Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hizbullah Victorious Again


To get a sense of how Hizbullah is emerging after their most recent defense against the Israeli army (what most people in the region seem to be cleary seeing as a victory), check out this interesting article in todays New York Times.

It is hard for most people in the US, even the most conscious left activists, to break out of their internalized anti-arab, anti-muslim, hysteria and see the importance of the recent developments in Lebanon. Hizbullah has proved to indeed be the last remaining resistance force in the Middle East, the most strategically important region in the entire world, that is able to stand up to US/Israeli imperialism. In the face of a silent international community, a long row of Arab puppet regimes falling over themselves to get in line with the US response, and a (as usual) paralyzed UN, Hizbullah was the only group standing in the way of the oncoming Israeli tanks and US "precision guided" missles heading towards civilian targets throughout Lebanon.

While Israel, with as always full US support, moved in to occupy and destroy much of Southern Lebanon over this past month, most progressives were paralyzed and did not know how to respond. Some decided it would be useful to write essays on how Hizbullah represented a "right-wing" force. While making some important points (Hizbullah is in fact not a "left wing" force and holds many values that would contradict our notions of equality and social justice, duh!), these critiques seemed a little out of touch and somewhat cold and calculated in the face of what was actually going on in Lebanon at the time.

Other anarchist activists I happened to be on a discussion list with forwarded bizarre statements like this one from England, which basically wanted to "call out the left for supporting Hizbullah", a claim which is so ridiculous it is hard to know where to start. From what i saw pretty much everyone, from the new york times to progressive zionists, to liberal anti-war coalitions, were pointing out how somehow Hizbullah started this "conflict" by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and that people needed to be clear on that as they went out to protest the "disproportionate reaction."

Now it is true that my perspective is heavily influenced by the fact that several of my political mentors happen to be long time Lebanese activists, including Bilal El-Amine who has been couragously reporting from the front lines in Southern Lebanon over the past few weeks on Flashpoints Radio every weeknight. I heard first hand what it was like for their family to go through this horrifc past month. What is was like to get their sick elderly father airlifted out of Lebanon, their aunt staying behind because she did not have the will to move out of her home yet again at her age. You could hear in Bilal's voice, as he reported every night, what the Hizbullah resistance meant to him and the majority of the Lebanese people. Where as usually, as a local media activist in Lebanon, he would be dealing with all of the problems that they presented as a political movement, now he saw that they were the only ones to defend the country and could appreciate their heroic resistance against great odds.

Now does this mean that we go and hang our green and yellow Hizbullah flags out of our Lower East Side apartments? No, i dont think so. It simply means that we have to work harder to understand the complexities of resistance to foreign occupation forces (whether in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq...) and to have the decency to not dictate the politics or terms of those forces from behind our computer screens as we sit on our IKEA couches.

Political Islam emerged in the Middle East through a complicated process that was very different then for example the Nazi facists in Europe or the Christian fascists here in the US. Trying to impose our analysis of how those movements grew and our opposition to those movements onto a region like the Middle East will fundamentally be flawed. We have to understand the role of US intervention in the suppression of secular democratic and left forces in the region, and what that means for our political movements right now.

In the meantime, for more background reading check out the following interviews with Gilbert Achcar:


Besides this older interview with Achcar back in 2000, check out the recent one hour radio interview he recently did on Against the Grain together with Lara Deeb who recently authored an informative primer on Hizbullah on MERIP's website.

16 comments:

Aaron said...

Middle East - the most strategic region in the world? Assumes that you are the US and you already own the US and have easy access to Canada. Otherwise, I'd say US and Canada are pretty darn strategic.

Can you say "internalized imperialism"?

The US would be hurt most by
1) loss of Canada (biggest trading partner, biggest source of raw resources)
2) loss of Europe
3) loss of Japan

The middle east is somewhere down the list... South America or Mexico might arguably be more "strategically important".

The whole notion of "strategic regions" is generally bankrupt.

max said...

Without getting into a long discussion about this, when i say that the Middle East is the most strategic region in the world I mean that in the sense of looking through the eyes of US planners.

Eisenhower pointed out over 50 years ago that the Middle East was "the most strategically important area in the world." Since then it has only grown in importance as we continue to strain the earth's natural oil supplies.

