Sunday, August 06, 2006

Arguing in Shallow Little Circles

I think we should all admit we don’t know shit. Frankly I think both of you (Panda and Ayla) are only scratching the surface of facts and analysis. At such a level, it’s easy to offer rhetorical substantiations of either position. For the Anti Hezbs, look to Panda's lengthy comment. For the Pro Hezbs, here is an example what a completely ignorant college kid (me in this particular instance) can do when armed only with a selection of ‘indisputable’ Wiki-facts.


Hezbollah’s 10% of the vote should not be dismissed as paltry. The party with the most success in the recent election was “Current for the Future” with 36 Seats. The slot for the second biggest party is hotly contested:

  1. Progressive Socialists: 16
  2. Amal Movement: 15
  3. Hezbollah: 14
  4. Free Patriotic Movement 14

Hezbollah, on its own, is therefore only two seats away from being the second biggest party in Lebanon. Moreover, the Resistance and Development Bloc, a joint ticket by Hezb and the other main Shiite party (Harkat), won over 80% of the votes in the second round showing that the south of the country is fairly unequivocal with respect to its allegiances.

Other facts should also be considered before a dismissive attitude is adopted towards Hezbollah’s 10% of the Lebanese NA.

Panda quotes the country demographics as 40% Shia, and 70% Muslim. However it is mistaken to presume that a proportionate amount of seats (i.e. 40%) should have been acquired by Hezb for to be considered representative of the Shia. The Bloc of which Hezb is a part won 35 seats which constitutes 27% of the total number. Secondly, even though Muslims number 70%, Lebanese Christians were given equal representation in the NA. If the vote for Hezbollah’s Bloc was entirely Muslim, that’s 51% of all the 68 Muslim Seats in the country. Considering that those 68 seats equal 70% of the country, this could possibly give the Hezb Bloc around 35% of the popular vote. A figure which isn’t too far off from the original 40% of Shias in the country.

Alternatively if the vote was more diverse and not exclusively Shia or Muslim (i.e. implying heavier weighted Christian voters and a smaller total vote %) then this would strongly contradict the point Panda made later on. Hezbollah can hardly be said to practice narrow and theologically exclusive politics if it has electoral support spanning across Lebanon’s multi religious community. To his credit Panda admits that the Hezb have a lot of support from various quarters. The Wiki website also had some of these stats:

87 percent of Lebanese support Hezbollah's fight with Israel, a rise of 29 percent on a similar poll conducted in February. More striking, however, is the level of support for Hezbollah's resistance from non-Shiite communities. Eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hezbollah along with 80 percent of Duze
and 89 percent of Sunnis.

(Poll taken on the 26th of July 2006)

I do not understand however how Panda feels that broad support will not translate into votes if (and when) the time was to come for elections. Security and welfare (Arguably Hezbollah’s strongest cards) would play well in any election, particularly in light of the needs the whole of Lebanese society (Christian, Druze Shia and Sunni), will face during and after the current Israeli assault.

Panda then talks about the Hezb's charity work for Palestinian refugees and recognizes their contribution in this regard. However he feels that the very need for their charitable efforts stems from the fact that Palestinians are treated as second class citizens by the Arab States and peoples. From what I understand, his view is that Hezbollah are the hypocritical and self righteous curers of a problem that they and they're backers themselves are parties to creating and maintaining.

Frankly, there has been no analysis here, or any examination of the facts. Blame has simply been assigned. The Palestinians second class status, (where it does exist and it is by no means universal at a social or even state level) is a product of the socio economic status and conditions of guest Palestinian populations. These conditions are in turn a product of the fact that they are refugees. In that sense they face the same stigma that all refugees face from overburdened host states. Having actually studied Refugee situations while at Uni, I have no doubt on this issue; guest-host antagonism is a central part of the course. Moreover, Palestinian political activity within their host states can be destabilizing (often because of inflamed local Arab sympathies), which exacerbates this problem. Whilst I am aware of the incidents of infighting, (our own Zia was phsycially involved in the Jordan quellings) the fact remains that the Arab countries, (both state and populace) have hosted massive Palestinian refugee populations and have supported them politically, monetarily and militarily since the British mandate. It is therefore completely inappropriate to take the Arab relationship with Palestinians, and in any way rate it as even a distant, distant second to Israel’s ethnic cleansing and occupation.

Anyway. How any of this can detract from Hezbollah’s charitable efforts is beyond me. In all logic and probability, the efforts to improve the standard of living of the Palestinian refugees is probably something that will help them to overcome their second class status. Hezbollah is therefor one of the few organizations looking to rectify the problem that Panda himself identified.

