Friday, August 04, 2006

Defending my enemy's enemy

Question to the U.S. left and anti-war movement about the current war in
Lebanon: If we want Israel to fail in its stated objective to destroy
Hezbollah, does that mean we want Hezbollah to win?

The Israeli attacks on Lebanon are a mass atrocity, a calculated,
long-planned campaign of terror that is inflicting vastly more suffering
on civilians in Lebanon than Israelis are facing from Hezbollah missiles.
Since 1978, Israel has invaded or occupied Lebanon repeatedly and has
killed tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians. This is closely bound up
with the long history of Israeli land theft, persecution, and mass
violence against the Palestinian people, and the current Lebanon war is
bound up with the latest Israeli violence in Gaza and the West Bank. In
these attacks, the Israeli state has acted largely as U.S. imperialism's
number one client and proxy, its actions interlinked with Washington's
occupation of Iraq.

So let's be clear: We have a pressing responsibility to defend the
Lebanese people, demand an immediate end to Israeli attacks, and expose
the deadly U.S. role in the conflict.

But let's be clear about something else too: The fact that Israel and the
United States want to destroy Hezbollah does not make it a positive
political force. To be sure, Hezbollah has staunchly resisted Israeli
aggression for years. It runs a sizeable network of social services and
has a solid base of popular support centered in the largely poor Shi'i
community but cutting across denominational lines. Yet no matter how
courageous its fighters may be, no matter how many schools and hospitals
it runs, Hezbollah is essentially a right-wing political movement. Its
guiding ideology is Khomeini-style Islamic fundamentalism. Hezbollah's
political ideal, the Islamic Republic of Iran, enforces medieval religious
law, imposes brutal strictures on women and LGBT people, persecutes
religious and ethnic minorities, and has executed tens of thousands of
leftists and other political dissenters. This is not exactly a liberatory

In the framework of our basic opposition to the Israeli attacks, it's
important for us to be open about our political criticisms of Hezbollah.
That doesn't mean echoing the U.S. government/mass media line -- criticism
doesn't mean demonization. Even if we accept that some Hezbollah armed
actions have wrongly targeted civilians, it's transparent nonsense to say
that Hezbollah is a group of "terrorists" and Israel is just trying to
defend itself. It's quite possible that Hezbollah sometimes engages in
anti-Jewish scapegoating, but the organization is not continuing Hitler's
work and does not exist in order to kill Jews. Rather than try to impose
Islamic rule on Lebanon by force, Hezbollah has repeatedly acknowledged
the country's pluralistic character. And Hezbollah is not the root cause
of the conflict with Israel. It is primarily a response -- a deeply flawed
one -- to Israeli and western aggression in Lebanon and the Middle East,
and to the oppression of the Shi'i community.

Among the statements on the Lebanon war I've seen so far from U.S. leftist
and anti-war groups, most condemn the Israeli attacks against the Lebanese
people but say little or nothing about Hezbollah's politics. Two notable
exceptions are the Workers World Party and the Spartacist League, both in
statements dated July 21, 2006. Workers World describes Hezbollah as the
leader of a "national resistance movement" and argues that, for both
Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, Islam "is the ideological form
whose actual content is the struggle against imperialism." An article
published in Workers World newspaper four days later describes Hezbollah
as "a guerrilla resistance army with Islamic leadership" which "gained
wide political legitimacy for its determined resistance and its
well-organized, non-corrupt social services."

The Spartacist League takes Workers World to task for "prettifying"
Hezbollah in this manner, and notes that during the Cold War both the
United States and Israel "fostered the growth of Islamic reaction as a
counterweight to Communism and secular nationalism." The Spartacists
declare, "As Trotskyists, we in the Spartacist League militarily defend
Hezbollah against the Israeli military machine in this conflict, while
maintaining our political opposition to this reactionary fundamentalist

I know it's not popular to say nice things about the Sparts, but on this
issue they take a good position and Workers World takes a bad one. To
treat Hezbollah as anti-imperialist while glossing over its right-wing
religious ideology is dishonest, simplistic, and short sighted from a
propaganda standpoint, because it leaves you open to easy critique. The
Spartacists' double-edged position -- we oppose Hezbollah's politics but
defend them against Israeli attack -- respects people's intelligence more
and offers U.S. activists a clearer and more principled way of relating to
the conflict. It acknowledges the war's political complexity, instead of
reducing it to Good Guys versus Bad Guys, but it also doesn't treat the
two sides as equivalent or mirror images -- it takes a stand.

What's missing from the Spartacist League position, however, is a clear
recognition that Hezbollah is both right wing and anti-imperialist. I
don't mean Hezbollah is inconsistent -- I mean its opposition to Zionism
and its U.S. patron is rooted in a right-wing philosophy. This doesn't fit
conventional leftist categories, but it's not unique. Although the Islamic
right was helped by the United States and Israel during the Cold War,
today it includes some of the most militant and strategically important
opponents of these same governments. (Hamas, the Taliban, and al Qaeda are
other prominent examples, very distinct from each other and from
Hezbollah.) We may not like this situation, but we need to find ways to
understand it and deal with it.

