hezbollah has taken the lead on the most incendiary issue for jihadis of all stripes: the fight against Israel.

Many Sunnis are therefore rallying to Hezbollah’s side, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan. The Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda has defied his government’s anti-Hezbollah position, writing on his Web site that “this is not the time to express our differences with the Shiites because we are all confronted by our greater enemy, the criminal Jews and Zionists.”

For Al Qaeda, it is a time of panic. The group’s Web sites are abuzz with messages and questions about how to respond to Hezbollah’s success. One sympathizer asks whether, even knowing that the Shiites are traitors and the accomplices of the infidel Americans in Iraq, it is permissible to say a prayer for Hezbollah. He is told to curse Hezbollah along with Islam’s other enemies.

Several of Al Qaeda’s ideologues have issued official statements explaining Hezbollah’s actions and telling followers how to respond to them. The gist of their argument is that the Shiites are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world. The ideologues label this effort the “Sassanian-Safavid conspiracy,” in reference to the Sassanians, a pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty, and to the Safavids, a Shiite dynasty that ruled Iran and parts of Iraq from 1501 till 1736.

They go on to argue that thanks to the United States (the leader of the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy), Iraq has been handed over to the Shiites, who are now wantonly massacring the country’s Sunnis. Syria is already led by a Shiite heretic, President Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country’s Sunni majority.

Hezbollah, according to these analyses, seeks to dupe ordinary Muslims into believing that the Shiites are defending Islam’s holiest cause, Palestine, in order to cover for the wholesale Shiite alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, this theory goes, the Shiites will fail in their efforts because the Israelis and Americans will destroy them once their role in the broader Zionist-Crusader conspiracy is accomplished. And then God will assure the success of the Sunni Muslims and the defeat of the Zionists and Crusaders.

In the meantime, no Muslim should be fooled by Hezbollah, whose members have never fought the infidel on any of the real battlefronts, like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir. The proper attitude for Muslims to adopt is to dissociate themselves completely from the Shiites.

This analysis — conspiratorial, bizarre and uncompelling, except to the most diehard radicals — signals an important defeat for Al Qaeda’s public relations campaign.

Read the whole thing to see why this could spell trouble for the west.

posted by Dan on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM


It's hard to see what Syria and Iran have to lose by allowing Hizbollah and Israel to go at it. Even if Hizbollah loses a lot of infrastructure, depletes its supply of weapons, and suffers a 4 to 1 or even a 100 to l casualty ratio, it still wins simply by standing up to Israel.

That being so, the war may go on for some time. It is in Hizbollah, Syria, and Iran's interest that it does so.

On the other hand, it is in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon's interest to see the war end soon by negotiation. But are they willing to station troops in Hizbollahland with a mandate to engage and disarm Hizbollah? Somehow I doubt it.

As for EU countries, France if I'm not mistaken has already backed away from putting their troops where their mouth is. Big surprise.

posted by: JohnFH on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Since so many people in the middle east want to kill each other, is there any other solution than letting them do so until they have exhausted themselves?

posted by: Lord on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

These types of analysis are very dumb. they try to boil all actions to american strategic considerations. But it is a joke. I am sure that Hizbullah captured the Israeli soldiers because of its own local considerations. It did so because 1) genuine solidarity for the Palestinians 2) need to keep the pressure on Israel 3) desire to free prisoners from israel. They may have had other considerations, but they were not near as high on the charts.

So articles like this, which try to express some sort of strategic sense of these decisions are just off. They only exist in the minds of maybe three people in the conflict. Maybe bin Laden and his closest buddies and then the American defense department and these type scholars who make their living feeding the stupidity of the defence department.

though i read arabic, i do not read the jihadi websites, so I can't comment directly on those. But they are beside the point. Anyone who thinks there is actual merit to what they say is fooling themselves. those jihadi websites are most likely just a bunch of unemployed european arabs or pakistanis complaining about things. Just as I post on this site. Some of you might think i am crazy, but i have no intention to do violence and i even enjoy being more radical then i am on this site because i think the voice needs to be heard...

The truth is, very few arabs actually identify with the ideology of bin laden. when i say "very few" i mean almost none. But almost all of us agree with his political views. No one listens to his religious nonsense. Nasrallah is absolutely popular in the Middle East because he is a much much better speaker and he focuses exclusively on politics. No one in Egypt (a sunni country) cares that he is Shia. They respect him for his willingness to be honest and actually do what he says and be one of the only ones to fight for justice.

One anecdote: I used to live in Cairo a few years ago. Consistently when i would get into a cab (the real ear of the "arab street") the driver would start screaming to me about politics. Back then it was before this new prominence of Nasrallah and Hizbullah. but the drivers would consistently scream to me that there are three people who they admire: Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and Qadaffi.

Why these three? Because they are the three most prominent leaders who stood up to the USA and Israel. They are the three most ideologically different leaders possible in the Middle East, but they are/were all honest and they all wanted to resist the status quo of American hegemony.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Does Israel's invasion of Lebanon (finally) put the democratic peace theory to rest? Or is Lebanon not sufficiently democratic?

posted by: elephant man on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe: What "solidarity with the Palestinians"?