Im not sure what internalized imperialism has to do with this, just an analysis of US foreign policy over the past century.

But if your point is that there are many important strategic places in the world, then yes you are correct.

RX said...

Max,
Thank you for the comments to our blog threewayfight, and despite some apparent disagreements, we appreciate the level of seriousness that you have given us. The following is kinda rushed but I wanted to get something out. With that said, I look forward to this conversation and peoples comments.

Starting off I’ll say that the contributors to Three way Fight in no way represent a homogenous block although many of us have a shared history of being involved with antifascist politics. The blog is intended to inject discussion and ideas in areas where they are sorely needed – a greater degree of political analysis into the organic and militant anti-fascist movements, and a libertarian anti-State anti-fascism into the broader anti-capitalist movements (geez, a lot of “anti”s there). But this is just a qualifier for me to say that I only present my own opinion here and that I don’t represent the blog itself.

The piece on Hezbollah was to offer a critical view of a situation. Any substantial analysis and ideas of how to support the Lebanese resistance has been absent from the English speaking, Western libertarian and anti-fascist Left. The first piece I saw was the Class War Federation communiqué that seemed to be getting the rounds on various websites. I felt that the piece had no depth to it. With statements like, “Neither the Israeli army nor Hezbollah give a flying fuck about 'their' civilians” the pieces rhetoric puts (intentionally I believe) Hezbollah and the Israeli state on equal levels, the claim that neither side cares for it’s constituents, a claim which I think is entirely wrong, and stupid. Speaking of Hezbollah, it is a mass movement and has won it’s support through it commitment to not just defense of the Lebanese, but through it’s charities, clinics, social programs, etc..

Class War’s claim is based on a simplistic and vulgar notion that since Hezbollah are not anti-statist/libertarian, and infact have a program of State building, then they supposedly are just charlatans and see people as pawns. This perspective is not far from anarchist positions regarding, say the Irish republican movement of the past. While anarchists are also no homogenous block, many anarchists rejected these movements because they had a program that entailed nationalism and and the intrinsic aim of creating a new government, ie. State. While many of the better class struggle anarchists offered right on critiques of command structures, political cronyism, the dangers of sectarianism, and top down politics, these critiques prevented them from engaging in movements that were popular, insurgent, and actually opened up space for creative and autonoumous organizing. Many anarchists, even the better, ended standing on the sidelines as people fought and died for an end to occupation and for (either real or perceived) self-determination and direct control of their communities. I think this is the case today in regard to Lebanon.

The piece we have on our blog makes it clear that the Lebanese resistance has to be supported. However, we also reject the historical trend of many US Leftists to uncritically support resistance movements that undercut and disrupt US interests and hegemony. Many Leftists (other than the completely sectarian) believe that during periods of struggle that the more critical commentary should be suspended. I think sectors that are either “revolutionary” or are comprised of people who have sympathy for those forces battling against the odds, want to show their support and usually this means refraining from discussion that could be perceived as a political attack, especially when it is a life and death situation as we have in Gaza and Lebanon. But this logic, this suspending of critical perspective, has led many down paths that at the end has them defending movements and politics quite opposite of their own (or after giving support to a movement you find yourself in show trial and then executed). History is full of these moments.

So the question comes to how do we offer aid and solidarity. How do we offer this while having a critical eye, but not standing on the sidelines due to our inability to accept certain political realities. I would say that self determination means support for people’s ability to organize as they see fit. We then have to engage with the popular struggles and build relationships that give people the support and ability to survive while, hopefully, through these relationships create new understandings and their related possibilities.

I look forward to peoples responses.

In solidarity!

RX or Three Way Fight

Simon Fitzgerald said...

"reactionary righwing" - 3rd paragraph should read "rightwing"

"have to will to move out" - 5th paragraph should read "the will to move out"

Impressed with the content and consistency of your writing. I can only stand to blog in waves, and im in an ebb at the moment.

cwm said...

Max,

I’ve been trying to figure out what point you’re trying to make in this post. You call upon people to “understand the complexities” of the situation, but mainly you seem to be urging North American leftists to stop any critical discussion of Hizbullah (I’m assuming that the “we” in your post means North American Leftists). You seem to think that discussing HIzbullah critically is to “dictate the politics or terms of those forces;” to “impose our analysis;” or to be “out of touch,” “cold and calculated” or “fundamentally flawed.”

