Battlepanda: In shells we trust


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

In shells we trust

It's a sad image -- an Israeli child scribbling messages on shells destined to plow into Lebanon. She probably has no concept of the damage these shells might do to homes, to bodies. She merely sees them as the solution to the shells that have been falling on her homes, aimed at her family. Which just makes the image more terribly poignant -- it captures perfectly our naive faith in the power of destruction, of how innocently we can begin to hate.*

But what are the actual probable effects of those shells? Christopher Allbriton reports from Beirut:
In March, I settled [in Lebanon] for the foreseeable future. I have a wide variety of friends, not just upper-crust Christians, and while I’m not a polling company, I think I have a decent grasp of the zeitgeist here.

Before this damn war, Hizbullah was losing support. It wasn’t draining, but it was ebbing. The political process was stuttering along, but it was moving. Many people here hated Hizbullah… Many people also loved it. The society was split but there was a consensus the problem had to be settled judiciously and politically because no one wanted another civil war.

When the first Israeli bombs fell, some Shi’ites even blamed Hizbullah. I met a guy in the southern suburbs last Saturday, just four days after things started. He’s a Shi’ite from Nabatiyeh in the south and hated Hizbullah. He thought they’d screwed up big-time. These days, when I talk to him, he says he hopes Hizbullah rips the Israelis apart. Another friend of mine, one of those upper-crust Christians, told me last night that as much as he hates Hizbullah, he hates the Israelis even more now.

The Lebanese are closing ranks in the face of an external threat, just like people all over the world do — with the exception of Spain, I guess. They’re no different from anyone else, and the same thing happened in the initial days of Iraq. The same pattern would play out in Iran, too, if this war gets that far east. The West has no monopoly on unity, patriotism and nationalism.

That said, unity rarely lasts. In the case of America, it led to a polarized public where the public debate seems to involve screaming “traitor!” when someone votes for a Democrat for the school board.

In the Middle East, things rarely stay at that level. Once that unity breaks, we’re left with civil war. (See, Lebanon, 1975-1990 and Iraq, 2003-present.) And in civil wars, lots of people die and the situation that needed to be fixed is usually worse. (Does anyone think Iraq is a more stabilizing force than it was?)

* Lisa Goldman argues eloquently for a more nuanced and forgiving interpretation of the photograph. I understand, those children have been through a lot. So has their counterparts in Gaza and Lebanon. If suffering makes hatred OK, then both sides have earned the right to hate each other until the end of time.