Hizb'allah is all about hating the "Zionist entity"; this report from 1999, full of quotes from Nazrullah, mentions the Palestinians only to encourage them to attack Israel, and to attack the PLO for negotiating.

Hizb'allah wants to run Lebanon, and to destroy Israel. This is not the same as supporting Palestinians. Believe it or not, Islamist groups are quite capable of hating Israel without giving a fig for Palestinians.

(I'd say that's the usual case, actually, given how Palestinians are actually treated by Arab nations and political groups; as a useful stick to beat Israel with, rather than a suffering people to actually be aided. Well, in any other way than destroying Israel.)

posted by: Sigivald on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

I disagree with you. I will agree that often political leaders in the Middle East hide behind the Palestine issue as a way to maintain some standing with their own publics, but with the exception of some sectors of Lebanese Phalangists, Arab people are almost universally supportive of the Palestinians.

When Abdullah of Jordan talks about the Palestinians, I don't believe he cares one bit. Same with Abdullah of Saudi. But they have to care because their own people care. And the feeling is so strong in the Middle East that even absolute Kings are forced to care.

As for Hizbullah, there is really no evidence that they want to "run Lebanon". they are much more pragmatic then that. But they are very popular with a large segment of the population and they do deserve a lot of political power in the country as a result. More popular then the current sunni leaders, for example.

As for wanting to "destroy" israel, A couple days ago on this website i was accused of wanting to destroy Israel because i advocate a one-state solution to the conflict. So, "destroy" could mean anything. Usually, Jews think it means anything that challenges their apartheid policies. I am sure Nasrallah has a lot of hate and anger against Israel. But I am also sure he does not advocate genocide against the Jewish people. So, these arguments are useless.

Anyway, I have been listening to Nasrallah's speeches on Aljazeera and LBC for years now and I am sure he is genuine in his support for the Palestinian cause. Since Israel has occupied lebanon for so long, he is in a better position then most to understand Palestinian suffering.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Assad is an alawite, not a shiite.

posted by: Jacob on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.-

Hizbollah explicitly calls for the "destruction of Israel."

Do you deny this?

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe T.

Honestly, it is not so simple. I think that 95% of Arabs want the "destruction of Israel" in some way or another. For example, when I talked to my friends and family after Ahmadinejad suggested to move Israel to Germany or Alaska, the vast majority of them brought up that comment spontaneously, saying how it was "about time someone started to speak up..."

I absolutely think that Hizbullah (and other Arabs, for that matter) will continue to fight until there is a fair settlement between Israel and the Arab countries (ie. giving the Golan back to Syria, giving up their occupation of Lebanon, and ending the occupation of Palestine (including refugees, prisoners, settlements, checkpoints, admission of guilt and reparations...)). Whether I think that Nasrallah explictly calls for the "destruction of Israel" or not, actually, I am not sure, I can't specifically remember ever hearing Nasrallah say that (and I am not dodging the question).

But I don't think it matters really. Whether he rhetorically calls for the "destruction of Israel" does not mean he advocates the killing of all the Jewish people. He does not do that, I can say for sure. Also, I am very confident that Nasrallah would be willing to live with an Israel that acted justly to the Palestinians. Though Nasrallah is an ideolog, he is not an irrational one.

What bothers me about questions like yours is that you imply that it is irrational to be mad at Israel. It seems to neglect the gigantic wrong that was done to the Palestinians as a result of its "birth". I mean, how do you expect someone who was made a refugee by the birth of Israel, or someone who lives in Gaza (the world's largest prison), to consider Israel "legitimate"? Even someone like me who lives comfortably in teh USA, how can I recognise Israel when I still have family suffering under its rule? So, Israel will always be subject to calls for its "destruction" until it manages to fairly rectifies the wrongs that were done by its creation. that is simple fact.

Just because I make a point to plug the one-state solution, I think that it is the only way to fairly solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict once and for all. No Palestinian "State" will ever be allowed freedom and independence. And, a one-state solution does not have to mean that everyone lives together happily, but that they share the same institutions and have the same civil and political rights. 20% of Israelis are Palestinian already, and they do this with the Jews now. Israel will have to give up some notions of a "Jewish State", but that is just the reality of what happens when they dropped their "State" on the heads of a larger native population. Also, within a one-state solution, there can be two sub-state entities within a larger federal framework. Like Quebec is in Canada, this is what Israel will have to become in the long-run anyway, so it might as well start considering it now.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

An old Kim du Toit post tallied some hezbollah attacks against Americans:

- 1983: bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut (which killed 63 persons)

- 1983: suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon (killing 241 Americans

- 1984: bombed the annex to the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon (killing 14 Americans)

- 1985: hijacked TWA Flight 847 (torturing and killing U.S. Navy SEAL Robert Stethem)

- 1985: kidnapped and murdered the Beirut CIA station chief, William Buckley

- 1985: kidnapped and murdered William Higgins, an American serving with U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.

