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Has the Left Gone Mad?

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Well, Hezbollah can breathe easily. Within a few days, there's a good
chance that some of the best minds of the Left will be in the Bekka
Valley helping lead the resistance against the Israeli destruction of
Lebanon. At least that's what a jointly signed letter to the Guardian
newspaper by progressive luminaries including Howard Zinn, Noam
Chomsky, and Arundhati Roy seems to suggest.

Titled "War Crimes and Lebanon," the letter
begins by arguing that the all-out assault on Lebanon by Israel was
not only long in the planning (at least two years ago, in fact), but
was clearly greenlighted by the United States. Both of these claims
are accurate: the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Israel's
planning for a "coming invasion" of Lebanon, complete with Power
Point presentations to foreign journalists and dignitaries, over a
year ago. And the Bush Administration has made no secret that it
wants Hezbollah defanged before it forces Israel to accept a
ceasefire.

It also rightly castigates the international community for standing
by and watching silence as Palestine and Lebanon are bled dry. The
issue at hand, however, is what can the Left, which has experienced
such a feeling of powerlessness since President Bush invaded Iraq
over the objections of millions of protesters around the world, can
do about it.

According to the signers, the best approach is to "offer our
solidarity and support to the victims of this brutality and to those
who mount a resistance against it."

Support for those who mount resistance? What exactly does this mean?
Are my heroes Noam and Howard planning to pick up an RPG and start
firing southward from the rubble of Qana? Should progressives be
donating money to Hamas? Learning to crawl through tunnels and ferry
the latest Iranian missiles to the front?

Of course, I am fairly certain that this isn't the kind of support
that was intended. And like myself, most progressives I know have
been using "all the means at our disposal" (as the letter signers
pledge to do) to help spread the word about this utterly disastrous,
and yes, criminal, war. But the ill-chosen (one can hope) words by my
illustrious colleagues reflects a very disturbing trend within the
Left that has emerged the last few years, and which has come to a
head with the latest war: Many leaders of the movement are moving
away from the commitment to non-violence that defined the struggle
against the Vietnam War and the vast majority of protests against
corporate globalization and the invasion of Iraq, and towards
embracing violent resistance (think the Red Brigade, Bader Meinhof
Gang or the Weather Underground) as a viable, and even the best way
to check the capitalist war machine.

I saw the first glimmers of the change right after the US invasion,
when senior members of the biggest anti-war coalition in the US told
me that "it's all America now" and that the movement had to shift
from anti-war to anti-imperialism as its focus. It's hard to endorse
violence when you're anti-war, but if you're anti-imperialist there's
a long history of violent struggles to "inspire" you (although
supporters of this path seem to forget the most successful
anti-imperialist struggles, such as Gandhi's in India and Mandela's
in South Africa, were almost entirely non-violent, while others, like
Algeria or Vietnam, produced corrupt and violent regimes in their
wakes).

The situation was worse a year later, when Italian peace activists
Simona Toretta and Simona Pari, whose brave commitment to
non-violence and grass roots peace building I saw firsthand during my
time in Iraq, were kidnapped by insurgents. At the very moment they
were being threatened with beheading, leading anti-war activists
attended a Hezbollah sponsored conference in Beirut where they
declared the organization to be the best model of resistance against
the New World Order, and proclaimed their support for the very Iraqi
resistance that was threatening to kill their comrades.

Unlike most of the Western activists at the meeting, I have seen the
resistance in action in Baghdad and Falluja, marching and chanting
"death to the Jews" and America, so I'm not sure where the support
was coming from for their resistance to the occupation--which by then
had already turned more into a fratricidal war. As for Hezbollah,
while I've done research on the movement for almost half a decade,
and understand the important role it has played in building democracy
and even empowering women, it can't be denied that it is also a
military organization that regularly engages in violence, some of it
(although by no means all) terroristic, to advance its aims.

Given this, is "glorifying Hezbollah" really the best model for an
"anti-war" movement, let alone a movement that argues that "another
world is possible" (the slogan of the anti-corporate globalization
movement)? According to British MP and leading anti-war voice Geroge
Galloway, it is. He proclaimed his glorification at a rally a little
over a week after Israel launched its attack. And he's not alone, as
in discussions with other progressives, I have heard similar
rumblings of admiration for Hezbollah, which at least is fighting
back against the most powerful force in the Middle East and its
patron, the most powerful, and to many, the most evil, force in the
world.

But even if we accept that that Lebanese and Palestinians have the
right to resist the occupations they are suffering, how can Hezbollah
be said to be winning from any score-card that would make sense to
the signers of the Guardian letter? Whatever its motivation and
Israel's actions leading up to its kidnapping of two IDF soldiers,
Hezbollah's attack has produced an unimaginably terrible price for
the people of Lebanon, much as Hamas's violence has allowed Israel to
achieve many goals it otherwise could not have in the Occupied
Territories.

Even if Hezbollah "wins" the war against Israel by surviving the
onslaught and re-cementing its power with Lebanon and the Muslim
world, Lebanon can only lose. How can progressives stand in
solidarity with and support an organization that recklessly and
selfishly played right into Israel's hands by giving it the pretense
it was looking for to re-invade Lebanon? Why should we be encouraging
Hezbollah when Lebanon is paying so dearly for the massive
miscalculation-in moral, human and financial, if not in political
terms-of Nasrallah and the Hezbollah leadership? Can't the Lebanese
people, and the anti-war movement, do better?

The simple fact is that today more than ever violence begets
violence, and the support and solidarity from Western-based activists
and intellectuals can't change a dynamic in which violent resistance,
whether to military or economic occupation, almost always winds up
strengthening the powerful at the expense of the weak. If
progressives really want to show solidarity and support for
Palestinians, Lebanese, and Iraqis, we should be willing to travel to
their countries, put our bodies on the line to stop the violence, and
help develop the techniques of non-violent resistance, solidarity,
and potentially at least, reconciliation, that made the
anti-globalization movement so successful.

Anything less than that is, as they say in Arabic, haqi fadi, or
empty talk. The Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis who are suffering
from this war deserve better than that.