The Optics of This War

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The Lebanon crisis could never be contained – even if the war does not physically spread to Iran or Syria, the images of the war have already done their work throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Just as Iraq served al-Qaeda’s strategy by supplying an endless stream of images of “heroic mujahideen” fighting against “brutal Americans” – and became less useful as images of dead Iraqi civilians began to complicate the picture – the Lebanon war offers an unending supply of images and actions which powerfully support al-Qaeda’s narrative and world-view… without the complications posed by Zarqawi’s controversial anti-Shia strategy in Iraq.

Marc Lynch, “we liberals are paying the price”, Abu Aardvark, July 27, 2006
hezbollah tv

Nahariya; first broadcast by Channel 10 in Israel, then on Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV [Lisa Goldman / Flickr]

The destruction of an apartment block in Qana — along with 54 people, 30 of them children — brough Israel two non-stop days of dedicated Al-Jazeera coverage and condemnation from the international press. Hezbollah continues to hold out on the ground but, perhaps more important, looks to be winning another end game of this war: the battle for media sympathy and public opinion in much of the world.

How important are the optics of this war, and who’s managing them better? What links can we draw from the the outcome of the actual fighting to media coverage, public opinion and ultimately diplomacy? Is Hezbollah’s goal in this conflict territory and a prisoner exchange, or is it sympathy and support, the kind that rushes in from the wider Muslim world as the images from Qana begin to spread? Children are dying in apartment blocks in Haifa, too; how does Israel win the diplomatic game when it’s fighting to a draw on the ground and losing the war of images?

Marc Lynch

Professor of political science at Williams College.

Author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today

Blogger, Abu Aardvark

Annia Ciezadlo

Beirut-based journalist

Author, Sheik Up, The New Republic, 7/28/06

Written for The New Republic, The Nation, and The Christian Science Monitor

James Der Derian

Director of the

Info Tech War Peace Project at The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University

Author of Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network

Extra-Credit Reading List

Marc Lynch, al-Jazeera from Israel, Abu Aardvark, 7/27/06

Fourth Generation Warfare, Defense and the National Interest, 12/24/05

Hazem Saghieh, The world through Arab Eyes, openDemocracy, 6/17/04

Annia Ciezaldo, Sheik Up, The New Republic, 7/28/06

Chris Link, Photos that damn Hezbollah, Herald Sun, 7/30/06

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, As the Shells fall around them, Hizbullah men await the Israelis, 7/29/06

Thom Shanker, A New Enemy Gains on the U.S., The New York Times, 7/30/06

Donald H. Rumsfeld, New Realities in the Media Age, Council on Foreign Relations, 2/16/2006


Comments

42 thoughts on “The Optics of This War

  1. “The destruction of an apartment block in Qana — along with 54 people, 30 of them children — has brought Israel two straight days of bad press. Hezbollah continues to hold out on the ground, but perhaps more importantly, looks to be winning another end game of this war: the battle for media sympathy and public opinion in much of the world.”

    Yes, Hezbollah, or rather Hollybollah, seems to be better at the media war game than Israel.

    Case in point, the Qana apartment collapse: it’s not certain yet who is responsible for that disaster yet Israel has been blamed and I doubt they will ever be able to reverse the judgment no matter what the ultimate findings are.

    Some of us though will keep insisting that it is important to wait till all the evidence is in before we begin to yell “GUILTY.”

  2. Yeah, I’m reminded of the great press conference scenes with the charismatic Jean Martin as Col. Mathieu in Gillo Pontecorvo’s endlessly prescient “Battle of Algiers”. It’s certain that media space is another front for the salvos of both sides engaged in an asymmetrical conflict.

    What can be lost though, I fear, in making it seem too much a here-and-now propaganda struggle is appreciation of the ways in which older and deeper mythologies can continue to structure spectators’ perceptions of these events. Imperial myths of rational or “civilized” violence have been given a new life by Bush’s “war on terror” framing, for example, and Israeli propaganda has long drawn from that poisonous well too. Using weasel words like “disaster”, “tragedy”, or “regrettable” to describe atrocities that are the known consequences of certain strategies of violence is just bad faith parading as conscience.

  3. Yossi– thanks for the link.

    You know, the frame of war for me so far has been along the lines of what NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher said on day one: this will last until a hundred Lebanese civilians are killed in one catastrophe, and Israel has to pull back.

    It seemed to be that Qana would be that moment. But Richard North’s montage of the ever-present “Green Helmet” guy regularly carrying children’s dead bodies around destruction areas in Lebanon make me re-consider Fletcher’s frame. Yes, I am familiar with the staging of the death of Mohammed Dura in Gaza some years ago. I don’t think the names “Hollybollah” or “Palliwood” will quite stick, but this is worth discussing.