So why do we retaliate against al-Qaeda and not Hezbollah?

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Better grammar: "...and not against Hezbollah..."

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.

What bothers me about questions like yours is that you imply that it is irrational to be mad at Israel.

You HAVE to stop doing this, Joe M. My question was simple, straightforward, 10 words long. There is ABSOLUTELY no way you can make the statement above based on my question.

You don't know who I am, what I believe, why I am asking you this question, etc.

You make assumptions about other people's posts without facts, it demostrates prejudice and/or intellectual dishonesty.

I expect a public apology, or people will once again see you do not post in good faith.

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe T.
Actually, I agree with you.

I intended that line of my response to be more general then it came out. I did not mean your specific question absolutely implied that it is irrational to be mad at Israel, but that these types of questions are often used to deflect criticism of Israel by trying to equate those who are mad with genocide.

So, if that was not your intention, i do indeed apologize.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

that is why i said "questions LIKE yours...", because i was trying to talk about the question, not about you. using the word "you" a couple words later was a mistake and i should have said "it".

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.,

I appreciate your apology and understand your caveat.

In terms of the actual discussion, could you explain what the Palestinian cause achieves with a "one-state" solution that isn't accomplished with a "two-state" solution?

You do recognize that the UN partitioned Israel and a Palestinian state in 1947-- doesn't a one-state solution ask Israel to give back what was already agreed to among the international community?

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

So why do we retaliate against al-Qaeda and not Hezbollah?

There were plenty of retaliations against Hezbollah and affiliated groups in the 80s in the deadly tit-for-tat of the Lebanese mess. The CIA tried to assasinate Hezbollah heads several times, probably including a car bomb that killed 63 people in Beirut (but which missed its target).

Also, after Khobar towers, there were a number of actions by US intelligence against Hezbollah cells outside and in the Middle East.

Hezbollah is potentially more dangerous than AQ because they actually have three wings -- a social services organization, a military wing, and a terrorist wing. And they have some local backing in Lebanon.

posted by: erg on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe T,

I do understand that the UN formally partitioned Palestine in 1947, but the plan was never adopted by either side. The Palestinians rejected it outright, while the Jews did not abide by the agreement either and took additional land during the 1948 war, subsequently they have also stolen the vast majority of the land that was allocated to Palestine by the partition plan. So, neither side truly accepted the partition plan.

A one-state solution does not change the logistical or geographical considerations of the Palestine/Israel conflict. A one-state solution is simply a political change. It is a political recognition that Israel and Palestine are the same place and that all people are equal. Within a one-state solution there can still exist two smaller political entities, one called “Palestine” and one called “Israel”, but they would be required to exist as federation, working within a larger framework of civil, social, land, resource and political rights... A one-state solution simply eliminates the domination/oppression relationship that exists today in Israel. It is an integration of institutions, not populations (though, it should make the land accessible to all Israelis and Palestinians). It would extend the jurisdiction of institutions like the parliament, the courts, and the military. There would need to be a type of affirmative action plan to integrate these institutions as well.

The reason this is superior for both Palestinians and Jews is first and foremost because it eliminates the reasons for the conflict. If there is a two-state solution, Palestinians are still forced to live on 22% of their original land, they are subjected to continued Israeli domination and none of the historical injustices have been addressed. Even if a two-state solution happens, it will not end the violence and injustice (just as Israel leaving Gaza did not end the violence there). Giving all the people a mutual stake in a joint state gives everyone an incentive to work with each other (not against each other), and formally recognizes that their futures are connected anyway. Also, Jews will be much more safe from outside threat in an integrated state, as other countries would not have a reason to attack it. Further, religious Jews who see all of historic Palestine as “Judea and Samaria” would have access to those lands in a one-state solution, just as Palestinians would have access to their former homes in cities like Rumle or Jaffa. Also, and most importantly, seeing each other as political and civil equals is a great act of justice that would go a long way to healing the rift that has been created.

Of course, I do not think it is fool proof and will end all war and violence, but I do think that it is by far the best chance to create peace in the Middle East. South Africa and the American South are the best examples of countries that have integrated. Neither are perfect, but both are much better with people sharing rights rather then competing for them.

posted by: Joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.

Sounds like a nice idea in a different world. If you are truly for this option and not for moving the Jews to "Germany or Alaska"-- you do need to consider things from the Jews side.

1. How could you expect Jews to trust the Arabs? This starts with an acknowledgement and apology for trying to destroy Israel in the past. The "one-state" solution is nice, but has only come about because multiple military campaigns by Arabs have failed in the past.

But more than that-- why the reluctance by Hamas, Hezbollah to pull "destruction of Israel" from their charters? Why does the Arab League allow Iran to say "Israel should be wiped off the map?"

Do you honestly expect-- from the Jews perpective please-- to trust that the point of a one-state solution is not to "demographically take over" Israel?

2. You have suggested an Arab democracy that frankly does not exist anywhere else today. Religious theocracies are rampant, democracy is suppressed.