Is that your position? Are you trying to discourage people from discussing Hizbullah critically? Are such discussions fundamentally illegitimate in your view?

max said...

Not at all, I would love for people to be able to discuss Hizbullah critically, but that discussion has to incorporate the historical context of the region.

My blog post on this topic is primarily in response to the overwhelming and simplistic denounciations of Hizbullah as some sort of "Middle East version of the Bush administration" (which is basically what the statement from England is saying) or that they are similar to Al-Qaeda. These statements are expected from the neo-cons and perhaps even a few liberal zionists but not from radicals.

I was spending multiple hours a day on various email list serves debating with people about "the true nature of these people", i mean literally this was the language they were using.

So by all means incorporate a critique of Hizbullah in your arguments, Gilbert Achcar certainly does plenty of that if you listen to his interview i posted.

On the other hand if by "discussing Hizbullah critically" you mean bloggers that have not been doing a damn thing about the situation in Lebanon and have used this time to denounce the organized resistance on the ground then yes i am urging people to do not do that. I dont find that helpful at all to anyone.

My experience has been (here in new york) that many anarchists/radicals have been willing to forward critiques of Hizbullah to email lists and debate the matter until the cows come how but i never see them at the emergency planning meetings. I dont see them calling for any direct action to stop whats going on. Its this same old US armchair 'hollier then thou' activism that is just waiting for some kind of pure left anti-authoritarian force to "emerge" in the middle east before then say they can support it.

Renegade Eye said...

I found this blog surfing.

Much the same discussion is on my blog.

It is complex, the concept of critical support. Would you send $$ and arms, to an Islamist?

max said...

I dont see my role as an organizer in the US sending arms to anyone, rather it would make more sense for me to figure out a way to stop US military aid and emergency arms shipments to states like Israel:

http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2006-08-11T144702Z_01_N11342316_RTRUKOC_0_US-MIDEAST-ISRAEL-ROCKETS.xml&archived=False

cwm said...

I'm glad that you're in favor of having a critical discsuion of Hizbullah. You should be. Your post suggested that you opposed it (because criticzing Hibullah would be to "impose our analysis" "from behind our computer screens as we sit on our IKEA couches.")

But you're wrong to dismiss the role of blogging and other literary efforts. These can be very effective means for changing public opinion and public opinion is the most important terrain in the US for the battle against the US/Israeli war machine.

max said...

While i appreciate you telling me what i actually meant, i think your a little confused. No one else i have spoken to took my post to mean that "we cannot have a critical discussion on Hizbullah" so im just not really sure what to tell you. I tried to elaborate on my last reply but perhaps it will have to wait for an in person conversation.

And yes i do know that blogs can be an effective tool... i obviously am a blogger myself.

Im curious though, as a fellow blogger and committed activst in New York yourself, and as someone who is obviously critical of Hizbullah, what have you been doing to stop the slaughter of Lebanese civilians and to engage critically with these issues? I notice your blog does not have a single mention of it over the past two months.

(serious question...)

cwm said...

I didn't tell what you meant, but rather what your post suggested to me (I left out the "to me" part, but I thought that was clear). Anyway, if you're not trying to discourage critical discussion, what exactly do you mean by "impose our analysis" "from behind our computer screens as we sit on our IKEA couches"? It sounds to me like you're doing a form of privilege baiting. If not, why are you talking about couches, IKEA, Lower East Side apartments, etc? What does that have to do with anything if the purpose of your post was (as you said) to get people to "incorporate the historical context of the region"?

My blog doesn't contain any mention of the slaughter of Lebanese or Iraqi or Afgahan civilians. Or the crackdown in Oaxaca or the repression of workers in China. Nor does it contain any mention of endless number of needless deaths that occur due to hunger and preventable disease on a daily basis. Or the insane and racist criminal justice system. Or the shitty educational system. What exactly does that have to do with anything?

I see myself as an activist against injustice, but I cannot comment on every crisis nor do I think jumping from issue to issue would be good even I could do so. What are you trying to get at?

max said...

You seem to have focused in on one sentence where i mention IKEA couches and lower east side apartments. I mention the lower east side part only because i myself live there.

