November 9, 2006

An Argument with Hezbollah

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A member or supporter of Hezbollah who calls himself Al Ghaliboon appeared in my comments and completely dominated the thread. Normally I don't let somebody show up and do that, but it's not every day that a group of Americans gets to argue with someone like him.

I've argued with several members and supporters of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and my personal experience with them runs the gamut. Many are perfectly friendly and pleasant. Some of the higher-ranking party officials are unbelievably vicious and nasty. (If you want to read the uncut version of my experience with nasty Hizbullahi, you can read an account in the pamphlet Adam Bellow and I published last month.)

Al Ghaliboon is somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. As I figured out that he is interested in talking rather than in fighting or screaming, I toned down the temperature of my own responses. Here is my dialogue with him as it originally appeared in real time.

You can read the entire thread here if you want the whole thing.

AG: Mr. Totten,

Regarding your cheap shots at Mr. Fisk, I presume your hero is Mr. Friedman? In which case may I encourage you to actually go beyond the Orientalist perspective, to gain at least an ounce of credibility amongst your wider (non-Orientalist/non-fascist) readership?

Regards,

A Hizbullahi from the South.

MJT: It takes a lot of nerve for a Hizbullahi to call me a fascist.

Get a life, buddy. Or do you enjoy getting bombed halfway to the moon by the Israelis?

Yes, I prefer Tom Friedman to Robert Fisk. He's not a fascist, he's a liberal. Unlike yourself.

AG: Unlike you, I have not painted anyone with blanket statements.

I would say that it is a bit childish of you to make such statements about being bombed to the moon by the Israelis, given that the primary victims of the Israelis have not been the Hizbullah fighters, but rather the babies, women, the elderly, and in general civilians. It is a shame that your so-called liberal hatred has blinded you to the facts, that while we have fought with honour on the battlefield (and the ratio of Israeli civilians to soldiers killed is testimony to that), the Israelis have attempted to take out their anger at their inability by bombing our people, our bridges, our homes, basically everything BUT us. However, if you choose to present the 500 dead figure that Israel claims it achieved (notice how Israel phrases its achievements - in terms of kills and amount of territory occupied; which indicates what they really are after), at least give us some proof of this; I remember during the war they were constantly repeating this figure, and the other 50% figure of rocket launchers destroyed. Tell me, Mr. Totten, since you insist the Israelis bombed us halfway to the moon, what did this bombing-to-the-moon campaign achieve? What achievements can one speak of, at least without sounding as laughable as a clown (or Tzipi Livni apologizing for the Beit Hanun massacre and claiming it was unintentional - I wonder, how many mistakes can one make in the span of uhh, let's say 2 months?) would sound. But since your liberal self chooses to brag about the bombing-halfway-to-the-moon, I presume you are also bragging about the similar bombing to the moon of the 4 UN officers? Or is human life valuable depending on where they hail from, and what colour their skin is, or which God they pray to?

MJT: Yo, Mr. Hezbollah. You don't know who you're arguing with, so I suggest if you want to have that fight you go somewhere else.

How dare you complain about the Israelis bombing civilians? I get to complain about that. You don't. You bombed Haifa and bragged about it. You are an apologist, and perhaps even a perpetrator, of war crimes.

AG: I am really amazed at your usage of fallacies to divert from the point I raised; Regardless of who I am and how hypocritical I might be, your response still constitutes a fallacious diversion.

As for accusing me of bombing Haifa - that got you a bit distressed, didn't it? - that's a bit of an assumption, isn't it?

An apologist - how am I justifying anything? I did not even raise that point. If you choose to forge your arguments based entirely on fallacies of attack on the person, that's an entirely different matter. However, again, it shows more about your standards, than mine.

I am here to discuss respectfully; if you cannot place your biases behind you for a moment, then that says quite a lot about your tolerance and alleged liberal values.

