November 11, 2006

A Few Final Words

Yesterday I published an argument between myself and a member of Hezbollah that was generated in the comments.

I regret being less polite than he when we first encountered each other. By way of explanation, I will say this. During my time in Lebanon I was treated viciously by Hezbollah officials because I cracked a joke on my blog and because they suspected a colleague of mine was a Jew. This, of course, is a trifle compared with what Hezbollah has done to others less fortunate than myself. But my history with them is what it is, and they made it personal.

I also am furious at Hezbollah for starting a war that brought air strikes and bombs to my old neighborhood, that killed innocent people — many of them children — in two countries. I lashed out at the first Hizbullahi I encountered after that war.

It may seem ridiculous to some of you that I would concern myself about something as trivial as online etiquette with a man who self-identifies as an enemy and who says the phrase Death to America comes from his heart. But I did meet supporters of Hezbollah who were nice to me despite our vast political differences (to put it lightly). I have spoken to members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who lied and dissembled, but who at the same time treated me decently and with at least formal respect. Arabs, for the most part, are courteous people. I admire that trait in their culture. Americans and Europeans can and at times do learn courtesy from the Arabs. Mr. Al Ghaliboon has conducted himself politely in the comments here, and it was fascinating to watch how almost every Westerner who interacted with him, myself included, became more polite over time.

None of this means those of us who participated are going to become Hezbollah supporters any time soon. Al Ghaliboon will not join Lebanon's March 14 Movement (ie, the Cedar Revolution) because of anything he might have learned here. Nor is there any middle ground we can work toward. I strive for moderation in my American political views. That's because Americans have common ground and common values to build on. Most of us agree on the basic political questions.

It is possible for mainstream Americans and mainstream Lebanese to find some common ground even though there are also vast political and cultural differences. Lebanon is an ally of sorts of the United States, and not in the corrupt and degrading way that Egypt and Saudi Arabia supposedly are. It's a tense alliance, and it is severely strained — more so than you probably think — because of the war in July and August. The alliance is not supported by every group in the country, and perhaps never will be. But it's something.

Hezbollah, though, remains on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Al Ghaliboon is an enemy. I do not mean to insult him by calling him this. It is simply the way things are. He self-identifies as an enemy, and it only takes one side to define that kind of relationship. As far as I am concerned, he is welcome to transform that relationship into something more productive at any time. Americans forgive more quickly and easily than he thinks, I suspect.

Anyway, I've given a lot more time and space to a member of Hezbollah than I ever expected I would or even probably should have. I'd like, then, to promote what I think is one of the strongest responses from this fascinating discussion to the main page. I don't agree with everything written below, but it's engaging and powerful and I do agree with a lot of it. It is an unabashedly hostile reponse. It is also, at the same time, a calm one.

I image Al Ghaliboon is at least partly interested in this discussion in the spirit of knowing one's enemy. He is free to correct me if I am wrong. Either way, Al Ghaliboon, here is your enemy:
Let us speak for a moment of practicalities. Of realpolitik, if you will.

alGhali, my name is Ric. I understand that means something amusing to you. I urge you to suppress that reaction.

I am, more or less in order of importance, an American, a Christian, a Texan, a military veteran, a Republican, and a descendant of American Indians. Whatever your goals are, you must convince me, and others like me, not to oppose them, or you don't have a hope in Hell.

The reason that is so is that you produce nothing for yourself. You and your people do not even make the explosives you kill people with; you must buy them from the West, or from the Persians. You and your people don't make the televisions you watch Nasrallah speak on; you must buy them from the Japanese and the Koreans. You don't make the studios or their equipment; you must buy them from us, or from the British or French. You don't make the cell phones you use as triggers for booby traps; you must buy them from the West, or again Japan and Korea. You don't make the pickup trucks that transport your “soldiers” to battle. You don't even make the guns you brandish so forcefully, or the ammunition you waste spraying at the sky. The rockets? Russia or Eastern Europe.