My argument (again) is to point out how progressives (and some radicals) are quick to say comment on how Hizbullah does not deserve our support (as if this is even relevant right now) while basically "sitting this one out" as Lebanon burns.

It has nothign to do with "issue hopping", Israel is supported in full by our government with billions of our tax dollars (yours and mine) going to buy the military equipment needed to occupy Palestinian and Lebanese land. Then when they are running out of "precision bombs" they ask the US to "speed up the shipments". Our resolve to get up off the "couch" (really i could have used 'chair' or anything else around the living room) and organize various forms of emergency demo's/direct actions/spokes councils on how to respond etc, is literally a matter of life or death to many people in the Lebanon.

But the real point is this. Whenever something happens in the middle east, and western intervention is met my local (often arab & muslim) resistance, there is this general condemnation of *both* sides as if they were somehow equal to each other or in any way on the same plane. Much of this has to do with the internalized anti-arab racism within the larger left here in the US (and world wide). This need to constantly point out how the "other" (in this case Hizbullah) does not live up to our standards of a progressive force, i mean really what does that matter right now? Those who are interested can read up on the history but for US citizens it should be about the opposition to US policy in the region, which has long been pointed out (together with the British and other imperialist forces) has loooong been the largest barrier to a true secular democratic (left) movement in the Middle East. If you listen to the Achcar interview he points out that there has been a long history of left movements, but by and large they are either directly or indirectly marginalized by US intervention in the region.

To give one concrete example, one person (who has just put some significant effort into promoting a workshop on "anti-semetism in the left" over at Bluestockings books) stated that he did not attempt to go out to any of the demos outside of the Israeli consulate because he was "weary" of some of the pro-Hizbullah slogans on signs etc. I mean this is not a liberal zionist im talking about. This person edits a anti-capitalist publication and has a very thourough critique of capitalism and the state. Its not unusual that when it comes to this region of the world that people become completely confused which usually comes in the form of inaction and serves US/Israeli interests in the region.

People say that they want a more inclusive and diverse movement but they do not even understand why at this time many arab-american activists look at what Hizbullah has done with some pride, instead of denouncing them.

So im asking you... you can throw questions at me all day, but what are you doing about this? Nothing because you dont want to "issue hop"?? Seems like a poor excuse.

[this has become a bit of a two way exchange - what are other peoples thoughts?]

cwm said...

Max,

I work every day to try to build a movement against domination and exploitation. Most of my energy has gone toward publishing, education, and (counter) institution building. You can learn more about my efforts at my blog at www.negations.net. Am I active around Lebanon? No, I am not and never have been.

Obviously the burning question on the left is whether to support, condemn, or conditionally support Hizbullah.

As far as I can see, you don’t have a position on the issue. You say that radicals should pay attention to the complexities of the situation and stop being simplistic, and, while I agree with you there, that’s not a position.

I am also not sure what stance to take. What I do know is that the left has been very confused over imperialism and internationalism for more than a century now. Marx supported British colonialism in India, vanguardists supported repressive regimes during the New Left, etc, etc..

Unfortunately radicals do not have a good track record here and to overcome the confusion we are going to need very broad discussions of these issues. We will have to look very critically at imperialism AND the forces the purport to resist it.

Furthermore, we will have to fight any effort to shut down dialogue, whether through guilt or the pressure to “do something.”

max said...

"Furthermore, we will have to fight any effort to shut down dialogue, whether through guilt or the pressure to “do something.”

well in that case, your certainly fightin the good fight brotha.

RX said...

a couple of quick points here. more to come later.

1) what does it mean in terms of solidarity and defense of movements that develop under the conditions that Max describes here, "We have to understand the role of US intervention in the suppression of secular democratic and left forces in the region, and what that means for our political movements right now."

I would say that we need to offer public and on the ground support to popular resistance movements. However, i maintain that real solidarity comes through critical relations. This doesn’t mean starting from points of disagreement, but it also doesn’t mean abandonment of those disagreements. The Left has a history of doing this and thereby adopting default terrible positions.

2 )the second thought flows from the first: what are the real forms of action that we could take to disrupt western/US capitalist interests? what are OUR positions and what campaigns would popularize (or at best develop a pole) those positions? what campaigns demonstrate our desire to aid in defense and to establish real connections with people who are fighting for their lives?