Again-- from the Jews perspective please-- how could Jews reasonablly believe as a minority in a one-state solution, that their rights will not be suppressed?

Here is the key Joe-- you can't just post "well, country A has does this and that, so could Palestine" or "the reasons for no deomcracy is X and that wouldn't exist"-- if you are serious about peace, you need to truly consider the Jewish perspective.

And I'll tell you point blank Joe-- all of them would rather take a 1% chance of being killed in a terrorist attack than submit themselves to the risks #1 and #2 above. That is where your assumptions about a one-state solution being better for both sides is wrong. It is not better for Jews. They would rather have more of the status quo. Ameliorating the above risks I don't think is possible- but definitely is not possible before a 5-10 year period of demonstrating good faith.

It isn't fair to ask Jews to become the minority and take these risks. They'd rather have terrorism continue as is.

Please read this post as something to broaden your perspective about the concerns of the other side. This isn't something up for debate, I'm not saying this "justifies" violence against Palestinians, I'm just engaging with you to help you truly understand the other perspective- with true concerns that just can't be argued away.

I appreciated reading your view on the rationale for a one-state solution, but given #1 and #2 above- I think a two state solution with Palestinians getting the land as determined by UN resolutions, with full sovereign rights of any other country, is more fair to both sides.

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe T.
I am very aware of Jewish concerns. Truth is I don't see any "solution" happening for decades. for example, no Israelis government has ever considered giving the Palestinians "full sovereign rights of any other country", like an active military or access to sea, air, water and land rights. Israel sees it as their right to invade Gaza or the West Bank or, frankly, any other Arab country at their will, and they have no intention of allowing Palestinians to become independent. Just look at the settlement maps, or the bypass road maps, and tell me how likely it is to dismantle that infustructure? Do you think they will tear down the wall? Do you really think it is more healthy to live as enemies across a border then as compatriots within a single state?

As for answers to your points 1 and 2, here is what I have to say. I realize that my answers don't change the general Jewish views, but I do think my view is morally superior. anyway,

In respect to your point 1, groups like Hamas and Hizbullah are reluctant to drop the "destroy Israel" language because they will not be forced to do anything. Both groups have evolved past that belief, but they will not change their ogranizations based on outside pressure. Also, I actually think you are not giving them enough credit. While Hamas (for example) will not change its charter, it was on the verge of accepting the Prisoner's Plan which recognizes a two-state solution. Also, I saw an interview with a Hizbullah lawmaker the other day where the interviewer asked him directly if he accepts Israel's right to exist and his blank response was "it exists." I think that is the obvious thing. No one likes it, but they all recognise that Israel is there.

The thing is, asking Arabs (and especially Palestinians) to see Israel as "legitimate" or as having a "right to exist" is to justify their oppression. To basically ignore the suffering the Jewish State has caused. No Arab (more or less) will accept that. much less people who were displaced or who have directly suffered as a result of its existance.

But further, when you ask how the Jews can trust the Arabs, I have two responses. First, they already "trust" (basically tolerate) the 20% of their citizens who are Palestinians. They do not treat the Israeli Palestinians as equals, but they do not attack them like they do the other Palestinians. So, my point is that they do not have to have a great amount of trust. I am not asking that they love the Palestinians, just as I do not think the Palestinians will love the Jews. All I ask is that they share institutions, which is very practical.

As for the demographic question, well, the Jews just have to accept the facts as they are. They are 12 million people in a world of 6 Billion. They can not expect to dominate or to be a majority anyway. Specifically in historic Palestine, they have less then 6 million people. Currently they are a minority ruling over a majority of Palestinians (if you count the Israeli Palestinians and the occupied ones together, but excluding refugees). As you probably know, even the Israeli Palestinians are expected to outnumber the Jews in 20 years. So I think I am asking them to accept reality.

Also, In this respect, the other option is not simply to recognize a 1% terrorist threat. that is true as well. But also they have to accept the fact that they are a racist and colonial power, more violent and more racist then South Africa in its hay day. I realize most Jews don't actively see themselves in this way, and most Jews only see the Palestinians when there is a "terrorist" attack, but I also know that they do feel it indirectly. And with continued oppression, it will only increase the size of this gulf. I see this as a greater "existential" threat to the Jews then from Palestinians. They know that they are becoming more and more of a fascist society, and this will hurt them.

As for point 2 about an "Arab democracy" you as saying that there is no example of this, even though 20% of Palestinians are fully institutionally integrated into Israel's "democracy". They proved a framework and an example for what i would like to see. Also, the other Palestinians are (maybe with the exception of Lebanon) the most pluralistic and politically aware people in the Middle East. When you talk against "Arab democracy" you seem to imply that they are not able to have proper funcioning elections. I would just poin tout that 35 years ago, while the USA was absolutely dominating Latin America, everyone was saying the exact same thing about them. The same logic would leave me believeing that Catholics are unable to be democratic. The truth is that the lack of democracy in the Arab world has nothing to do with the views of the people, but with a host of power relationships that dominate the region. So, I basically ignore your criticism #2.