There are also other contentions.

Perhaps my biggest grievance is that Hezbollah does a disservice to the Palestinian cause by tainting it with a vision of a pan-Islamic caliphate (Hezbollah's main objective).

They have abandoned this goal. So no more big grievance. (Dahr Jamail (2006-06-20): 'Hezbollah's Transformation'), Asia Times Online, as quoted by Wiki). Feel free to admit evidence to the contrary but do refrain from maintaining your opinion without as much.

Also consider what would happen id there was a viable peace solution, that would be a death blow to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah would not disarm immediatley if there was a peace solution, the accumualated distrust of Israel would not be overcome so quickly, even if there was actually a comprehensive settlement. Their ‘Reason for being’, as Panda considers it, would therefore remain for a considerable amount of time.

Furthermore, the Irish experience clearly demonstrates that there is an important role for ex militant liberators to play in the political aftermath of a peace deal. Hezbollah is already well established politically, and is socially committed in Lebanon.

It does not have near enough the support of Hamas in Palestine (it is Shia)

Panda said “Shias represent teh largest demographic group in Lebanon”. So why is that suddenly not near enough? Alternativley If Panda means that Hamas does not support Hezbollah, firstly they do, and secondly why does that matter for Hezbollahs future?

and its electoral support in Lebanon is hardly encouraging.

(I have dealt with this. Being two seats away from the second biggest party is probably a bit better than encouraging for an organization that, thus far, is primarily military in nature.)

I have a big problem with theological politics, especially in a multi-religious community.
I have discussed this issue above.

Yes an Islamic revolution worked in Iran, but you just have to look at Algeria where the Islamic sectarian parties turned on each other. The point when a party operates upon the purity of its vision it will always seek an impure being upon which to impose its dictat; at the moment for Hezbollah the greatest evil is Israel, but the Christicans and other variants of Islam still remain the lesser evils

This is a speculative opinion, and it is completley valid with respect to the example upon which it is based. I do not for a minute dispute the possibility, or the opinion's plausibility. However, it cannot be regarded as presumptively true that any organization in any country would follow exactly the same pattern simply because it is an Islamic resistance group. Hezbollah's relationships with Lebanese minorities need to be studied before an accurate opinion can be formed.

Oh and you can not call the Shias of Lebanon a 'disenfranchised' group, they are the largest denomination. And your very assertion that Hezbollah charities are working for the Shias in Lebanon validates my earlier point about sectarianism.

They are working for the Shia because the Shia also happen to be the most affected by poverty. CNN itself refers to them as the “traditionally poor and dispossessed Shiite community" (also as quoted on Wiki). Being the largest denomination has nothing to do with dismissing disenfranchisment. Shia's were also a majority in Iraq, where their disenfranchisement was self evident. This point is frankly a little bizarre and nonsensical.

And your statement that Hezbollah does not target civilians is just plain wrong. A bomb blast at a pizzeria or a club does kill civilians, as do rockets fired in settlements; Israeli civilians are still civilians!

I agree in that Hezbollah has no problem targetting civilians. However, they have a better track record with respect to their civilian- soldier target ratio than Israel, Hamas, the United States, and the IRA. Their targets have overwhelmingly been military.

The other civilisans being targeted are the 18 year old Palestinians on whom the bombs are strapped.But perhaps my absolute distaste for Hezbollah is a result of watching a video distributed by Hezbollah of 10 year old kids singing and dancing adn performing a song 'give us Klashnikovs adn the square will be filled with blood; give us a bomb and the gates of heaven will open for us with the blood of Israelis' and some more bollocks about martryom. These are 10 year old Kids!! so yes i am absolutely, most positively sickened to my gut by Hezbollah and wish them anything but good.

I fail to see how Hezbollah is exclusively responsible for the events you describe. The Palestinian culture of death is a well documented phenomenon. The social glory awarded to a murderous suicide bomber is just the flip side of the grief and rage experienced when a Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops. It is the frequency and manner in which Palestinians in the occupied territories and in refugee camps (read Sabra and Shattilla) encounter death which gives rise to these kinds of violent songs and dance.

These songs are part of popular Palestinian culture. As unfortunate as that may be, it is the fault of no single body, be it a militant group or the parents. No organization could be capable of even creating such a culture independently. Children learn from other children, from their elder siblings, and also from their parents, all of whom exist and have grown up in the midst of death. Everyone sings the same songs in Palestine. The parents hear it and they don’t object, they sing along.

