Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Against Forgetting

Iam watching Israeli troops shuffle home in tears and without victory -- in a world where all know there is no draw, no tie, where everything short of catastrophic success for Israel is catastrophic failure for Israel.

Israel has existed longer than most of us have been alive. Its continuance is no more assured today than it was on day one. The same serpents still slither around the cradle -- no, the old ones have passed into senility and hatchlings bred in their rotten wombs now have sharper fangs, fouler poisons.

In Iran, Ahmadinejad framed the story of the month of Rajab, A.H. 1427, as it will be told throughout the Muslim world for a generation: "God's promises have come true," Ahmadinejad told a huge crowd. "On one side, it's corrupt powers of the criminal U.S. and Britain and the Zionists ... with modern bombs and planes. And on the other side is a group of pious youth relying on God." For a generation, at least.

Bashar is beaming.

"We tell them [Israelis] that after tasting humiliation in the latest battles, your weapons are not going to protect you not your planes, or missiles or even your nuclear bombs ... The future generations in the Arab world will find a way to defeat Israel."

Amid the rubble, Hezbollah's flag still flies. That would be enough. But the victory is just beginning. The "New York Times" reports:

Nehme Y. Tohme, a member of parliament from the anti-Syrian reform bloc and the country's minister for the displaced said that he had been told by Hezbollah officials that when the shooting stopped, Iran would provide Hezbollah with an "unlimited budget" for reconstruction.

In his Monday night victory speech, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah offered money for "decent and suitable furniture" and a year's rent on a house to any Lebanese who lost his home in the last month's war.

Across southern Lebanon hundreds of Hezbollah members began cleaning, organizing, and surveying damage in dozens of villages.

Hezbollah's reputation as an efficient grassroots social service network — as opposed to the government, regarded by many here as sleek men in suits doing well — was in evidence everywhere.

Hezbollah's strength, said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University here who has written extensively about the organization, in large part derives from what she called "the gross vacuum left by the state."

Hezbollah wasn't a state within a state, she said, but "a state within a nonstate, actually."

Nasrallah's speech was interpreted by some on Tuesday as a kind of watershed in Lebanese politics establishing his party on an equal footing with the official government.

The "Chicago Tribune" reports today that in Tyre, "Hezbollah supporters were passing candy along the roadside and cheerily calling out 'Welcome Back' to returning motorists."

Another "Times" story reports on the returning refugees:

Dozens of yellow Hezbollah flags flew from the windows of cars heading south, and few of the returning exiles seemed to hold Hezbollah responsible for their troubles.

"This traffic — what right does Bush have to make us live like this?" said Bilal Masri, 50, who had just spent five hours on a 15-mile drive down the coast. Masri, a Sunni, works at a fuel storage plant that was bombed by Israel, but blames President Bush. "By what right did he bomb us?" he asked. "Bush says he likes democracy and human rights; where is democracy now?"

Before, he said, he hated Israel a little, but "now I truly hate it and want to cancel its existence."

What did he want to do when he only "hated" it "a little?" What sort of rational engagement by Israel, what sort of nuanced ripples of American foreign policy, will make a steady friend of that man?

And what have we allowed ourselves to forget?

Yes, perhaps Israel should have hit more quickly, harder, and on the ground; yes, it has run an inept public relations campaign; yes, to these criticisms and more. But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress.

A world where even a professional writer of Jewish jokes in Britain blanches at what he hears on the streets:

There have always been anti-Semitic jokes. But you know times are changing when you go along to a stand-up show at the Pleasance Courtyard at the Edinburgh Fringe and you hear audience members shouting “Throw them in the oven” when the comic suggests kids should stop playing Cowboys and Indians and replace it with Nazis and Jews.

Stand-up comedy is as good a prism as any through which to look at the changing attitudes in our society. If my past few days are anything to go by then it is becoming increasingly acceptable to hate the Jews. Again.

I’ve seen two comics so far who have been happy to amuse their crowds with Holocaust gags. ... One was a left-leaning angry Australian conspiracy theorist, Steve Hughes, whose show The Storm is an assault on all things Western. “I want to bash Condoleezza Rice’s brain to bits and kill that f****** Jew Richard Perle.”

Here it comes again. Time to make a stand.

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