Response to Omar: Part II

This is the second part of my response to Omar’s long response to my comments on his questions about why he should not support Hizbullah and Hamas (and Syria) as long as they are fighting Israel.

What’s better for me as a Palestinian, supporting Syria (a country that’s fighting my everlasting enemy) or hiding behind the US; a country that’s conquering Iraq and torturing my brothers and raping my sisters for the sake of oil, not to mention its very obvious imperialistic ambition to the area as a whole?

Israel is only your “everlasting” enemy because your leaders have told you this, and because your definition of honor makes an independent Jewish state a humiliation to both Arabs and Muslims. Syria as a political culture is part of the Arab League that has made you Palestinians victims by definition, on purpose. They chose war in 1948 and 1967 and preferred to leave over two million Palestinians in a humiliating occupation by Israelis with their decision at Khartoum. They are not your friends by any means; and they are the ones who have told you Israel is your enemy.

Why should I now, after the situation exploded, judge what the Syrians are doing to their people inside prisons, not just judging them, but stabbing their resistance in the back, overlook the Israeli terrorist crimes and give them a green light to continue their cowardly attacks on civilains?

Even if I grant you all you say — that Israeli terrorism targets civilians (which I don’t) — your approach is not necessarily correct. You think that criticizing the people who keep the pot boiling with their hatreds and violence — which you consider resistance — is stabbing them in the back. This depends on your imagining the Israelis as a relentless aggressor (with imperialist goals from the Nile to the Euphrates) and your imagining that the Syrians/Hizbullah/Hamas are resisting this aggression. If you’re wrong, you may be making a really serious mistake, strengthening those who harm you and attacking those who would like to stop.

The search for the Arab honor, which you obviously have no idea what it is, didn’t cause our problems, this honor, which you obviously consider a stupid idea, can be defined by the following: “It’s your reaction when you wake up in the morning, whether you are in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, or Jolan (Syria), on the smell of your children’s burning corpses”. I hope that you come to realize this stupid honor one day, and then tell me what to do about it.


Okay, this is important to me, so please bear with me and help me if you can. I don’t consider honor stupid. I think we all need a sense of honor, and that wanting honor is one of the most important ways that humans are socialized to fulfill the expectations of the communities that they participate in. The problem with a certain kind of honor — zero-sum honor — is that I make myself look bigger by making others look smaller. I am right because you are wrong; I am up because you are down; I am honored because you are shamed. Now there’s no way of avoiding this sometimes and its even fascinating (all sports and gambling is zero-sum), but when it’s all you can do, and even when offered the chance to enter a cooperative, positive-sum relationship, you prefer zero-sum honor, then you’re in trouble.

And so even when you lose zero-sum games (like the Arab approach to 1948), rather than say, “well that didn’t work, what about switching gears?” you say instead “I don’t care how many Arab lives it takes to destroy Israel, it’s worth it for my honor to make them my everlasting enemy…” then you head in very self-destructive directions. That’s my analysis of how (the wrong kind of) honor contributes to Palestinians suffering. As one Saudi ruler put it back in the early 1950s, “if it takes 10 million Arab lives to destroy Israel, it will be worth it.” (Statement issued by the Society for the Prevention of a Third World War, The New York Times, January 4, 1954; cited in Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World (London: W.H. Allen, 1970), pp. 477-8. Those lives are primarily Palestinian lives.

As for the smell of death, we both agree that it’s not honorable to wake up to that. But if I understand your point about the link between this odor and honor it’s that unless you strike back at Israel, you have lost your honor. What I’m trying to tell you is that a) you are bringing this odor upon you in search of this honor, and b) if you want to stop death from consuming you, you need to find less self-destructive ways of achieving honor.

Here are some quotes from the Arab world that illustrate the kind of honor-shame response that I am trying to suggest is actually self-destructive:

Hizbullah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, represent “what is left of honor and dignity in times of submission,” Sajed al-Abdali, a Kuwaiti and Sunni Islamist, wrote in his column in Al-Rai Al-Amm newspaper Tuesday.
Al-Abdali said “the cowards” who disapprove of Hezbollah should “just stay silent.
In Iraq, despite the bloody and raging sectarian conflict between the sects, Sunni university professor Mohammed Kanan al-Obeidi called Nasrallah “a remarkable leader in our time although he has links with Iran.”
By striking Israel, he has restored the glories of the old Muslims,” said the 40-year-old al-Obeidi.

