Be Disclaimed

"It is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better than knowledge."
Enrico Fermi

July 30, 2006

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An article that I thought was worthy enough to post in its entirity.


The tall story we Europeans now tell ourselves about Israel
By Charles Moore
(from the Daily Telegraph 29th July 2006)


Sir Peter Tapsell is, if the phrase is not a contradiction in terms nowadays, a distinguished backbencher. He first entered the House of Commons in 1959. Noted for his grand manner, he is the longest-serving Tory MP.

At foreign affairs questions in Parliament on Tuesday, Sir Peter rose. He wanted Margaret Beckett to tell him whether the Prime Minister had colluded with President Bush in allowing Israel to "wage unlimited war" in Lebanon, including attacks on civilian residential areas of Beirut. These attacks, he added, were "a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw".

Mrs Beckett firmly rejected the premise of the question - that Mr Bush had permitted "unlimited war" - and moved on, but I found myself winded by Sir Peter's choice of words.

What is happening in Lebanon? After the kidnapping of two of its soldiers and the firing of hundreds of rockets against its people from across the Lebanese border, Israel is trying to crush the Hizbollah fighters who have perpetrated these acts. In doing so, it has also killed civilians. Some 500 people have died in Lebanon as a result.

What was the "Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw"? There were many, of course. But Sir Peter was probably referring to the events of April-May 1943. The Nazis had earlier deported 300,000 Polish Jews to Treblinka. As news of their fate reached Jews in Warsaw, they decided to revolt against further round-ups. For about a month, they resisted. They were subdued: 7,000 of them were killed and 56,000 were sent to the camps.

Sir Peter surely knew this, yet he chose to speak as he did. Here is a man who has been in public life for more than 50 years (he was an assistant to Anthony Eden in the general election of 1955), and yet he compared Israel's attack to the most famous genocide of the 20th century. What possessed him?

I ask the question, not because I am interested in Sir Peter - he is not an important figure in the current debate, though he may differ on this point. I ask, rather, because his remark seems to me a symptom of a wider unreality about the Middle East, one that now dominates. It tinged the recent Commons speech by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary. It permeates every report by the BBC.

You could criticise Israel's recent attack for many things. Some argue that it is disproportionate, or too indiscriminate. Others think that it is ill-planned militarily. Others hold that it will give more power to extremists in the Arab world, and will hamper a wider peace settlement. These are all reasonable, though not necessarily correct positions to hold. But European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else - a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.

Not only is this analysis wrong - if the Israelis are such imperialists, why did they withdraw from Lebanon for six years, only returning when threatened once again? How many genocidal regimes do you know that have a free press and free elections? - it is also morally imbecilic. It makes no distinction between the tough, sometimes nasty things all countries do when hard-pressed and the profoundly evil intent of some ideologies and regimes. It says nothing about the fanaticism and the immediacy of the threat to Israel. Sir Peter has somehow managed to live on this planet for 75 years without spotting the difference between what Israel is doing in Lebanon and "unlimited war".

As well as being morally imbecilic, this narrative is the enemy of all efforts to understand what is actually going on in the Middle East. It is so lazy.

Thus, for example, you would hardly know from watching the television that most Arab nations in the region, with the notable exception of Syria, detest the power of Hizbollah. You would barely have noticed that Hizbollah is a Shia faction, actively supported by Iran, and therefore feared by most Sunnis and by all who resist Iranian hegemony.

Nor would you have seen investigations of how Hizbollah places its missile sites in civilian areas, or coverage of the report in a Kuwaiti newspaper that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, was expected in Damascus on Thursday for a meeting with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. You would also not have gathered that the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, which the television so recently invited you to admire, cannot possibly be carried through if Syria and Iran and Hizbollah are able to operate in that country.

Behind the dominant narrative of Israeli oppression is a patronising, almost racist assumption about the Arabs, and about Muslims, which is, essentially, that "they're all the same". Public discussion therefore does not stop to consider whether the immediate ceasefire called for by most European countries might hand a victory to Hizbollah, which, in turn, would ultimately lead to a much greater loss of life. It just postures.

Part of the same attitude-striking is the attack on Tony Blair for being the "poodle" of America, instead of pursuing an independent foreign policy.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the last Middle East crisis in which Britain acted without concerting with America. On July 26, 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, nationalised the Suez Canal. Britain accounted for a third of the ships passing through the canal at that time, and we feared that Nasser had put his foot on our windpipe. Eden, perhaps reeling from his good fortune in having employed the young P. Tapsell, concocted a secret plot with France and Israel to regain control of the canal by violence and bring about the fall of Nasser.

Ignoring the delicacies of a presidential election in America and a president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had publicly made it clear that his country opposed force, we went ahead and invaded Egypt on November 5. Furious at having been deceived, America immediately refused to support the pound in the markets, and we crumpled almost overnight.

The then chancellor, Harold Macmillan, who supported the attack from the first but ratted on it in November, wrote in his diary on August 18: "…if Nasser 'gets away with it', we are done for… It may well be the end of British influence and strength for ever." Well, Nasser did get away with it, and British power in the Middle East did collapse.

We have now passed half a century in which the ultimate responsibility for these decisions has passed from us (and from France) to America. Unless we seriously propose to try to regain that responsibility, either alone or in concert, we do well to try to work closely with America rather than acting like a querulous octogenarian. Mr Blair's efforts in Washington yesterday to search for a ceasefire that prefers durability over immediacy are perfectly sensible.

Yet Mr Blair is bayed at by all parties and most of the media. It is as if, having relinquished power, we Europeans now wish our own powerlessness upon the rest of the world. We make vaporous and offensive Nazi comparisons. We preach that unilateral action is always wrong. That position can be maintained only by people who do not have to make life-and-death decisions. It is cheap and immoral.



[edit: After the incident at Qana today, I head about this :

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denounced Israel's "heinous crimes against civilians", and said there was "no room on this sad morning" for talks until Israel had halted its attacks.

He called for an "immediate, unconditional ceasefire", and praised Hezbollah militants who were "sacrificing their lives for Lebanon's independence".


I'm sorry....is that statement to mean that Hezbollah (actually isn't it Hizb'allah?) is implementing the will of the country of Lebanon? So...in that case Lebanon declared war on Israel?

Please tell me I'm not reading too much into that statement.

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