I feel that a similar mistake was made by the interviewers on BBC's Panorama. They have seen militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah utilizing this culture to wage war, and have drawn the conclusion that they therefore created/sustain it. While they are guilty of the first, they are not guilty of the latter two. The culture now maintains itself, albiet with Israels help. Hezbollah and its militant agenda are amongst the the benefactors, but it would be completley incorrect to say that without them propping it up, this culture would simply fizzle away.

And this crap about martrydom has gone on too long, if you belive in religion and in Islam then you ought to realise that Hezbollah is sentencing children to eternal torture.

This is a cheap shot given your own religious views and doesn’t deserve any response.

So there you go.

Some of that I meant, and where I did its obvious. A lot of it however, I'm completely unsure of, and some I actually disbelieve. If you want to know how that's possible after having written all that, then read this. ALL of what I wrote is just something that I came up with after reading someone else's 'facts'. Information is cheap and overabundant. People are too eager to convert their fluff based speculations into fully entrenched positions. Maybe its more honest to say that one has a perspective, or a gut feel, and it'd certainlybe better to discuss it accordingly.

My point through all of this was therefore to get others to come out and say:

“Yeah, I don’t know shit.”
“I don’t have a very informed opinion and that’s ok.”
“What I actually have is a gut inclination based on my life experiences and bias’s, and bits and pieces of information I've read, heard and picked up.”
“Also, I promise not to argue that inclination vociferously just because someone else’s inclinations offend me”
“In other words, I’m not out to attack other peoples presumptions with (and because of) my own presumptions.”

These are things that I make myself say. Do the same and seriously just disarm, please. Maybe then we can discuss things with an objective to learning about what someone else thinks, and why. It'd be less acrimonious too.


Alien Panda said...

For a post that begins with "we should all admit we don’t know shit" thats a long ass post!

I agree that the whole 10% malarkey is very misleading. However, the point taht I was trying to make was that the singularity of Hezb's vision (ala Israel) makes it much harder for Hezb to transform its wide ranging support in Lebanon into votes. I do concede that 'security and welfare' issues can result in Hezb being politically active in the long run, regardless of any peace deal in Palestine.

Regarding the charity work youve gotten my position quite wrong NB. I didnt go into any analysis of Hezb because I have no qualms with their charity work. All I was trying to say was that hte areas that Hezb is addressing (the state of Palestinian refugees across the Arab world) should not have arisen and needs to be addressed by Arab governments. I think its hypocritical for these countries to pump millions into teh 'Palestinian cause' and overlook the Palestinian refugees within their own borders. The second-class statement was perhaps crass, though it is based upon discussion with a dozen or so Jordanians and Palestinian Jordanians.
And NB I never stated that Hezb's charity work is 'self-righteous and hypocritical'. In fact I disagree with Ayla when she hints that Hezb is only working for the shia's (though i did exploit her point!). However, I do think Hezbollah itself is self-righteous (and im sure like all political forces, its hypocritical), simply because its a sectarian, religious party; it believes absolutely in teh righteousness of its religious vision.

I agree that the unsuccessful Islamic revolution is a 'speculative opinion'; but so is everything regarding teh future that all of us have stated. And it is infact quite likely when you consider that Lebanon was in a bloody civil war for over 10 years.

You're quite right that a culture of death is now entrenched in large parts of Palestinian society. And where Israeli actions foster this culture, Hezbollah and its ilk exploit it. That others are responsible for the sustenance of this culture does not mean taht Hezb is not culpable and I detest the manner in which they have exploited this culture.

"This is a cheap shot...", NB I do resent the assertion that I'm introducing personal religious views here. My point, again crassly made, is that martrydom has been severely exploited, a lot of what is being done is hardly worthy of qualifying as a righteous action for the preservation and defence of Islam.

"So there you go"... NB come on dude, I'm sure that none of us believes absolutely (or even all that much) in what they're arguing, and you know that this is true for me. I dont think it matters if they are 'someone else's facts', they invariably always are; but they are mostly facts, I think its just that we all choose facts which best support our outlook on the world and how we want the world to ideally function.

NB surely you must argue vociferously when someone's inclinations offend you, why else would you ever argue; of course as long as you're not out there to impose your view (I was going to write a wise crack about some political party, guess who, but then you might actually shoot me!).

And its not all that acrimonious (I actually had to look that up in teh dictionary...sad!), is it?


ayla said...