Anyway, I realize that there is no taste among the Jews for this type of solution, but I think it is in their best interests and also the most just solution. It is not perfect (especially in the short-term), but there is no perfect solution, nor was the shift to popular "democracy" perfect in South Africa or the USA. But it is necessary and the only way to solve the problem in the long terms.

I take a hard line on this blog because i am acting as an advocate of a specific view, not because i am trying to negotiate.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

There was not really much of a point to Haykel's op-ed other than rehashing the claim that Sunni and Shia don't work together (and then going on through the re3st of the column to point out how that's changed - even though it was never the case in the first place).

But let me ask this: when was al Qaeda's last attack on Israel? Israel makes a great rhetoric device for al Qaeda, but Israel really isn't their target.

Furthermore, Hezbollah has long been lionized in the Arab/Islamic world for standing up to Israel and actually "winning" where no Arab or Islamic state was able to do the same. That didn't stop al Qaeda from (according to the 9-11 commission) from working with Iran and probably even Hezbollah itself in attacks like the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Why is HEzbollah's somewhat more limited success now suddenly going to cause al Qaeda to do anything more than spout rhetoric. Al Qaeda is going to plan and carry out more attacks regardless of what Hezbollah does or doesn't do.

posted by: Alenda Lux on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M-

You can ignore risk #2, and claim that "a host of power relationships" is the problem.

But for the rest of the world, we see an Arab world where people kill each other because they practice different versions of Islam.

It would be unreasonable to expect anyone in this world, particularly Israelis, to believe that minority rights would be respected.

There aren't facts that support it. You can find flaws with other democracies like the US- nothing is perfect. If you can't accept the reality that Arab societies have been woefully deficient in human and democratic rights, there isn't anything I or anyone else can do.

Your response to #1 is pretty unreasonable, in my opinion. Israel should disregard Hamas/Hizbollah's charters because they don't want to cave to "external pressure?" Does Iran not want to cave to pressure when they call for wiping Israel off the map?

Does everyone ignore the multiple wars that Arabs have engaged in to destroy Israel, only to fail?

There is NO evidence that Arabs want to live with Jews peacefully. And you haven't provided any. You just poke holes in the evidence that they want to destroy Israel. But you have offered no evidence they want to live peacefully with Jews.

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe T.
I enjoy this discussion and hope that you continue to voice your views after this thread rolls off the front page of Drezner’s site. Maybe on a different thread.

The most obvious point I feel like I have to make is that I think it is true that all (“all” with a very small margin of error) people in the world want self-government. I think this is true on its face. Examples of popular dictatorships do not disprove my statement above because if a government is popular then it is more or less proves itself to be a representation of the will of the people.

“A host of power relationships” is absolutely the reason that the Arab world is full of dictatorships (as it would be for any region). There is no debate and this is almost by definition. A government only needs to be a dictatorship when it is against the will of its people. If the people do not support a government, the government is kept in place by their use of force. That force may be military, economic, external or whatever… it differs between cases, but it is true on its face. In a case where force is being used to keep a government in power, it makes it particularly hard for any people to gain control of the government. I can’t really tell what you are saying when you criticize the Arab people for not having democratic governments. Are you saying that they are weak people for not being so dedicated as to have overthrown their governments by force? If that is your criticism, how many people do you think have been captures, arrested and tortured trying just that? Or much less then that, for just participating in demonstrations for more honest newspapers (for example)? Arab governments are a particularly vicious breed of world dictator. Maybe you disagree with me, but I think that reflects several main factors 1) the Arab government has been awash with war for the last 100 years 2) outside influences have a particularly keen eye on making sure that the Middle East is “stable” and under their influence. 3) there are particularly high gains to be in control of the Arab world (“the world’s gas station”, as we so often hear) 4) colonial powers, still, to this day, have not given this part of the world a chance to develop on its own and consistently jockey to play divide and conquer with it.

I personally do blame the Arab people to some degree. For example, I am in very close contact with several “Kefaya” leaders in Egypt and I think they have not used the best strategy and have even under played their hands. But, honestly, it is hard to criticize them too much considering that I am no longer one of those getting beaten on the streets at every demo. It is hard to criticize them at all when you compare their efforts against those of most Americans (who don’t even vote in elections that their forefathers fought to make available to them).

Also, again, when you look at Latin America 20 or 30 years ago, there were no democracies. This was not because the people are mostly Catholic, but because it was a region subject to massive interference by the Americans. They created power relationships in Latin America that help solidify the power of leaders in their interests, while anti-American governments also turned out to be dictatorships because they also had to be tough to keep from being overthrown by pro-American forces. This situation does not reflect the ability of the Latin American people to self-govern, but reflects other power relationships that were keeping the people from self-governing.

The Arab world is filled with amazing scholars, thinkers, writers, academics, business people, religious people…. All are people in their societies and have the ability to reflect the will of the people. Maybe the Arab world is not as educated and wealthy as Europe, but we have not had the freedom to plunder and pillage the rest of the world, nor have we even been free to develop independently. But anyway, it doesn’t take a large segment of any society to govern. For a society to have democratic institutions or election, you don’t need all the people to be highly educated. Most American, for example, have almost no interaction with their government on a daily basis. So, again, I do not accept your criticism of the Arab world as being unable to govern itself.

As for your criticism that, “Your response to #1 is pretty unreasonable, in my opinion. Israel should disregard Hamas/Hizbollah's charters because they don't want to cave to "external pressure?” I just don’t think this is a significant structural issue. This is only an emotional issue. I expressed my view that Hamas and Hizbullah are not the organizations they are represented to be (ie. They are not genocidal). I understand that it is extremely hard to convince someone of that. You have to come to see it for yourself, and considering how much war there is in the Middle East, it is not very easy to show evidence. But equally, by using the standard of prevailing violence as a measuring stick, you can easily also say that Israel is trying to exterminate the Arab people or the Palestinian people. We certainly consistently hear calls for “transfer” (ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from Israel. Should Palestinians with Israeli citizenship feel that they will be living there, say, 15 years from now? Well, maybe and maybe not. But I am only putting this question forward to expose the flaw in your logic, that the past is a reflection of the future. As you may know, any stockbroker will tell you that you don’t buy a stock based on past performance, because the past is the past and the future will include any number of new factors to determine the coarse of events. While I think that past events are more important in politics then in the stock market, I do think that people and political organizations can and do change. Menachem Begin changed from a full-blown terrorist mastermind in the 40’s to a peacemaking prime minister in the late 70’s, for example. These changes are more likely to happen when people have investments in peace. In this respect, peace, as Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, is not simply the absence of war, but also the prevalence of justice. So, in respect to Jewish distrust of Arab leaders or Arab people, that’s just a fact. Arab people and leaders also deeply distrust the Jewish people and Jewish leaders. My expectation is not that a one-state solution will heal that rift from the beginning, but will deal with it in the long-run. I do not expect that everyone will “ignore the multiple wars that Arabs have engaged in to destroy Israel” just as I do not expect the Arabs to forget the wars Israel has waged. But I do think that everyone will recognize that their futures are more likely to be peaceful if they do not dwell on those wars and try to create a more just future. That true peace can not be achieved by fighting each other, or by continuing to act like the other side is evil to the core, or any such thing like that. If we want to create peace in a real way we have to overcome these views.

As I wrote in the most current thread on Dan’s site, the practical reasons that I think the one-state solution is more likely to make a stable and long-term peace between the Arabs and the Jews is because I think that people are more likely to be peaceful when they are invested in the same thing, when their futures are shared. I think that a two-state solution basically insures that the Arabs and the Jews will always be enemies and that there will always be reasons for mutual hostilities. None of the root conflicts are solved in a two-state solution. It is the equivalent of simply locking two fighting kids in their separate rooms. But, if you have kids you know that eventually you have to let them out, even if they are still mad at each other. Just dropping the Arabs off in their tiny little enclaves will not rectify the fact that they lost 78% of their land, nor will it even solve the emotional conflicts (like the Palestinians seeing Israel only as an oppressor, or as Jews considering Arabs are inferior). These things, which are deeper conflicts that could cause a conflict even between “independent” states, would not have a chance to be resolved if they just got rid of each other and never looked back.

The last point I want to make is in respect to your statement that “There is NO evidence that Arabs want to live with Jews peacefully”. And I simply disagree. When I lived in Palestine, I could have counted a dozen different organizations that were specifically created to bring Jews and Arabs together to have dialog or so that they could see each other as human beings. By far the most well know ones are “Seeds of Peace” or the movie “Promises”. Actually, truthfully, I think the Palestinians are yearning to come to a non-violent solution to the conflict. They have suffered enough. Really, this is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinian population is willing to “accept” a “solution” where they live on 22% of their land historic land, or how the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are so accepting of their blatantly lower class status and enduring racism from the Jews of Israel. Honestly, it is not the Palestinians who are unwilling to live with the Jews, but the Jews who are unwilling to live with the Palestinians. Because the Jews have so much more power then the Palestinians do, I do not expect this situation to change any time soon. They set the terms of the situation and they do not want to live together with the Palestinians. I guess, as you said, all they do is live with a 1% threat of “terrorism”. Personally, I think the problems and situations are far deeper then that, but that is a common perception. I think that is extremely unfortunate.

Lastly, I have a strong disagreement to the way you phrase your analysis of the Arab world. Some examples are:
“we see an Arab world where people kill each other because they practice different versions of Islam.”

“Arab societies have been woefully deficient in human and democratic rights”

“There is NO evidence that Arabs want to live with Jews peacefully.”

These statements are far more absolute then the situation is. To me, they reflect a racist attitude. You seem pretty reasonable overall, I would expect that you have a greater understanding of complexity in society then you seem to express in these statements.

Sorry this was so long, it was not my intention. Excuse my errors, as I am tired and don’t feel like proof reading it.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.

