can’t see the forest

Nasrallah: “Oops.”

The British Broadcasting Company reported a story today that I am unable to find in the American media, at least as yet. [Revision: here is MSNBC’s take, which, in my view, has a rather interesting spin on it.]

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, issued the following statements according to the BBC:

Hassan Nasrallah“Had we known the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it…we did not think there was 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war of this scale and magnitude. Now you ask me if this was 11 July and there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war like the one that has taken place, would you go ahead with the kidnapping? I would say, no, definitely not, for humanitarian, social, security, military, and political reasons. Neither I, Hezbollah, prisoners in Israeli jails nor the families of the prisoners would have accepted it.”

The article does not specify to whom Nasrallah was speaking, so it is unclear as to whether this was a direct statement to the BBC, or was directed otherwise and simply reported by the BBC. [Revision: Nasrallah was speaking on Lebanese television.] The statement does come as a UN peacekeeping force of 15,000 prepares to deploy in order to maintain the UN-mandated ceasefire.

It is easy to interpret Nasrallah’s words as an Urkelian “did I do that?” And, indeed, such statements as this one cannot excuse the fact that Nasrallah and Hezbollah must share a high degree of responsibility for the disaster that has taken place and for the more than 1,000 lives lost in the Israeli-Lebanese conflict so far.

But if one, for purposes of exegesis, takes Nasrallah at his word long enough to extract useful detail from the statement, one can see two things clearly which the general melee of the goings-on might have obscured, at least in the West.

Firstly, we can see that Hezbollah leadership did not expect the overwhelming ferocity of Israel’s response to the abduction of its military personnel. It is not that Hezbollah thought Israel incapable of such a response—it is more likely that Nasrallah and his associates did not think such a response would be permitted by the international community. Unfortunately, nations from the United States to Russia and Saudi Arabia stood idly by as Israel’s military power wrecked much of the Lebanese economic progress of the past decades, with Israeli authorities explicitly threatening at one point to “turn back the clock” on Lebanon by decades.

Secondly, we would be amiss not to catch Nasrallah’s references to the prisoners in Israeli jails and to the approval of their families. This is a reminder that, while Israel deems it appropriate to trash much of a sovereign nation based on the abduction of a few military personnel, it continues to hold without charges as many as a thousand Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners—civilian prisoners, at that—in its labyrinthine and often secret penal facilities.

In May, US linguist and political thinker Noam Chomsky visited with Nasrallah and others in Lebanon, a journey for which he has, of course, been continually bombasted by the Western media since. Chomsky reported that Nasrallah was acutely aware of the pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian bias inherent particularly in the US media, and that he asked Chomsky what could be done to counter such propaganda.

If you believe that Western coverage of the most recent conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon has been “fair and balanced,” you might want to consider the following: the Western media, taking its cues from the Israeli government in these instances, holds the June capture of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit and the July captures of other Israeli military personnel as the starting points for the increased intensity of warfare in Gaza and for the invasion of Lebanon, respectively. What was only fractionally reported—and hardly reported at all, really—was that, in each of these instances, the capture of Israeli troops had been directly preceded by the Israeli captures and incarcerations of Muslim civilians. In other words, one can believe that the escalating offensive in Gaza was a justified response to Shalit’s capture only if one also believes that the Palestinian government would have been justified in invading Israel in response to its capture and illegal detainment of Palestinian civilians. The same is true of the much broader and more violent offensive on Lebanon weeks later. The media reported that Israel was responding to military abductions, but did not report that these abductions were carried out in response to the Israeli abduction of civilians.

This is particularly important since, under the Geneva protocol, the capture of civilians is a far more serious crime than the capture of active military personnel.

Perhaps Nasrallah believed that, in provoking an Israeli response by capturing a few soldiers, he might expose the transparency of Israel’s typically ridiculous justifications for wreaking havoc on largely helpless civilian populations. Perhaps, with his insight into the attitudes and procedures of the Western media, Chomsky could have warned him otherwise if asked.

Israel routinely abducts non-Israeli civilians from inside and outside its borders and holds them in harsh penitentiary facilities without criminal charges. No one outside of Iran has called for the invasion and destruction of Israel, and few go even as far as to accuse Israel of extremism. But when “extremists” from Gaza or Lebanon have the audacity to capture Israeli troops—not civilians—even in very small numbers, it is implied by the media that Israel has the right to unleash hell on innocent bystanders in order to punish the wrongdoers. This is because, in a world where the balance of power lies heavily in favor of the United States and its close allies, such as Israel, the actions of the nations which “carry a big stick” simply cannot be wrong.