I wrote this without reading your arguments NB and I’ll post it anyway though I pretty much agree with all you wrote and the arguments you presented. It does not have statistics- it has information gleaned from my reading of journalism, discussions with friends and my experiences in the region.

Also, I have a huge problem with English Grammar these days due to reading too much about it and therefore please excuse my mistakes. I’m currently hoping it has to get worse in order to get better.

Hello :O)

I said Hezbollah provides democratic representation “to SOME of the 40% of Shia Muslims.” Not to all 40%… not yet anyway :OP Kidding. Still, I could have made that point better but they were just hurried thoughts on the matter.

But it is agreed that Hezbollah is widely supported and loved among the Shia Lebanese in particular (and some of the Palestine refugees) who are politically significant bearing in mind Lebanon’s history and the terrible fact that Palestine refugees are given few rights in Lebanon. Admittedly, Hezbollah also have growing support throughout the Arab world (partly because of propaganda and long-lasting Arab victim-hood), but now especially because Israel has been a complete bastard, defying realistic expectations informed by “custom” (I’m not using “custom” in an established legal sense so pleeeeaaase can we not torture me by making me open my international law books which recently even left Nasrullah admitting he did not expect this.

My major problem with the discussion here- ignoring history.

It doesn’t matter whether one likes or dislikes Hezbollah and to understand is not to condone. I don’t care whether we like or dislike what Hezbollah does, agree with its tactics and its methods of recruitment and politicisation or the substance of its propaganda. My argument is basically that “Hezbollah” is the natural result of circumstances and foreign policies of civil wars and traumatised men and women. They are not to be hated, despised, alienated or destroyed but in the spirit of Rafik Hariri (if there is a god please bless his soul) and other pragmatic individuals within the Lebanese ruling elite, they must be negotiated with and approached realistically and fairly… I say this because Hezbollah may be an organised political group but it is also a movement- an ethos- maybe even a people. It has been admitted now that Israel cannot remove Hezbollah as that would mean exterminating some 40% of Lebanon’s people (though I doubt Israel very much minds… but in Europe it would be a huge public relations scandal.)

Hezbollah really have less to do with Palestine and more to do with Israel’s encroachment and occupation of Lebanese territory. That is not to say that Hezbollah do not “care” about Palestinians (politically speaking anyway) but they have had their fair share of Israel occupying southern Lebanon, periodically bombing their land, entering and killing Palestinians and Lebanese through proxy-Lebanese Christian militias (do I need to mention Sabra and Shatillah and Al-Khiam?) The result is a resistance group of young unemployed men who ARE disenfranchised in the sense that Lebanese Shias are among the poorest and uneducated in Lebanon.

My argument here is that Hezbollah are very popular and at the same time, they are not as extreme and destructive considering what a shitty lot their Lebanese members and sympathisers have been through.

You basically agree with most of my points:

- they are well supported (democratically and otherwise.)
- they do a lot of charity work for Shias and Palestinians and why shouldn’t this be sectarian? Do you really expect them to give money to the Maronite towns of the Qadisha Valley with their ski resorts, Mercs and foreign money?

For what you disagree with:

- I maintain that Lebanese Shias are disenfranchised (see para above).
- Palestine refugees in Lebanon are without many rights (the right to work, to own property, to movement etc.) They are also subject to discrimination outside of the camps (which are in pitiful conditions.) They are not political (even scared of campaigning for civil rights) because of their involvement and subsequent demonisation in the Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah stands up for them somewhat… and charities provide for them where the Lebanese government and UNRWA do not.
- Hezbollah does not target civilians… except for their teenage members which is awful, but please bear in mind the whole culture which supports this attitude. I am not saying Hezbollah have never killed civilians- but they don’t kill many. As for the repulsive war songs and videos targeting children- it is disgusting I agree, but they live what they learn and that is what years and years of war have taught them. Raise morale by exploiting a wounded child’s desire to have “control” of their life, to be a hero and live in eternal paradise- this is nothing new or unique to Hezbollah.

You say: “Arab regimes and people, still consider Palestinians as second class citizens, with limited rights.”

I say: Palestine refugees have it worst in Lebanon where they are not granted many civil rights at all. In Syria they are granted the same rights as Syrians (which isn’t saying much) but they are not granted citizenship (they have a special passport/traveller thing) and cannot vote though they do have official representation through GAPAR. In Jordan they have a right to citizenship and equal rights with Jordanians (with a steady stream continuing) though immigration has been restricted. In Iraq they were treated well under Saddam but many are now fleeing due to Iraqi revenge leaving some 500 or so at the Syrian-Iraq border. In the Gulf they are given the same rights as other Arab expatriate workers which basically means better work compared to the Asians and nothing more.