Surely the glories of the “old Muslims” derive from something more glorious than a cross-border raid, no?

Now, let’s turn to this doomed “Greater Syria” project that you think I have no idea whatsoever about! Your prejudice is exactly what I call total ignorance, do you really think that this project is Al Assad’s invention? Let me sum up , this project is every Arab’s dream, there isn’t a single arab who doesn’t want the Arab Greater Unity, it’s called Greater Syria because originally, Syria was the formal name of the area from modern Syria through Palestine , Lebanon, and Jordan. Arabs were fighting for this dream since ages, but our opressive regimes had often fought back, some arabs who follow the ideology of nationalism had succeeded in taking over and controling some countries (e.g. Syria, Iraq, and Egypt) but once they were in control, they turned to be worse than the regimes before them! The Syrian regime is one clear example on that.

Here’s the problem as I see it. You’re right that pan-Arab nationalism is a powerful dream, and that probably every Arab has at some point in his or her life dreamed of this. (Would you really say “not a single Arab” does not share it?) But like all messianic dreams, it has its flaws and can produce much mischief. I’m old enough to remember Nasser and his project with Syria to create a “ United Arab Republic.” When the Egyptian contingent arrived in Syria to implement the accord, the Syrians realized that the Egyptians saw it as an excuse to take over Syria. That was the end of that effort.

When you get right down to it (as far as I can make out) what feeds the dream of Greater Syria or the pan-Arab nation is what destroys any effort to make it happen – namely imperialist desires to rule over others, not just other religions and groups, but even over other Arabs. Who has the dream of ruling over the area from the Nile to the Euphrates? The Arabs. And they project it on the Israelis who, as a people, have no interest in such imperialist projects.

Another ignorance you show here, you consider Arab leaders representatives of the their citizens! By talking about the Khartoum summit, you’re insulting every Arab reading about this! Those leaders represent themselves, they represent their own interests of stabilizing and legitimizing their regimes, you can read about their bloody history everywhere, the Syrian regime might be the most obvious one only because the US chose that.

Actually, I think we’re finally in full agreement. But that’s what I mean when I say you mistake your enemies for your friends. I agree entirely that Arab leaders don’t represent their people – on the contrary, they exploit and sacrifice their people. But I think you insult yourself when you a) believe what these leaders tell you about Israel, and b) think that when they are fighting Israel they are on your side. And if you think that somehow the Hamas and Hizbullah represent something different from the other Arab elites (i.e., they aren’t corrupted by power and actually are on your side), then you overlook the pattern of all these groups: as you say, when they take power (like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Shiites in Iran), they have a bloody history.

You have the right to imagine Hezbollah’s members as aliens coming from another fascist planet, you have the right to reflect what you see in the movies and in the western media on whoever you choose, I won’t blame you in that, actually I blame them.

Why do you blame them? Because they have not explained what they want? Have you read their statements? Are you Sunni? Do you think they will treat you better than a Kufr if they take power? Try this essay on the program of Hizbullah

I wonder how easy it is so easy for you to justify a full destruction of a country for the sake of two kidnapped soldier, I wonder how could you waste your time in useless debates about who to blame? How could you be so blind, how could you accuse Hezbollah of what’s happening in Lebanon, how could you compare kidnapping two soldiers in an effort to exchange them with other Lebanese soldiers with the destruction and butchering of Lebanon?

Okay, for you this is “just” about the two kidnapped soldiers. For Israel (and, I think Jordan), this is about having a rogue state of crazy hatemongers on their border who have openly declared their desire to destroy Israel. So it’s not the two kidnapped soldiers alone, but the whole issue of having an enemy armed to the teeth that’s a rogue state-within-a-state on your borders. The Israelis have chosen to fight this one now, rather than wait. The reason that even Arabs blame Hizbullah is that there’s no reason why the border between Israel and Lebanon can’t be peaceful, except for their destructive urges. No state – not Lebanon, not Jordan, not any Arab or European country – can tolerate something like that on their borders. (I guess you could say that Israel shouldn’t exist so why shouldn’t you support an intolerable presence on her borders… but that underlines why it’s not about “two kidnapped soldiers”.)