The title of this essay refers to the book My Enemy's Enemy (Kersplebedeb,
2001), which warned that far-right politics were strong and growing within
the anti-globalization movement -- and that many leftists were wittingly
or unwittingly complicit in fostering this growth. My Enemy's Enemy helped
crystallize the concept of a "three-way fight" to describe the global
political situation. Instead of an essentially binary struggle between
right and left, between the forces of oppression and the forces of
liberation, three-way fight politics posits a more complex struggle
centered on the global capitalist ruling class, the revolutionary left,
and the revolutionary right. The latter encompasses various kinds of
fascists and other far rightists who want to replace the dominance of
global capital with a different kind of oppressive social order. This
means there is no guarantee that militant challenges to global capitalism
-- including popular anti-imperialist struggles -- will take a progressive
or liberatory form.

Three-way fight politics is still a new and primitive analytic tool, but I
think it's an important framework for discussion and a helpful corrective
to oversimplifications that are common on the left. The Lebanon war
highlights the concept's usefulness as well as the need to develop it
further. Three-way fight politics has largely been used to draw a line
between leftist and rightist versions of insurgent politics, to help
leftists recognize the differences and warn them against dangerous
alliances. Sometimes -- as with the anti-globalization movement -- that's
exactly what's needed. But sometimes -- as with the Israeli attacks on
Hezbollah and the people of Lebanon -- what we need to do is defend
rightist forces, in specific ways and specific situations, against a
greater political threat. My enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend,
but sometimes we need to defend people who are not our friends.

This approach to the Lebanon war raises many questions that I won't try to
answer here. Within the basic outlines I've presented, what does critical
defense of Hezbollah include and what does it exclude? What kinds of
tactics and slogans best represent this position? Beyond the immediate
situation, when does this kind of stance make sense, and when is it
counterproductive? How, concretely, does it differ from solidarity with
leftist forces? Given that right-wing anti-imperialist fighters are tying
down U.S. imperialism and its allies in several countries, to what extent,
if any, could this widen the space for liberatory movements? Such
questions merit serious discussion, and that can only happen if we go
beyond a simplistic Us-versus-Them model of politics. George Bush declared
after September 11th: Either you are with us or against us. Surely we can
do better than that.


max said...

Just wanted to relay some critical feedback regarding this article from another list im on.

Specifically the second (longer) comment is from a long time friend who is from Lebanon and who has been involved in Left Politics for several decades. Although this is obviously an emotional topic for many people right now in the middle of the Israeli siege, the responses do point to some fundamental mis-understandings that the left here in the US holds in terms of the political terrain in the Middle East.



1st (short) comment:

Personally I don't see denouncing Israel's attacks as a case of supporting the "enemy's enemy". At the current sitaution, it seems Hizbullah is the only entity that is in any way capable of defending Lebanon from the Israeli onslaught. In my view, this particular struggle of theirs is surely worthy of support.

For people in the US, whether Hizbullah constitutes a "positive political force" or not is really of no consequence. This is not a good and evil situation, but surely one of survival for people in Lebanon who
are being relentlessly attacked.

In any case, as long as people in the US are quietly arming Israel to the teeth with their tax money to continue the annihilation of the countries around it, they have no right to judge what constitutes "positive political force".



(2nd comment)

Amen Pranjal. It's good to hear that those on the left outside of the US aren't afflicted by the Islamophobia that's so prevalent and deep seated among the left in the US. I think this Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism help explain why the left/progressives/antiwar movement has been so weak in terms of resisting the US and Israel's wars and occupations in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and now Lebanon.

Hence you have a situation where several massacres have been committed in a short period of time by Israel with the full support, both material and moral, of the US (if it's true that there are still 30 people buried under the rubble in Srifa then the numbers killed there could exceed the 40 killed in Qaa in the Bekaa today and come close to the number killed in Qana...this doesn't include the Palestinians being killed daily) and yet there isn't massive demonstrations and civil disobedience or direct action.

This article is a good example of what's wrong with left in this country. It's not as much the islamphobia as the total disconnection with reality. First of all, most US leftist and antiwar groups have not in fact abstained from criticizing Hizbullah. To the contrary, almost all have condemned both Hizbullah and Israel as if they are some equal players in this struggle. That's the problem, hence the massacres and no real massive response. The whole my enemy's enemy thing only reinforces passivity and inaction because it leads a large number of americans who may not support Israel to conclude that Hizbullah is not worth supporting either.

In terms of showing how Hizbullah is not some right wing reactionary force (not that it's left wing either), I am writing an article in the next issue of Left Turn which addresses this. But Bilal's article on the Shia,, and primer on
Hizbullah by MERIP that was recently posted to this listserv,, also address this.

Secondly, the fact that the writer uses the positions of the Sparticist League and Workers World to make his/her point is not only an example of this disconnection with reality but the weakness, inwardness, and isolation of the left (I mean, come on, the Sparts?). It's almost comical when you think about how much this tiny, weak American left sitting on the sidelines and theorizing about this whole ridiculous enemy's enemy thing (which I'm sure is applied to the resistance in Iraq as well) while these people put up some incredible resistance to the most powerful and reactionary forces the world.

But nothing captures the detachment and, to a certain extent, inhumanity better than the contrast between Pranjal's refressing response and the cold calculations of the article itself. Anyone who can sit around and take the time to write somethign like this at a time when the only thing between the total ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Lebanese are Hamas and Hizbullah should be thoroughly exposed.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting site... Buy xenical online dreampharmaceuticals syracuse basketball 2006 Eyeglasses trifocals Who made the 1st computer Padre serra basketball M todo client fico Womencowgirl shirt nexium online Hockey in france Cum soaked tounge Playa del carmen vacation package Derivatives accounting Online masters degree today Merchant account affiliate online oxycontin consultation Debt adjustment Ymca youth soccer rule The santa fe school of cooking cookbook

Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it!