Monday, February 19, 2007

Moral Indignation Instead of Rational Discourse

Two articles in the recent issue of the US periodical, Dissent, set out to ridicule the utter folly and opportunism of the left in relating to its traditional enemy, Islamic fundamentalism. Since both articles are characteristic of complaints against the left by people who consider themselves parts of it, they deserve special attention.

In the first article, “Jihadism of Fools”, Fred Halliday documents the ugly and brutal role of various Islamist forces over the last sixty years in the vicious suppression of the left, including cases of mass murder against Communists and their allies. This record is adduced in order to warn against “those who seek to form any alliance however ‘tactical,’ with Islamist movements and states.” After reminding his readers of the enormous differences between the Islamist program and that of the left, he concludes that the left is simply deluding itself on this important question.
Nowhere does Halliday relate to the real problem, which is the transformed role of many leading sectors of radical Islam. The current problem, the one that demands analysis from all serious observers, and the left as well, is the significance of the continuing clash, across broad fronts, between Islamic forces and the hegemony of the dominant Western powers and their vital interests in the region. It is these changed circumstances that call for new analyses. It is not too much to say that the impact of this conflict between radical Islam, fighting under anti-imperialist slogans and imperial hegemony is far from clear.

Even though Halliday should know something about the left, he writes as if the left is still one of the major forces in the region’s politics and is now, for reasons of opportunism trying to obscure the crimes of Islamic fanatics. Unfortunately, the left is not a major player in most of the region. But it still has moral stature and analytical ability. By what rule, must we assume that militant Islam will realign itself with the imperial powers. Is it relevant that most, if not all the unforgivable crimes against the left by Islamic forces were performed in the service of reactionary governments following the line of subservience to the major dominant Western powers? Do we know how radical Islam will approach the social question in these new circumstances? In short, are we working on a genuine attempt to understand and act in the light of new circumstances, or are we stuck with the dogmatic repetition of previous positions. There seems to be sufficient evidence to state the Islamic forces are not monolithic, that local conditions are important for their development and various groupings and tendencies can and are emerging. When and if tactical alliances suggest themselves is it wise to reject them out of hand just in order to join the chorus repeating constantly that militant Islam is the incarnation of evil. Fred Halliday wishes to impose a recipe for ideological purity. In short, we are supposed to exercise so called moral judgment regarding the evils of radical Islam. Next, we will be advised to rediscover the moral superiority of the enlightened West.

In the second article, "The London Review of Hezbollah", Professor Eugene Goodheart from Brandeis University presents what appears to be serious evidence for the prevalence of crude anti-Semitism of one sort or another in the Hezbollah leadership. It would be a pleasant surprise if Goodheart’s accusations regarding anti-Semitic utterances by Hezbollah were unfounded. But Goodheart’s accusations against the Hezbollah leadership are really the occasion for him to launch an attack based on biased and unsubstantiated charges against the London Review of Books (which he renames the Hezbollah Review of Books) for printing favorable analyses of Hezbollah. His immediate objective is a recent article by Charles Glass in which he attacks Glass for things that Glass never wrote and ascribes a position to Hezbollah for which he adduces no proof.

Goodheart writes:
“Can we then take seriously Glass’s benign view that the movement, in becoming ‘a sophisticated and successful political party . . . [has] jettisoned its early rhetoric about making Lebanon an Islamic Republic,’ and now speaks ‘of Christians, Muslims and Druze living in harmony” Apparently the Jews, having no place in this harmony, will simply disappear.” And:
“Glass speaks of Hezbollah’s uncompromising political program, of which he apparently approves, without mentioning that at its core is the destruction of Israel.”

Goodheart is angry with Glass (1) because Glass has denied the authenticity of some of the anti-Semitic statements attributed to the Hezbollah leadership and 2) Glass dares to report on positive developments of that organization. He feels that this gives him a license to say anything or everything about Glass or the Hezbollah. He allows himself to say that Glass “apparently” approves Hezbollah’s entire program. But Glass is specific only in praise for Hezbollah’s abandoning the goal of an Islamic Republic in favor of Christians, Muslims and Druze living in harmony. Goodheart throws elementary logic to the wind and makes the following unsubstantiated accusations: (1) Glass supports the Hezbollah program, when Glass only said that it was good that Hezbollah had a “uncompromising political program.” (2) The core of the Hezbollah program is the destruction of Israel; (3) Glass supports the destruction of Israel.

Glass had indeed praised Hezbollah for abandoning the idea of an Islamic Republic in Lebanon in favor of an agreement for the coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Druze. Glass along with many other observers has noted that Hezbollah is transforming itself into a basically political movement. Goodheart is so confused and rattled that he comes up with a new inanity, blaming Hezbollah for not including the non-existing Jewish community in Lebanon, along with the Christians, the Muslims and the Druze in its program for transforming Lebanese society.

It is worth adding that we have no exact information regarding the “core” of the Hezbollah program. Certainly, there is no reason to doubt that the central tenets of Hezbollah regarding Israel are unacceptable. On the other hand, we have no proof that Israel is at the “core” of the Hezbollah program.

In a related circumstances, we admit that it is not known whether the destruction of Israel is or is not the core of the Hamas program. Whatever the truth on this is, it did not prevent Hamas from suggesting a 10-15 year cease-fire with Israel as a viable negotiating option. Is it news that political realities often negate the relative importance of programmatic declarations, even when they are at the “core.”? Goodheart refuses to recognize any positive developments in Hezbollah such as abandoning the demand for an Islamic Republic, though such a transformation may distance Hezbollah from aggressive war against Israel. Instead, he attacks Hezbollah for not including Jews in its call for a reform of Lebanese political life!

Goodheart is both unable and unwilling to analyze the political trajectory of the Hezbollah. In this, he is characteristic of those who feel that it is sufficient to employ their own subjective moral judgment in place of serious debate and discussion. The inevitable result is that Goodheart’s prejudice clouds his judgment on the major issues. After he disassociates himself from the Israeli attack on Lebanon which he likens to the U.S. war in Iraq, he cannot resist using Hezbollah’s anti Semitism in order to somehow justify Israel’s massive attack on Lebanon last summer. Goodheart:

“But then the question arises, “What should be the appropriate response to suicide bombings and Katyusha rockets?” There is no easy answer to this. But it is a mark of callous indifference to the fate of a country, indeed of one’s own country, when another contributor to the London Review of Books, Yitzhak Laor, chastises two of Israel’s most prominent critics of their own government, Amos Oz and David Grossman, for asserting the right of Israel to respond to violence against it. Grossman, for example, writes, “There is no justification for the large-scale violence that Hezbollah unleashed this week, from Lebanese territory, on dozens of peaceful Israeli villages, towns and cities. No country in the world could remain silent and abandon its citizens when its neighbor strikes without provocation.”

Grossman’s strange account is, of course, a distortion of the events of the morning of the Hezbollah attack on July 12, 2006 which involved the capture of the two Israeli soldiers and an artillery barrage in the region to distract the IDF and cover its retreat from the operation. Every independent observer (including many in Israel) determined that Israel responded disproportionately. Israel could have reacted by any number of measured political and military responses, instead of plunging the area into all out war. But, in fact, Israel was looking for the opportunity to begin a real large scale offensive. Despite this, for Goodheart, the deplorable elements in the Hezbollah program are to be seen as an excuse for aggressive war. And all this to hide the fact that Laor and others were right in opposing the war, while Oz, Grossman were very wrong in defending it. Goodheart might be pleased with himself that he got in another sneer against the LRB, but it is clear that he is really on a mission to defend Israel, even where no defense is possible.