MJT: Al Ghaliboon, if you're here to discuss this respectfully then you can start by not throwing “Orientalist” and “Fascist” around. That is not a way to get on my good side.

Also, if you are looking to argue with someone who thinks Israel did a good job in Lebanon, you're on the wrong blog.

AG: Let me be incredibly honest; I have read your blog for some time, but have refrained from commenting. I can say that I find your views abhorrable, in so far as they (more often than not) justify murder based on Israel's right to self-defense. Mr. Totten, if Israel wanted to defend itself, if Israel believed we were on an equal footing as human beings, if Israel believed in human rights, if Israel believed in the real rules of war, let it fight on the battlefield, let it invade and snatch our rocket launchers from us. To hide behind F-16s and then make unsubstantiated accusations that we hide amongst civilians to justify the kill-of-the-day, is not my idea of fighting like real men. Thus, I consider your views as justifying Israel's attitudes, which do not abode well for human rights (disregard the fact that I might be a hypocrite; this does not make the argument invalid). Moreover, you imply that Israel did not do a good job in Lebanon. What do you mean by that, and would you have said the same if Israel had gone in and practically eliminated us (and killed just as many civilians, let us not say more, to make the comparison on an equal footing)? Kindly elaborate.

MJT: Al Ghaliboon, if you have been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I think Israel's invasion of Lebanon was stupid. More stupid, though, is Hezbollah's war against Israel and Hezbollah's claim of “victory.”

If you are tired of war with Israel (maybe you aren't, maybe you like war, but I know some moderate Hezbollah supporters who are tired of the whole thing) you need to realize that it is possible for you to resolve the outstanding issues without getting thousands more Lebanese (and Israeli) people killed.

I know you don't believe me, and I won't be able to convince you, but let me give you some honest advice: Read Ha'arertz every day for a year. It's an Israeli newspaper with an English edition. You won't like everything you read there (obviously), but at the end of the year you will know and understand your enemy far better than you do now.

Here's some more advice. If Hezbollah wants to be respected by Americans, stop saying Death to America. When you declare yourselves our enemies, we will treat you accordingly. Americans have short attention spans and do not hold grudges. We can change the terms of the relationship any time you're ready.

Final advice, Al Ghaliboon. If you don't like getting bombed by Israelis, stop shooting and kidnapping Israelis. They will bomb you again if you keep that up.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to live in a normal country that doesn't explode?

AG: You and I both know that what Israel did was more than just invasion; in fact, it was not the invasion itself that we have an issue with (we welcome anyone who wishes to fight us face to face on the battlefield), but the aerial attacks that Israel was waging, which did not harm us at all, but killed a significant number of our civilians - reminding you, our families (yes we do have loved ones too, Mr. Totten, so I say as a friendly comment, please think twice before you paint us as monsters and brag about bombing our families to the moon).

What we did was merely what we had promised to do; we had warned of it time and time again, because the understanding that we had arrived to in the previous negotiation was not respected, and our prisoners remained in Israeli jails, and our people continued to be maimed and killed by mines.

Mr. Totten, you underestimate our intelligence. We read Ha'aretz, and we read much more than Ha'aretz, and much more than the English versions of the Israeli press. We read much, much more than that, I can assure you.

Our enmity towards America stems from our hatred of its policies, which have left our people everywhere, in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere among ruins. We hold no grudges towards the average American citizen, but towards the general American policy, which treats us as unimportant, as merely puppets and machines to be manipulated for their interests. We reject and fight any attempt to subjugate us and take our dignity and honour away. You will find that we are not much different in that respect from nations that take pride in their history and civilization, and aspire to practice and maintain their sovereignty. We want and demand treatment on equal terms, not as inferiors. That is the root of our struggle against America.

I have lived in many countries - countries that would fall under the categorization of “the west” and “the first world”, countries that don't explode. Countries that don't explode because they export their explosions to my country and bring death and destruction to my people.