Now, about the Christians in Lebanon, put yourself in their shoes, they’re being butchered by the Israeli planes at the very moment, their country is being destroyed by the Israelis, is it logical that they turn to Israel and ask her to continue what it’s doing?! Does it make any sense to you in a perfect world? It sure doesn’t, but in Lebanon it does; Lebanon my friend is a land of racism, everybody carries an amount of racism that varies according to his family, age, origin, and most importantly religion. Christians in Lebanon, like it or not, carry the most intense and disgusting amount of racism against Muslims in general and more against Hezbollah and Shiites, if you think that I’m exaggerating here, you have all the books in the world to read about the Lebanese civil war and about the unbelievable disgraceful crimes that Chritsians have committed during that disgusting war, in simple words, KKK and Hitler would be considered moderate compared to Maronites in Lebanon.

As I understand it, in the Lebanese war (in which 150,000 civilians died) all sides behaved badly, and the Muslim “racism” against Christians is just as intense and violent as vice-versa. As I understand it, one of the initiating massacres – particularly nasty for its butchering of civilians, rape of women, killing of babies –was the PLO’s massacre of Christians in Damour (which was what Sabra and Shatilla was in part vengeance for). In a perfect world, the Lebanese Christians would not feel so threatened by their own fellow Muslim citizens that they cheered a bombing invasion from their neighbors.

But in reality, the ugly behavior which you only seem to notice when it comes from your “enemies,” but which comes in large quantities from your “friends” makes people behave in strange ways. (Note that Arafat was kissing King Hussein on the cheek within several months of Black September, but wouldn’t think of dealing Israel (who spared the PLO fighters who fled the wrath of Hussein across the Jordan into Israel. Is that honorable?)

My friend, you have all the right in the world to condemn my positions and beliefs, you will never understand the amount of frustration and misery that we live in, you have the right to think that we’re playing the victims, you have the right to believe whatever you want to believe about Israel and about the situation in the middle east, but I only beg you not to judge me before you know how does it feel to live 60 years of homelessness, and how does it feel to wake up everyday on urgent news telling you that your brothers in Gaza were butchered,

I don’t underestimate your misery and frustration. I’m just questioning the cause of it. If the Arab elites hadn’t decided to go to war with Israel in 1947-8, your people wouldn’t have been displaced. Indeed you’d have a much larger country than even the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, you’d still be miserable and frustrated because Israel – strange as it may seem to you – is not the source of your misery. You’d be as poor, as unfree, as oppressed as the commoners in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq (under Saddam), etc. As for your brothers butchered in Gaza, there’s good evidence that your brothers in Gaza are butchering each other. But somehow – and I submit that this is your tragedy – you only get indignant when you think Israel is to blame. If its Arabs who butcher Arabs (as in Iraq today), do you excuse it as “fighting the good fight”?

To stand with Hezbollah in his resistance isn’t backwardness, supporting Nasrullah isn’t an act of blood seeking, Hezbollah, unlike every other Arabic resistance militia is capable of fighting back, Hezbollah is capable of making the Israelis feel what we have been feeling for the last 60 years, if you were Palestinian, your visions won’t be the same, if you go through what this nation had gone through, you’ll make a deal with the devil if he’s capable of fighting your slaughterers.

In one month, King Hussein killed more Palestinians civilians than the Israelis has – by Palestinian count – in the whole conflict. The Egyptians gunned down Palestinians who tried to escape from the hell-hole refugee camps where the Egyptians had confined them in Gaza after losing the war with Israel that they had started. And yet you save your hatred for Israel. I think I understand how you feel, and I certainly can’t tell you to feel differently. But if you consider the possibility that you may be wrong, that you may be targeting the wrong enemy… you might realize that as attractive as it is to blame Israel, like most scapegoating, it just makes your situation worse because you mis-identify the source of your suffering.

As for teaching the Jews about what it’s like to suffer oppression, I think you can save your energy for more novel matters. The Jews have suffered terrible things at the hands of Christians for almost 2 millennia and at the hand of Muslims for over 14 centuries. The very state of Israel represents their determination not to be defenseless in the face of such aggressions again. So the more you try and “teach them that lesson” the more they’ll resist. As far as they are concerned, if someone is going to have to suffer in this situation (i.e., the zero-sum game the Arabs insist on playing), it’ll have to be the Arabs. (I’m sure you understand the sentiment, my friend.)

