What in the World is Going on Wih the World?
When Dangerfield said those four words, audiences knew a zinger was inbound.
Those same four words, never actually said but unconsciously experienced every day – often repeatedly every day – constitute the underlying psychological mindset of “victimization” that all too easily justifies armed conflict.
Victimization, however, requires the identification and demonization of a credible victimizer. Ideally, of course, the actual power of the oppressor is inferior to the power of the oppressed – or of the usable power of the oppressed. Ironically, when this calculation of usable power is found to be wrong – as with the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel with the Palestinians – those who miscalculated can create (or intensify) the sense of victimization through the manipulative propaganda of fear.
Clearly, after more than 55 months since attacking Afghanistan and 40 months since the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is under siege – a victim of its own miscalculations and the unintended consequences of the use of military power. Israel too, is on the verge of falling – if it has not already tumbled – into the same type of miscalculation with respect to military efforts to gain the release of the three soldiers captured by Hamas and Hezbollah.
So at the midpoint of July, what are the extant conditions in play?
U.S. and officials in Afghanistan report that in the last two months, 800 Afghans have been killed in insurgent or counterinsurgent operations, with at least 70 of those deaths in two days. Afghan officials say that 600 of the 800 were civilians. Taliban and al Qaeda adherents seem to be much more active, particularly in the south and east.
In the first fourteen days of July, at least 460 Iraqis have died from insurgent or counterinsurgent operations or sectarian violence. Nearly half – 223 – perished in just four days (July 9-12). Moreover, the trend line for the number of attacks per week continued upward during the last reporting quarter (February 11-May 12, 2006), from 560 to more than 600 per week.
In Gaza, and Lebanon, the capture by Hamas and Hezbollah of three Israeli soldiers unleashed a full-scale military assault by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) throughout these two areas. Beirut’s international airport has been attacked repeatedly from the air and by Israeli gunboats; bridges throughout southern Lebanon and power plants in Gaza and Lebanon have been destroyed. Israeli warplanes also struck areas of Beirut where Hezbollah leaders such as Hassan Nasrallah are known to have homes. More than 100 people are dead, mostly Lebanese civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert categorized the Hezbollah “invasion” of Israel as an act of war – and then promptly attacked not only Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon but also areas further north. Olmert cited the presence of two Hezbollah party members in the current Lebanese cabinet as “proof” that Beirut was somehow complicit in the cross-border attack by Hezbollah despite protestations by the Lebanese that they knew nothing about Hezbollah operations. Israeli ground forces also re-entered Lebanon but so far have not pushed very far north.
For its part, Hezbollah has acquired what appears to be a longer range (from 12 to 32 miles) 122 millimeter Katyusha rocket. Media reports say that the group fired well over 120 rockets and mortar shells into 20 towns in northern Israel in a 24-hour period, reaching as far south as the Israeli port city of Haifa.
Meanwhile, President Bush’s call for Israel to moderate its response has fallen on deaf ears. Israel is fixated on forcing Hamas and Hezbollah to release the captured soldiers,. Bush is more interested in preventing the collapse of Lebanon and the use of Lebanon’s territory as a new haven for al-Qaeda. s But both Tel Aviv and Washington agree that Syria and Iran are directly responsible – the victimizers – for the outbreak of hostilities.
There is little doubt that Iran strategically supports and champions Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas. But at the tactical level, where the decisions for war or peace, harmony or discord, life or death are made, it is more likely that the armed factions of the two groups (each has a political arm and a social services arm) are largely if not completely independent of Damascus and Tehran.
A further complicating feature in play in both sets of circumstances – between the U.S. and Afghanistan and Iraq and between Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran – is racial/cultural. The first can be detected in the immediate assumption by Washington and Tel Aviv that Syria and Iran were both well informed of and rendered indispensable aid to Hezbollah and Hamas . In other words, Hamas and Hezbollah are incapable of planning, rehearsing, and carrying out bold operations without the direct involvement of nation-state governments. A further manifestation of racism is the use of ethnic slurs or other demeaning characterizations that “transform” opponents into sub-human – and therefore less resourceful, less intelligent -- beings.
Similarly, there is a popular perception among western publics that western science and culture are uniquely and inherently superior. When this turns out not be b e the case – e.g., not anticipating and countering the emergence of improvised explosive devices in Iraq – the fact of failure can engender the typical reaction of the schoolyard bully: redouble the assault on the one who had the temerity to expose the shortcoming. Yet, once more, the “cultured” side manages to turn t itself into the victim, for if one simply played by the tried and time-tested rules that “we” set up, “we” would win.
The immediate victims , as is so often the case in the Middle East, are the ordinary people on both sides. This time it includes the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, the hundreds of Israelis living in villages and towns in northern Israel within reach of rockets fired across the border with Israel, the 1.7 million in Beirut and south to the same border, the three soldiers, and the hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails who have never been charged with any crime, let alone given a fair trial.
There is only talk of war and more war, yet “behind-the-scenes” deals have been struck before by the Israelis and groups like Hezbollah. But tonight fear and the insecurity that fear creates rules the perceptions of all parties and threatens to transform the perception into a “reality” in which every side sees itself the victim and demonizes the rest as the victimizers.
From here it is but a short, usually bloody step to the I-It paradigm in which there can only be an unequal and therefore unstable superior-subordinate relationship that will repeatedly be challenged until the balance is inverted or – best case – stabilizes near the balance point, at which the I-I paradigm of shared humanity and shared community can develop.
Just how difficult this change will be can be gauged by the following. In 1878, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck famously noted that the Balkans were “not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” In 1994, as recently noted by author Sandy Tolan, an eulogist for Baruch Goldstein, the transplanted American Jew who killed 27 Palestinians as they prayed in the Cave of the Patriarchs said: “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”
This is not a way of life or a world of sustainable life. Ask any Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese, Israeli, Syrian, Iranian,…..