However, in my dealings with these people - Americans, and yes, even Israelis - I have felt the arrogance and their feelings of superiority, and their condescending attitudes towards my peoplel - Arabs and Muslims. I chose to leave exactly because I found it unbearable to live in a country that looks down upon us in this manner, although again I tell you, I have nothing against the average American or westerner. You will find that many, many of us, have lived and experienced the west in 1st person, not through the accounts of others. And we have chosen this path exactly because of it. We have come to be convinced that our people's dignity must be raised from the ground, our culture, traditions, religious beliefs revived, if we are to have a chance of demanding our rights as human beings. We stand for justice. Our past notwithstanding, we have shown that we are willing to take a logical path based on free will rather than imposing anything on others, including our fellow Lebanese.

MJT: We want and demand treatment on equal terms, not as inferiors.

You'll get it, at least from me, when you no longer start wars and kill people because you have emotional problems.

My West Beirut landlord lost tens of thousands of dollars in his restaurant business because of that war you and Nasrallah started. Are you going to tell him that this is the price he must pay for your pride? What about his pride? What about his need to take care of his children and provide for them? Doesn't he count, too? He's not a Zionist or an imperialist. He's a middle class Lebanese guy who owns a restaurant and wants to live in a country that doesn't explode.

Look. I've spent a lot of time in Lebanon. I love that country as much as anyone who is from somewhere else and spent only seven months there possibly could. If you want my respect, that's easy. Join the Lebanese project. Choose to build instead of destroy. Don't start wars that get little girls in two countries — one of which is your own — killed.

The reason pretty much nobody in this discussion thread respects you is because you choose war over friendship and peaceful coexistence. We can change the terms of our relationship whenever you're ready, but it is you who must change. Americans are not going to side with or respect people who scream Death to America and fire missiles at cities because they lack pride.

AG: First of all, we do not have “emotional problems”. Second, we did not start a war; in fact, our very raison d'etre was the Israeli occupation. Nor have we ever started wars; we have conducted operations and these operations have been with the purpose of getting our rights from a country that otherwise refuses to even recognize our legitimate existence.

It is not so much about pride as it is about sovereignty, freedom, and honour - in my opinion honour and vain pride are two different things. When America was hit by terrorist attacks, did it fold its arms and wait for them to hit again? Notwithstanding that the whole Iraq war is a sham. Why did USA react? Why don't we have the same right to react to an equally tragic sequence of events? When we were fighting and dying for liberating the south, they all called us terrorists. But liberation only came through our struggle and martyrdom, not through a set of statements that leaders in Damascus and Ramallah make without even wanting to see the plight of their people. As for your middle-class landlord, what makes him and his plight any more important/valid than the more than 1 million lower-class, unemployed Lebanese?

We do not wish to have anything to do with Israel. At the same time, we do not accept that anyone dictate to us that we should make peace with it. We will make peace with it when the time is right for our people to come to terms with the crimes committed against them, and when we get an apology and reparation from Israel for its crimes against our people (we have all lost people in our conflict against Israel; myself/my family included). Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the war drummers in Tel Aviv who come up with massacre after massacre out of the blue.

MJT: Okay, Al Ghaliboon, I appreciate that you’re willing to put up with an online forum where you have no friends and where you face dozens of people who hate your guts and wouldn’t weep if a bomb dropped on your head.

I hope you notice something else, too, though, while you’re here. All of us think the Arab-Israeli conflict is stupid. No one here wants to see it continue. We all want Peace Now. Even the most flaming right-wing nutjobs in America would rather see a peaceful Middle East than a Middle East that explodes. Have you noticed that a lot of people in this discussion have tried to persuade you to give up the fight for your sake and for the sake of your children rather than for our sakes or for the sakes of the Israelis?

I'm sorry you had a bad experience in the West. And I mean that sincerely. If you were treated badly because you're an Arab, a Muslim, or both, that was wrong. It was wrong. Period. Full stop. That does not, however, mean it is okay for you to join a “resistance” movement that fires missiles at random strangers in other countries who have never met you.