There is a lot there to respond to-- but let me focus a few of the important ones:

“Arab societies have been woefully deficient in human and democratic rights”

These statements are far more absolute then the situation is. To me, they reflect a racist attitude.

Joe, "woefully deficient"- you have to acknowledge that this is a fact, not racism. Women have less rights across most of the Arab states. Religion is suppressed in many. Besides a number of countries in Africa (several of which have Muslim theocracies as well), the Arab states collectively have an extremely poor record on human rights.

all (“all” with a very small margin of error) people in the world want self-government.

I think you've got it slightly wrong here. All people want self-determination, which is different from self-governance. The key difference between the two-- people who are extremely religious-- Muslim, Christian or Judaism-- have chosen that religious path-- but are clearly not looking for self-governance. They have decided to leave the "governing" of their lives to religious leaders. That was their choice, i.e. self-determination, but the rules are not made democratically, i.e. they do not seek "self-governance."

The importance of this distinction is obvious. Muslim societies do stuggle with this balance of religious "self-determination" vs. democractic "self-governance." It is not obvious that democracy wins out here.

“There is NO evidence that Arabs want to live with Jews peacefully.”

Joe, you've proven that I phrased the statement too absolute in style, but the overall point still holds. Small organization like Seeds of Peace (which I wholeheartedly support), are different from broad popular movements, or official changes in policy. If we look at those types of activities, Jews have a hard time seeing real evidence that the ultimate goal is to live with Jews, rather than get rid of them. I hear your words, your objectives, but I don't see actions by Palestinian leaders/government that illustrate them.

one-state solution is more likely to make a stable and long-term peace between the Arabs and the Jews is because I think that people are more likely to be peaceful when they are invested in the same thing, when their futures are shared.

I have big issues with this. There are huge assumptions being made-- this implies that country borders are fundamentally bad and we should see what other cultures should be unified as well. Why don't other countries have their borders revisited? Why just Israel?

Also, the cultures and beliefs are very different between Israelis and Palestinians-- democracy tends to push clashes of those beliefs-- even in the U.S. we have huge differences between North and South. In a democracy, one of set of policies can win out in policy sense, if you only have one-state. Why force this on two peoples?

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe T.

I am going to point out again that 20% of Israelis are Palestinian. These people have never had any significant conflict with the Jews of Israel. As of late, there is an increasing gulf between them and the average Jews of Israel, but this is the natural result of Israel's increasing brutality of Gaza and Lebanon. Given less war in the region, these Palestinians and Jews have proven fairly successfully that a system of equal rights (more or less) can work. This is a far more powerful example then a small camp like "Seeds of Peace".

In my view there are several key differences between the Palestinians in Gaza and the ones in Nazareth (even though many come from the same families). 1) the Palestinians in Nazareth are not subject to brutality from the state of Israel 2) the Palestinians in Nazareth have access to structural means to solve conflicts with Jews (when they come up), like courts and elections 3) they are mutually invested in the State of Israel 4) the people of Nazareth are not in a state of flux, their situation is basically determined (assuming they are not kicked out in 15 years).

The people of Nazareth are extremely angry at the situations in Lebanon or the WB and Gaza, but they are not going to conduct violence against Israel, and Israel generally recognizes this. They still have second class status and, as a minority, do not have the political power to change that, but those are minor issues that could be addressed if there was not so much war that created so much hate...

I will say further that I am very sure that the Palestinian people want peace more then the Jews do. The Palestinians actually do suffer from the occupation, while Israelis basically feel a 1% chance of terrorism (as you said before). This is expressed in thousands of Palestinian civil and political organizations that have come up with numerous plans to address the conflict. I am not going to make a list of them, but they exist on every level of Palestinian society, from national to local to individual. You clearly have not been to the Palestinian territories, or this would be obvious to you without discussion. After 60 years of war, trust me, everyone wants it to end and they are willing to bend a lot. They will not give up their dignity, and therefore will not accept an unconditional surrender like the Israelis want, but they do want to have peace.

Also, I agree with you that there are assumptions in the statement that "people are more likely to be peaceful when they are invested in the same thing, when their futures are shared." But your response of "Why just Israel?" needs its borders revisited is rather naive (may I remind you that Israel is the only country in the world to have not established perminent borders). Also, you must be aware that both people (Palestinian and Jewish) generally lay claim to all of the land that the other lives on. For example, I am sure you know that even Prime Minister Olmert (and the majority of Jewish Israelis) refers to the WB as "Judea and Samaria", while the majority of Palestinians refer to all of Israel as "Palestine". So, to be clear, I am talking about a specific case where borders are in dispute and have been since 1947, I am not talking about every case. And, in this respect, you and I both know that these views of each's ownership over the land that the other sits on are not going to change because Olmert's "convergence plan", even if it was not currently dead.