For example, i think the divestment campaigns that have developed on some campuses are important, but how do we take them out of the colleges and into the broader public? what examples can we take from the S. African struggles of the past.

3) "Bring the War home/ raise the costs of the war". Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation sought to posit this attitude during the Gulf War of 90-91. I think it is the right position. Pressure has to be exerted here in the US/West by a militant segment of the population. Each bomb, bullet, and bulldozer used in US led aggression comes through the approval of the US populace. Once again, a break has to occur between the State and a sizeable and militant segment of the populace.

3) with regard to the last thought the question is where do we see the likely hood of such a break occurring? This position is bound to be controversial but i offer it in the spirit of dialogue. i think that in the US that break is more likely to develop from the Rightwing and predominantly White nationalist sectors that figures like Pat Buchanan and his magazine The American Conservative represent (as opposed to the mainstream or Christian Zionists or Neo-Cons). A reading of Pat's writings shows he is more outspoken and articulate than most of the US Left when it comes to why the US and Israel are wrong in their wars and policies.

4) the US Left is to tied to liberalism and electoral maneuvers. the Anybody But Bush vibe helped further disorient and then bury the autonomous and independent organizing that emerged after Seattle and then during the build up to the invasion of Iraq (the later going far beyond activism and activists because it demonstrated a popular rejection of the ruling administration). how do we build a general resistance to official politics? or has cynicism won the day?

4) what conclusions flow from point 2? the theory that i hold is that a liberatory, internationalist, and revolutionary Left is in decline and we are witnessing the ascent of insurgent yet Right movements. these movements are heterogeneous and manifest themselves differently and are not easily defined. this goes back to how we view and relate to the leadership of these resistance movements.

i do not argue for relations with groups that have a program that represses folks based on gender or sexual orientation or culture or the music they listen to or who they associate with. In fact I think we have a fundamental need to resist such repression.

i'm gonna use these terms to paint broadly here but the Right and authoritarian Left wants to proscribe the ways we live. the Right rejects those historical reformist periods that gave rise to multi-culturalism and the questioning of dogma and orthodoxy. these reform periods developed in both the East and West (and North and South). we must not align ourselves with those who would assault and "correct" the liberatory elements of these varied tendencies. it is a difficult position we find ourselves in and navigating the political terrain is not easy for minority trends such as ours.

But, as I said in the previous comment posting, we cant stand on the sidelines (or sit on Ikea sofas as Max said).

Anonymous said...

Hizbollah's "defense against the Israeli army"? What kind of defense did they give? They basically set off an Israeli offensive that they couldn't defend against. Unable to defend Lebanon from the Israeli attacks touched off by Hezbollah's soldier capture action, Hezbollah took an offensive position by hitting Israeli civilians with rockets.

Please tell us more specifically how Hezbollah has won this war. Much of Lebanon's civilian and economic infrastructure has been hit, huge amounts of civilians were displaced, plus the death toll. Regarding "winning," many see Hezbollah as resistance organization, and its only this support that has gained them any kind of victory. Most commentators see it as a victory for the reactionary agenda of the Iranian regime, and not generally for people in the Middle East.

Calling everything "racism" does not change this. Sure, this is just a blog, but please, if you expect us to take it seriously, please use arguments to explain why something might be racist.

And why disregard the critiques of Hezbollah as right-wing? Is it simply because low-income students and under-employed post-students buy cheap furniture at Ikea? That's not much of an argument. Aren't you in the same situation? It's the politics that matter. And the concern over Hezbollah being a right-wing organization means being concerned over the way in which the organization oppresses dissent, institutes patriarchal relations, provokes attacks that it can not defend against, etc. Please, if you're going to mention Left critiques of Hezbollah, please address the content of the critiques, rather than discounting it with the broad brush of "privilege" accusations.

If Leftists voice concerns about the politics of Hezbollah, this does not consitute "dictating the terms and politics" of Hezbollah. It does not necessarily constitute "racism" either. You have only accused, and not made substantive arguments for your accusations. Please don't use unsubstantiated charges of "racism" without explaining what you mean by it. Or else it is just bullying, and that doesn't help us at all, except to help you move up the ladder towards an anti-racist crowning. These issues are too important for us to squandor our energy on such things.