You don't even earn the money you buy those things with. You must depend upon the largesse, the generosity, of others, and if you believe that generosity is genuinely in your interest you are too stupid to take seriously, or else you depend upon Western desire for the oil, which was put there by Allah with no effort on your part; you did nothing to earn it.

We, on the other hand (and by “we” I mean the West and those who have copied us) make all those things. It is for this reason that we are strong. We learned, with the most painful lessons coming in the century just past, that both Mao and Machiavelli were wrong. Good soldiers may well get you gold, but for us gold is useful stuff for electronics and not much more; our wealth is elsewhere. The sort of power that flows from the barrel of a gun is transitory and not a little illusory. If you have the power of wealth, guns are so cheap they can be handed out to the likes of you for our entertainment. What we have learned is the deep truth of another aphorism: When you are strong you can forgive your enemies. When you are weak you can only kill them.

You, sir, are a weakling and a coward, and as such we will never support you. You prove yourself a weakling by announcing your intention to kill, thereby establishing that you are too weak to forgive. You confirm that by never producing anything of your own, only demanding that others provide your support. You have no strength, no power. You are not a slave, and we have no desire to have you as a slave — a slave must at least be able to hew wood and carry water, and you have established that you have not the strength for that even on your own behalf, by demanding that others do it for you while you arm yourself to kill.

Therefore you have failed in your aim. You have not come close, with your glib recital of past vilenesses, to convincing me to support you. I mentioned that I am a descendant of American Indians. A century and a half ago, the invading whites ripped some of my ancestors from their lands, forcing them to walk almost three thousand kilometers to a a desolate untamed land where they were “resettled”, and took the ancestral lands for their own. But I am a Westerner. That is in the past, and the reality for today is that if I wish a redress of those grievances, first I must amass the power — and I understand that wealth is power, and all else is weakness. If I will not build real power I am simply a murderer if I seek to drive the descendants of the robbers from my ancestors' homeland. And, strangely enough, I find that as I amass real power the issue recedes. One bit of land will do as well as another. Speaking of “homelands” is simply an excuse for tyrants to gather political power from lazy people who are wistful for past glory but unwilling to make new glory.

The guns, the rockets, the bombs, all the warstuff you amass is worthless so long as you must get it by trusting the largesse of others. It will never gain you the strength you want. The ability to kill is not power. The ability to build is power, power we can respect. If you have real power, the warstuff is toys and bagattelles.

And if you are seeking “honor” from us, you have failed again. “Honor” as you understand it means that we recognize your ability to kill or damage who or what you like, when you like, without effective reprisal. We call that “bullying” and consider it the behavior of jackals. By insisting upon it you class yourself with those.

Save your rhetoric. You have failed, and will continue to fail. Your every presentation that you consider as influencing the West to favor you instead reminds us of what we consider our dishonorable past; you disgust us because you remind us of our primitive origins, which we have done our best to suppress. Even the word “jihad”, which you use among yourselves and in your propaganda as a term of approbation, for us is quite different. An attempt, by military or other violent force, to extend the reach of one's beliefs or religion is a crusade. That's what the English word means. The fact that today's Crusaders wear a crescent-and-star instead of a cross makes no difference. Hassan Nasrallah, and you, are Crusaders. You should change your name to Geoffrey.

It's fun to read your apologias and what you consider to be your arguments, but I am one of the ones you must convince, and you have not only failed to advance that cause, you are farther from it than you were when I had never heard of you. If you want my support — and you cannot come close to your goals without it, and you know it, or you would not make the attempt — you must change your tactics. I don't care to advise you on what tactics to use, except to let you know that several others upthread have offered useful hints, because frankly you disgust me. Your presentation has made it more likely that I will shoot you or your followers when I encounter you, not less. You are a failure. Accept that and learn.

Regards,
Ric Locke
Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 11, 2006 12:14 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



Testimonials

"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com


News Feeds




toysforiraq.gif



Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button

totten_button.jpg


Tip Jar





Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn