Saturday, August 12, 2006

For Lebanon, not Hizballah II

[In response to a post on a friend's blog, which I can't link to because it's a private blog.]

The more I read your post the more disturbed I am about it. I am going to leave Hizballah aside for a moment because I don't know enough about them (but precisely for that reason I cannot claim to be one of them like Galloway does, although I can and will continue to condemn Israeli war crimes - in any case I dont see why doing the latter necessarily entails doing the former).

Why would 2002 have been the wrong time to be critical of Saddam Hussein? Why is any moment the wrong time to be critical of Saddam? In choosing strategic moments to be now vocal, now silent about Saddam you are mirroring perfectly the behaviour of the US government, which chooses to be silent about the crimes that Saddam commits in Halabja in the late 80s and then very vocal about them in the 90s. Why cannot you develop a voice in which to be critical of both the US government and Saddam, and particularly the links between them? What is this talk of 'power imbalance', as if we are supposed to obey the laws of physics and step into whatever pan of the scales is less powerful no matter how odious its particular beliefs and agendas may be? You are repeating the mistakes of the Stalinist left during the Cold War that was grateful for the existence of *anything* countervailing US power, even if that countervailing power had its own gulags, its own purges. This enemy-of-my-enemy logic is total crap.

Hizballah is not Saddam, so I am not seeking to argue by analogy here. I just find the Saddam comment deeply disturbing in its own right. It represents everything that is wrong with a section of the left at the present time. You say we're supposed to 'think'. Sure, but we're also supposed to care about peoples' lives and freedom, not just march in support of abstract concepts and shorthand slogans like 'speaking truth to power'. We're supposed to be thinking about who is doing the speaking, why they speak in the way they do, how they hope to use the fact that they're doing the speaking today to ride to power tomorrow (this may be why Gandhi said liberation movements like the Congress should shut up shop once they've achieved their goal). You also use the phrase 'intellectual opportunism'. I suggest you think carefully about what you are accusing people of before you use words like that. Exactly what opportunities are we grabbing by making these criticisms?

As I write all of this I'm conscious of how splintered the left already is and how I might be exacerbating that situation. (Why else did the good guys lose the Spanish Civil War?) So rest assured, I will continue marching against Israeli war crimes with the likes of George Galloway, I will continue making common cause on this issue with Hizballah supporters. But they have no business co-opting me. In doing so, they are alienating me and people like me. *They* are doing the splintering. In mass coalitions like this, no one has the right to say 'We are all X' - no one. We are not all any one thing. We are all against Israeli aggression and we are all for a cessation of that aggression, but we have different visions of life after that and not all of those dovetail neatly with that of Hizballah. Those differences can't be postponed and they are *not* less important (women in every single political movement in history - except their own - have been told this).

As a footnote, let me just add that a few weeks ago when a majority of Lebanese citizens were asking for a Syrian withdrawal post-the Hariri assassination, Hizballah didn't participate in that demand. In fact they staged a counter-demonstration 'thanking' Syria for its assistance. Even in Lebanon they're probably not saying 'We are all Hizballah'. They may be saying it today - under Israeli fire - but they weren't yesterday and they probably won't tomorrow. And if they aren't, why should I?

Comments:
Point taken, my dear. I guess my deep sense of frustration comes from the fact that in the current hierarchy of evils (if there is such a thing), I *feel* that Israel is what people ought to be focusing their critical energy on. If there is a real bad guy here, it is Israel as a state. It kills most of the civilians in this equation (counting lives is usually not a practice I like to engage in, but the numbers speak for themselves), it invades, it wrecks infrastructures that took decades to build (and that Hizbullah itself contributed to build).

This does not mean that Hizbullah is not worthy of deep criticism. Of course it is. It's an oppressive religiously-driven organisation in too many ways. It's as bad as the BGP in India, or the Christian-led Republican party in the United States (both of which have armed wings--Hindutva brigades, US army, etc.). I do not support many things that the Hizbullah does on the ground. I despise many of its political ambitions. I express my solidarity at that level by refraining from chanting Hizbullah slogans in rally, and praising them in public (even for the stuff I think they do better than anybody else in Lebanon, and which many people appreciate).

Now, you feel that you should spend your time discussing Hizbullah right now. That is your prerogative. It's your time, your brain space, your emotions, your solidarity, etc. I agree with you on most of your criticisms of the organisation. Yet, they are not the ones I'm going to grand stand about right now, because this is not what this conflict is about. Once Israel is out of Lebanon and Lebanese civilians do not die by the dozens every day, then we'll talk Hizbullah. To me they are the lesser evil and, yes, sometimes the enemy of your enemy is a temporary ally, to the extent that an acceptable basis of unity can be achieved. And there are some things the Hizbullah stands for that many of my Lebanese friends stand for, and that I buy--e.g. anti-zionism, anti-US-les-imperialism, they value Lebanese civilian lives, etc. Anyways, it's 2am and I'm tired... and I will not say anything more about Hizbullah until Israel is out of Lebanon...
 
ok for the most part fine, but "grandstand"??!?

"To perform ostentatiously so as to impress an audience"

you just don't get it do you? you sound as if liz and i are doing this to score some kind of point (with whom?) none of this would have even come up if that stupid man hadnt 'grand stood' (?!) at the rally and then on tv. he's the one splitting this movement by talking the way he does, and you're cheering him on.
 
Yes, I agree that Mr. Galloway is a man, that he speaks (too) loudly and that, yes, people like him tend to take way too much space in anti-oppression movements. I wish he was not taking so much space. To the extent that he is implicitly silencing other anti-oppression voices, then he should shut it. I'm not a particularly huge fan of him myself. White men 'spareheading movements'... oh well... res ipsa loquitur.

What bugs me is just what we seem to agree on. I would much rather he be one voice amongst many, than the one that generates all the opposition. Because, by doing standing up against him right now, we are shooting ourselves and the people we support in the foot. We are shifting our attention to a debate that can wait. It's not like George Galloway is going to convince Blair, Bush, Olmert or any other tyrant. Don't get me wrong. The debate you outline is important, but I just feel it's not what's most needed 'right now'. Then again, I am happy for people to disagree with me... I don't hold any kind of absolute truth (if there is such a thing).
 
'Right now', even as we sit here blogging, the Lebanese cabinet is deeply split over its attitude to Hizballah - should it be disarmed, when, how, by whom? The debate I outline is happening right now, in the Lebanese cabinet. Just be aware that in backing Hizballah, we as external solidarity activists are weighing in on that debate against *other people in Lebanon* who have a different vision for their country. I, personally, am extremely uncomfortable with skewing the internal Lebanese political space in that way (not that my humble solidarity one way or the other is going to do much skewing by itself, but I'm talking about we the external solidarity movement as a collective). I think what we should be fighting for are the optimum conditions in which the Lebanese can conduct that debate amongst themselves, which requires first and foremost an Israeli withdrawal (and that's where I'm in agreement with you).

Btw, in case you're wondering why I am being so dogged, it's because I'm writing a chapter on resistance and this is all extremely close to the bone. Plus, this is exactly what I set up this blog for. So thanks, and please feel free to keep the discussion going. Unless it's annoying the shit out of you.
 
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