Palestinians are not second class citizens. Many refuse citizenship and don’t want it because Palestinians are passionate about the Right of Return. They believe citizenship would preclude them from this right… (in fact, many believe better living conditions would also do this. When I worked with the Neirab Rehabiliation Project in Aleppo which wanted to move families from their awful one family per room former army barracks to a newer camp with nice houses, many resisted and still do because they see it as settlement). They do not face discrimination in these countries (except in Lebanon and now Iraq). Furthermore, Palestinians make a concerted effort to remain a distinct group.

You say: Perhaps my biggest grievance is that Hezbollah does a dis-service to the Palestinian cause by tainting it with a vision of a pan-Islamic caliphate (Hezbollah's main objective).

I never heard of Hezbollah’s main objective being a pan-Islamic caliphate. If they did, I can assure you that many Sunni Palestinians would view it as another form of occupation.

I don’t care for islam, god or eternal damnation. That said, you have taken two sentences from the quran and put them together to mean something they don’t. Scholars of Fiqh would be very disappointed.

ayla said...

Isn't this really impressive:

You see, I'm a perfect example of how a moderate human being can start loving a "militant terrorist organisation" and agreeing with what the frickin Syrian regime have to say! Well, they are now freedom fighters to me and I give them all a virtual hug. I give Prime minister Seniora a virtual hug for being the kind of leader i've always wanted to rule a country... and i give Rafik Hariri a hug probably for promoting him. I hug Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain for being I think the only European leader to publicly protest against Israel's murders. I hug Prodi because i know he's a leftist and got rid of Burlesconi. I hug Tony Benn because he's the only reason I don't despise the initials: TB. Actually i do because my cousin had TB and this was a contributing factor to his untimely death.

We are all Hezbollah. I've never felt this angry about a conflict since I was about 16 and used to fantasize about going to Chechnya and at least making my dreamed of suicide useful. Later, it was just because everything else seemed so not worth it. We are all indirectly funding Israel.

I feel myself turning into a nihilist again... angry emptiness- it is possible, and sometimes it's riddled with guilt.

Viva Beirut!
Viva Chavez!
Long Live Castro!
Long Live the Bolivarian Revolution! May it reach Peru and Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil! (And Argentina if they want it... but things in Argentina aren't so bad.)
Viva Hezbollah!

NB said...

It is really impressive, no doubt. Though while Im still developing my attitude and opinion towards Hezb, I have no real information or opinon about any of the others, Benn, Zapatero, Hariri or Seniora.

In situations such as this I agree, its so easy to get angry, and near impossible to resist being polarized.

But allowing oneself to become so heavily entrenched in support for a particular side to a conflict can have an negative effect on the prospect for peace. 9 times out of ten, right and wrong dont allocate themselves neatly and exclusivley to one side or the other. While this particular instance of fighting may be pretty close to being that 10th time, theres no telling for certain how Hezb will play it next round.

Im wary as hell of handing anyone a blank cheque in terms of allegience and support. Anger, regardless of its initial justification, or how deep it runs, should'nt prevent individuals from maintaining critical minds. Stay away from nihilism dude, its damn depressing.

Alien Panda said...

The only fascinating about Nihilism is the fact that it sounds so cool; I wish I was smart enough to come up with words such as those, I think I might try coming up with words now!

Ayla you've forgotten Evo Morales of Bolivia, I think the first indigenous South American head of state. But I think its a little jeopardous to link the disparate groups simply because they represent 'the left'; not that you're doing that but just wanted to mention that very distinct and disparate forces are at work here that should be viewed objectively.

I agree that the work being done by Hezb in Lebanon at the moment is laudable. And I do agree with many of Hezb's political stances but that just doesn't translate into unadultered love. I've just not been able to ever come to terms with the'ends justify the means' argument. One of the reasons that I have a pet peeve for missionaries, who arguably are doing more for the poor of the world than any one else.

Oh and I don't think that ouster of Berlusconi was a good thing, I personally would have liked him to hang on for another term. The ridiculous amalgamation of his politics and persona had the effect of shifting right-wing politics across europe into the realm of absurdity. Prodi is unlikely to be very successful as he comes in at a time of internaitonal and domestic disarray, more importantly europe is very likely to head towards an economic downturn; all of this will have the effect of empowering the right.


ayla said...

Ya'll take me waaaay too seriously.

Peace in the Middle East!