And, lastly, my points about your language possibly being racist was not that i was denying that there is oppression in Arab countries, but that you were blaming the entire people for things that the governments do, or that you were making extreme generalizations about religion or interpersonal relationships that do not reflect the full picture. when you said, for example, "Arab societies have been woefully deficient in human and democratic rights", my problem was not with the words "woefully deficient", but with the words "Arab societies". Different Arab governments have been repressive to various degrees, but Arab societies are vibrant and dynamic things. I only picked out a couple such statements, but the sentiment is consistent in your posts.

posted by: Joe M. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.-

Please read my last post again-- you really missed the essence of each discussion.

You discussed-

-the actions of Israeli Arabs, not really relevant to the discussion (they have more rights than most Arabs in the Middle East, I think I'd prefer living in Israel than taking the risk of another Arab dictatorship too)

-parsed the semantics of a phrase, without addressing the obvious point- as a whole, Arab societies do have a poor record, I just wish you could admit as much rather than hiding behind verbal gymnastics.

you didn't address-

-a one state-solution in a democracy forces two cultures to choose one set of policies, where only one side can "win"- in a two state solution, both sides can co-exist and "win"

-self-determination vs. self-governance, which is a big stuggle for muslim societies

please read my prior post again

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

"woefully deficient"
-Saudi is the only Arab state I know where religion is actively suppressed. This is because of the government, not the people. The people, generally, are pretty liberal. That is why you always hear stories of them driving to the border with country X and, as soon as they cross, taking of their galabea and opening a bottle of whisky, or stories of them dancing around the French Riviera like drunken fools. Suffice it to say, they did not choose the laws under which they live. Also, again with Saudi, if the people (even just the male people) had their way, I am sure that women would drive and vote. And Saudi is the extreme case. Other Arab countries are not even in the same league as Saudi. As with every society there are problems in Arab societies, but they are not because they are Arab societies. Thinking like that is similar to thinking that American society is flooded with child molesters, because you saw that every TV show on FOX NEWS is about child molesters. Obviously, child molesters exist in the USA, just as regressive extremists exist in the Middle East, but they are not the norm.

I have speny many years in the Middle East and the vast majority of my interactions with people have been very very warm and healthy (including with religious extremists, who actually, tend to be the most hospitable, by my experiences). Women I have traveled with have at times experienced less freedom in the MENA then men, but they do not report it to be any significantly worse, generally, then Latin America is.

In domestic life, there are, as well, some problems that are pervasive in the Arab world. The societies are generally patrichial, no doubt. This is not unusual in the world. Also contrary to popular belief, this emboldens Arab women generally. Women are very dominant in domestic life in the Middle East. This, so I have heard, is opposite to the case of women in Japan, for example.

I will admit that the situation of rights in the Middle East is not where I think it should be, but I don't think that is representative of the societies. I do not think it is a derivative of Islam either. I attribute this deficiency, for the most part, to the continuous state of war that the region experiences. The people of the Middle East have not had a chance to take a breathe in 50 years. I am sure any region would have deficiencies under these conditions.

"self-determination vs. self-governance"
-I don't agree with your analysis. It just doesn't make sense. It sounds to me like you are using the example of Iran and applying it overall. But even in Iran, the people (even the ultra-religious) want self-government. The only people who don’t are a couple hundred ayatollahs. but, for example, if what you said was true, then I would assume that religious parties like Hamas, Hizbullah, the Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front, Sadr bloc, Sistani.... would not bother to act in an government or to work with coalitions or anything like that. But in every case of religious parties in the Middle East, they have been very prudent and pragmatic in their actions in government (on whatever level). I have seen no evidence, despite the repeated accusations, that they are irresponsible parties that only want to "take over" their respective governments or want to do a "one person, one vote, one time..." strategy. You are just making statements that do not represent the fact. If you look throughout the Middle East, you will see that even the fanatic religious parties are generally representative of their people, but that they do respect the rules in which they operate. Actually, they do so in a much more strict fashion then the non-religious parties (the dictatorships) do (which, as I have explained, I do not think represent the people or society).

I don't think I can keep up this pace of writing.

posted by: Joe M. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

Joe M.-

I'm curious, have you lived a signficant period of time in a democracy? If so, which ones?

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

No, I have not lived in a democracy, but I currently live in the USA and have for more then 20 years. I have American citizenship and do vote in elections. Most of my immediate family is in the USA now, and I have spend more time of my life in the USA. Most of my time in the Middle East is in Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. Most of my time in the Arab world has been spent in Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. Egypt most recently. Jordan and Palestine for various summers (and longer) in years back. My family is Christian, some religious and some not. pretty much 50/50.

Just because I am wondering, Joe T, are you Jewish?

posted by: Joe M. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

oops, I meant that my family is in Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. I have only once been to Iraq, and most of my time has been in Jordan, Palestine and Egypt.

posted by: joe m. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

No, I have not lived in a democracy, but I currently live in the USA and have for more then 20 years.

Should I take this comment as humor or no?

posted by: Joe T. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

It's mostly humor. Though, honestly, I think "democracy" is more about awareness and mobilization then about simply having elections. The USA has elections, though not that much active "democracy". though, you know, i was making a joke.

posted by: Joe M. on 07.26.06 at 08:41 AM [permalink]

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