Most Lebanese are lovely people. Some members of your party, though, treated me monstrously. But you will not find me joining a Death to Lebanon movement as a way to get over it.

No one wants to enslave you. Americans fought a civil war with each other 150 years ago and we settled the issue of slavery forever. All we want you to do is stop fighting your neighbors. That’s it. And the reason we want you to stop fighting your neighbors is because we’re tired of getting dragged into your wars.

You do have emotional problems. You, personally, have emotional problems. You said so yourself. Resistance heals your wounded pride.

Obviously resistance pays off for you in some way or you wouldn’t do it. If all you got out of it was bombs for breakfast, you would find something a little less destructive to do.

You aren’t winning the war against Israel in any militarily objective sense. You can’t conquer their territory, and you can’t repel an invasion. You couldn’t even hold your own ground on the fence. Israel could flatten every last house in Lebanon and you couldn’t stop them. The reason they don’t do it is because they don’t want to. On some level, I think you know this. It took the Israelis a month to kill 1,000 Lebanese. If their objective was simply to kill people they would kill 1,000 an hour and no one would be able to stop them.

Anyway, the Israelis and the Americans are not who you need to worry about. If you keep dragging your country into destructive wars against the will of the majority, you may find yourself lynched in the streets. I try not to predict Middle Eastern politics and events, but I have met quite a number of Lebanese Christians and Druze who would love to strip you of your shirt and strap electrified jumper cables to your chest before dragging you through the streets by your nose. And this was before you blew up the country again. One of the reasons I opposed Israel’s invasion of Lebanon is because I knew it would make this horror show all the more likely to play itself out.

I don't think you have any idea just how nasty the animosity toward you is in your country. If you think we Americans are giving you a hard time on this blog, try pretending you're a Maronite who hates “dirty Shia” and hanging out in Jounieh and Achrafieh. I'll tell you what you can expect. One Lebanese guy I know (he reads this blog and he might even show up to say hi) told me he thought the American invasion of Iraq was stupid as hell but is glad it happened anyway. The reason he's glad? Because Zarqawi (he said this last year) is now free to run around Baghdad and massacre Shia. It can get that bad in Lebanon. It was that bad in Lebanon when I was two-thirds finished at my university. I'm only 36 years old. It is not ancient history.

If Geagea and Jumblatt give the orders to fight, you’re really screwed. All of Lebanon will be screwed. They, personally, have given orders to fight before. And their orders were carried out. If I were you, I would quit while I was “ahead” and not mess with them anymore.

You don't have to live with Israelis. But you do have to live with Lebanese. What you do affects them, and your “resistance” means they get killed, too. They don't want to be “martyred.” They're trying to get something productive done in Lebanon, and you guys are running around the south like a street gang with a foreign policy.

Some Americans like to egg these people on. They want to see the rest of Lebanon rise up and resolve the Hezbollah problem once and for all. That is my Lebanese nightmare. You know as well as I do how bottomlessly dark a place Lebanon is when it breaks.

If Lebanon explodes again, as it did in 1975, don't expect the international community to come in and save you. Hardly anyone will want to go there after what happened last time and after what's happening now in Iraq. Lebanon will be dismissed as a terminally deranged country, another Gaza, another Somalia, another nation murdered by hate.

I’m impressed with the political progress made since 1991. Most Lebanese really do want to put that behind them. For various reasons, though, your group is the last to progress and figure out that violence will not solve your problems. Whether you realize it or not, and whether you want to or not, you are teaching your countrymen that they may have taken the gun out of politics too quickly.

Believe it or not, I wish you well and hope you find a way to make peace with your country and with your neighbors.

UPDATE: The discussion continues in the comments (of course), and it is more civil today than it was yesterday.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 9, 2006 7:42 PM
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