One result of the media’s staunchly pro-Israel stance is that Americans cannot seem to criticize the policies of the State of Israel without being labelled anti-Semitic anymore than we can criticize the policies of our own government without being labelled anti-American.

Israel vs. Arab WorldAs always, in any totalitarian structure, the will of the State cannot be, for purposes of discussion, disengaged from the will of the people. It is impossible to conceive of the idea that, in a supposedly democratic society, a government might take actions which do not accord with the will of the majority of its people. The fundamentally obvious notion that the State is not the same thing as the People has, in our time, through the machinations of the media, become part of a radical ideology which the Party in Orwell’s 1984 referred to as “oldthink.” Thus, fundamentalist Americans are fond of saying to those who disagree with them: “If you don’t like it, leave! Go live in Cuba!” The idea implied is that if one does not wholeheartedly agree with State policy, one is not a citizen and should leave. Dissent is not an option. As early as the 1830s, Alexis deTocqueville predicted in his Democracy in America that this phenomenon would eventually come to dominate American political discussion—or the lack thereof. He called it the “tyranny of the majority.”

What deTocqueville could not have foreseen was the nightmarish feedback mechanism which, in our time, has come to allow the centralized mass media to shape public opinion in accordance with the policies of a State and its economy rather than in neutral response to them. The important matters are publicized only after they have already been decided.

I am not sure that Nasrallah’s statement really has a lot of intrinsic worth, especially not for those Lebanese who lost family members and friends through no associations with Hezbollah of their own. The innocent bystanders, which, by any account, comprise the majority of the dead, would not place much value on his words, and rightly so.

But is it really appropriate to point a finger at Nasrallah, if one has only one finger to point? Or would it be more meaningful and appropriate to point the finger at Jerusalem, and to ask, quite sincerely and without sarcasm: “Who do you think you are?”


6 Responses

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  1. Skip Conover said, on 8/27/06 at 2:18 pm

    We would do well to point fingers at everyone, as Noam Chomsky would say, or no one, as Ernest Becker would want. Let us look to ourselves for the answers. There is plenty of blame to go around!

  2. tellitlikeitis said, on 8/27/06 at 2:22 pm

    Agreed, Skip. There is indeed plenty of blame to go around, and it doesn’t seem to accomplish very much on its own merit, does it? I suppose my point mainly is that cause and effect relationships described in the media only seem to reflect the cause and effect relationships in reality inasmuch as they are useful in promoting a given agenda. That given agenda seems to be, rather invariably in our time, the agenda with the most gunpower behind it.

  3. eteraz said, on 8/28/06 at 8:06 pm

    Hey Tell It,

    You commented on my blog earlier today.

    I request that you kindly keep coming back and forth. At the time I’m trying to work through my position on the continued occupation and a multitude of opinions would be invaluable. You’ll probably get some residual hits out of it; and can potentialy take credit for influencing the ILLUSTRIOUS ALI ETERAZ (kidding about that part).

  4. Drima aka SudaneseThinker said, on 8/29/06 at 1:02 am

    dude nice blog, I’m a fellow musician too.

  5. tellitlikeitis said, on 8/29/06 at 1:32 am

    To Eteraz and Drima: I thank you for your comments, and I continue to watch your own blogs with interest. It’s extremely important to me to see the viewpoints of people from or in other parts of the world because that is one of the main things American media likes to take away from the American people. Just as the Iranian government wants its people to think all Americans are the same, so the institutions of power in America–which have far more to do with big business than with government in and of itself–would like for Americans to go on believing all Muslims are the same. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Well, I don’t want to get cheesy, but I sincerely believe that, working together, people like us from all cultures and backgrounds and of all nationalities and faiths can create a media of the future in which the centralized, directionally focused, and superpower-blasted media of today will seem as silly as…a flat Earth. Thanks again and keep on’ blogging.

    And to Drima: Keep playing those blues. I’d love to come to Sudan and jam sometime. Man, would that be cool. :-)

  6. tellitlikeitis said, on 8/29/06 at 1:35 am

    Sorry, Drima, I meant Malaysia. It’s sad when you can type faster than you can think. :-)

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