TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Arab Moderates Criticize the Notion of a “Hezbollah Victory”: “What is Enlightenment” in the Arab World?

One of the features of the historical totalitarian regimes was the refusal to concede losses or defeats. In part this reflects ideological blinders, a refusal to recognize reality—or to test one’s views against reality—as was the case with the last Minister of Propaganda under Saddam, who claimed the American forces had been repelled, even as they were entering the capital. In addition, this inability to admit to defeat functions as ideology, a way to coerce support to movements or regimes, which promote themselves as victors in order to cement loyalty. Finally, the insistence on maintaining the appearance of victory despite losses reflects a willingness to sacrifice both resources and people: no matter how many have been killed, the totalitarian PR apparatus calls it a win. It is callousness in the face of suffering.

Hezbollah’s declaration of victory follows these patterns. While it is true that the Israelis were not able to oust Hezbollah, neither did Hezbollah achieve its goals—which is only a “victory” if the standard is dumbed down far enough. Journalistic echoing the credo of a victory amplifies Hezbollah ideology, but the claim just does not match reality. Sober and moderate voices in the Arab world are beginning to point that out. To the extent that this blog has made the argument regarding “Islamic fascism,” it is equally important to take note of the critical analyses within the Arab world itself. Some examples:

Given the scope of destruction in Lebanon, it is grotesque to speak of victory, and it was Hezbollah’s actions that invited the Israeli attack. In this sense, Ahmad Jarallah wrote in an editorial in the Kuwaiti English-language Arab Times:

“The destruction of Lebanon can never be described as a victory for Hizbullah. After the issuance of U.N. resolution 1701, no one has the right to claim victory or play with words to change their meanings. Once again we Arabs have been defeated in Lebanon. The responsibility for the destruction of Lebanon and for playing with its future rests with a segment of the Lebanese [people], which is serving the interests and greed of Iran. . . . Unfortunately Syria and Iran view the U.N. resolution as biased. This means [that] our dream of seeing a stable Lebanon is still so far from coming true. . . . “

The role of intellectuals in the Arab world in promoting a culture of delusion is the topic of Muhammad Al-Seif, a columnist writing in the Saudi daily Al-Iqtisadiyya:

“The war currently being waged in Lebanon has shown that many of our Arab intellectuals have a serious problem [in defining] the criteria for victory and defeat. Some of them are still convinced that Hizbullah, despite its losses, has brought a humiliating defeat upon Israel and has shattered the myth of Israel as an invincible state.

“The problem repeats itself, in the exact same form, in every war fought by the Arabs. The criterion for victory is [as follows]: As long as the emblem, or the heroic commander, still lives, [the outcome is pronounced to be] a victory—regardless of the consequences of the war for the peoples [in terms of damage to] property and loss of lives and capabilities. Former Egyptian president Gamal ‘Abd Al-Nasser led the Arabs to a crushing defeat in 1967, but some of us did not perceive it as such. . . . Despite this defeat, ‘Abd Al-Nasser retained [his status] as an Arab symbol and [his image as] an undefeatable Arab leader. . . . “

This resistance to reality is the ideology of victory, and intellectuals play a central role in its dissemination—and therefore bear responsibility for the killing. The victims of the ideology are the people whose deaths are ultimately discounted. What is at stake here however is the emergence of critical voices which bemoan the underdevelopment of reflection and self-criticism. Several note a telling difference between Israel and Lebanon in the aftermath. Israel nearly immediately initiated a formal investigation into the conduct of the war, in the context of a broad public discussion—hallmark of a liberal democratic society. To date, there is no formal investigation into the Lebanese side, in particular the behavior of Hezbollah, which effectively took the Lebanese people hostage. Thus, the Director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Research, ‘Abd Al-Mun’im Sa’id, wrote in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram:

“Israel was the only side that immediately set out to investigate what happened in [this] crisis and war. [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert acknowledged that Israel’s performance had been unsatisfactory, and Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz appointed a committee to investigate the performance of the Israeli military. The press and public in Israel were not silent [either], but criticized the performance of the government and army. The entire Israeli society moved from a state of solidarity to [a process of] investigation and questioning. . . .

“Therefore, [we too] must form an Arab investigation committee, official or unofficial, that will investigate the crisis and the war, as Israel is doing. [The investigation] will raise questions regarding everything that happened during the war, from beginning to end. The first issue might be the decision [to start] the war. Nasrallah said at the beginning of the war that his party will be the spearhead of the Arab and Muslim nation in liberating Palestine. Who appointed him to this role? . . . It has [also] been proven that Hizbullah . . . did nothing to prepare the [Lebanese] home front [for the war]. When asked about this, [Hizbullah] replied that this is the responsibility of the Lebanese state, i.e. of the side which was the last to know about the [impending] war, as [Lebanese Prime Minister] Fuad Siniora said. . . . “

(Source: Memri, Special Dispatch 1277, Sept. 1, 2006)

While Nasrallah pretends victory, there is also a counter-discourse which needs greater attention in the West. As frightening as the proponents of Islamic fascism truly are, it is urgent to listen to the voices of incipient criticism and reform. They are pointing out the inappropriateness of victory celebrations in the face of so much loss; the failure of the intellectual class through its preference for heroization rather than criticism; and the painful contrast with Israel, as a society that engages in reflection, and the Arab world which lacks the institutions to ask hard questions.

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