On the other hand, I do not believe the Israelis are determined to make the Palestinians suffer, that that iis their goal rather than an unfortunate result of needing to resist. Show them that you’re ready to give up blood vengeance and bury the hatchet, and they’ll be happy to let up, withdraw, and move on. They were about to do that in 2000, when your people exploded in violence. Any other people — and certainly any Arab nation — would have driven the people who behaved in that way out of the region. (Again consider what the Syrians did to the Muslim Brotherhood, what Saddam did to the Kurds and the Shiites, or what the Turks did to the Armenians.) Instead the Israelis are talking about unilateral withdrawals (although Hamas’ latest move seems to have convinced the majority that that’s not a good idea to repeat in the West Bank).

What I’m doing in my blog isn’t an urge for terrorism, what I’m doing is a poor effort of supporting the only weapon my brothers in Lebanon have for the time being.

Your idea of support — cheering on religious fanatics with totalitarian plans — will only increase the suffering of your brothers in Lebanon. If the “pride” you feel at seeing the Hizbullah giving Israel a black eye and the anger you feel at seeing the Lebanese suffer are satisfying emotions, then there’s little I can do to change your mind.

But there are other ways out of this, and other weapons with which to fight. But to find them you have to see the situation as more than fighting “everlasting enemies” designated by “friends” who may seem to offer you comfort in your anger and help you fight your mistaken enemy, no matter how much they make and will make you suffer.

take care.

You take care too. Who knows? Maybe there’s some way out of this.

8 Responses to Response to Omar: Part II

  1. Myackie says:

    Brilliant!

    The link at “one month” in the sentence “In one month, King Hussein killed more Palestinians…” seems not to be there.

  2. RL says:

    it works for me. it’s
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_September_in_Jordan
    if that doesn’t work, go to wikipedia and type Black September, Jordan.
    i personally don’t know if the figures are accurate. 10,000 in a month is pretty savage (not as bad as Rwanda (10,000/day) but much much worse than anything the Israelis have done to the Palestinians (esp civilians) at any point.

  3. Cynic says:

    Maybe just citing Hafez al Assad’s massacre of at least 10 thousand ( some say much, much more) Syrian civilians in Hamma Syria, would be sufficient to show what leaders these guys support?

  4. Antidhimmi says:

    What is perhaps most interesting about Omar’s response is his comment about evidence. Basically, he has only anecdotal sources of people’s individual experience. No analysis, no rationale, no background and certainly no alternative views. The uniformity of views in the Arab media and among Omar’s relatives is no accident-but a result of years of propaganda and acceptance of a vitim narrative that allows for no nuanced thinking.

    It’s as if someone explained a barfight by saying “I was standing there and the guy came over and hit me”. Leaving out background data such as the victim had grabbed the other guy’s girlfriend and ripped off her blouse. Without that essential data the fact that he was hit seems totally unreasonable and inexplicable. I wonder if Omar is not an archetype for much of what passes for thinking in the Arab street.

    Omar can’;t answer your detailed statement because he has few facts at his disposal, and those that he has are trivial. I think he’s smart enough to be a little embarassed particularly since you are treating his answers with respect and responding with real arguments.

  5. RL says:

    i’ll post a longer answer to Omar later. i do think, anti-dhimmi, that you are harder on him than necessary. i think that he’s working with what he has available to him, and the fact that he’s engaged in a discussion with someone as alien to his perspective as me — with a bunch of commentators nipping at his heels — is the mark of a courageous person.

    i do have to agree with your bar room analogy. it is a history that begins with the first time the other guy hits you.

  6. Ken Lydell says:

    You seem to have been caught up in an honor-shame contest. Your correspondent hasn’t the slightest interest in the truth of the matter. Defending his honor and, if possible, reducing that of those he hates is to him of paramount importance. No matter how patiently you make your case you will never back him into a corner. Like a greased pig he will ever escape your grasp.

  7. [...] r: Part I Response to Omar: Part II I will continue to update this with more links sh [...]

  8. RL says:

    To Ken: i think you may underestimate Omar. at least give him time to respond. much of what i’m saying he’s never heard before. people don’t absorb new and highly contradictory information in a second.

    and don’t compare muslims to pigs. like jews, they don’t like it.

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