  4. Aren’t the decisions of newsroom editors and their bias really at play here? There are plenty of images in circulation that could illustrate and illuminate any of the incalculable number of realities happening for people in the conflict. Decisions are made individually, per image to show us image x instead of image y. What are these images telling us about the motivations of the distributors of news and images?

    Can the face of the conflict really give way to focus on the innocents rather than promoting the agendas of the belligerent parties? That would be quite a development in media.

  5. Did I hear Chris say that Israelis and Americans don’t care about

    Muslim deaths. I can’t belive he said this.

  6. The image of dead Lebanese children and innocent women and men is not “bad press” for the Israelis, as someone wrote above , for goodness sakes, it is reality. It is also a reality that it was the IDF that killed them. As soon as Israelis and mindless supporters of Israel in this country wake up and see the blood and suffering they are causing as real and not abstract maybe just then we can start to talk about why these things are happening; and why Israel has had no peace for nearly 50 years. The answers are right there in front of us: in Gaza. in the West bank , in Jerusalem and now in Lebanon. It is about how miserably they’ve treated the indigenous peoples of these lands they now possess or attack with American arms that we as Americans pay for with our taxes and condone with our silence.

  7. It is clear that the ability of war to destroy lives and drive us all as the sole, gas-guzzling motor of dysfunctional relations among states and cells might be greatly diminished if we would only focus our attention, energy, hope, good humor, and collaboration in an “open-source” P2P person-to-person network of relations that obviate our governments’ and militias’ idiocy and two-dimensional outlook.

    Case-in-point examples for our need to, and the refreshing virtue of, refocus:

    1. The University of the Middle East

    2. Daniel Barenboim’s and Edward Said’s East-West Divan Orquestra

    3. Etgar Keret’s and Samir El-Youssef’s “Gaza Blues”

    And there are countless more examples of bottom-up collaborations between and among individuals who are not so taken by the mind-numbing brainwashing “reality television” style mission of what might be happening in an environment lousy with simulacra and grisly reality as ‘simulacra’ (as affirmations of propaganda learned from one’s childhood).

    I hope that at least as many shows and blogs might be devoted to humble, realistic collaborations among strong real individuals as to the idle voyeurism of war correspondence.

    The daily chronicling of this unpredictable war in and of itself accomplishes little to nothing, and can itself alone do harm to all people who watch idly and helplessly, without any examples of how individuals with their own backbone and pluck and peaceful ideas in the face of all this ridiculousness might be able to prevail.

  8. Many sources indicate that the missile attacks on Lebanon (including Beirut, not only the southern border area) have included bunker busters containing depleted uranium, and that these weapons have been provided by the United States. Look, there is no such thing as non-radioactive uranium, so these are nuclear weapons. Two questions: Have I been taken in by an urban legend? Assuming not, how long will it be before these areas will be inhabitable?

  9. “I don’t know what to make of this:”

    Excellent feature: It’s a media war as well as a military confrontation and Hizbollah is winning that aspect of the conflict.

  10. Thanks for sharing the milking it link. All I can make of it is that photo-ops are happening left and right on every side. It puts the work of how to read an image sans caption in the lap of the viewer. I saw dead people before I noticed any affiliations with places, political parties, or nations. I noticed they were all positioned in the frame or posed for some demonstrative effect – but that’s a photographer’s job. The green helmet is a distraction, interesting but sadly so, from the most obvious subjects in the photos.

    Susan Sontag wrote a good piece called Regarding the Pain of Others I’d really recommend reading, especially if this sort of manipulation gets under your skin.

  11. As I commented in another thread, lots of innocent people die in war. And in a war where the enemy go out of their way to blend in with the civilians and site targets in civilian areas this is inevitable. People criticize Israel for not being more careful, but there’s a limit to how carfeul you CAN be in a real war where intelligence information is uncertain, communication sketchy, there’s smoke and explosions all around, everything is happening very fast, and people are shooting at you.

    Do you have any idea how many civilians were killed in WWII? Not just in Germany and Japan and England, which were specifically targeted, but in countries like France and the Netherlands, and the Philippines which were fought through to liberate them. Can you imagine if Germany had the Internet and TV to show all the civilian casualties inflicted by Allied bombing and artillery? We would never have made it past Normandy, or even Sicily!

    Part of the problem is the asymmetry that the west cares about civilian deaths but Hezbollah does not; they even welcome them. This presents a big problem for the good guys. I’d be very surprised if any Israeli officers ever got up in the morning and said to themselves, “Let’s go kill some civilians today!”. Whereas terrorist groups like Hezbollah relish the prospect of killing civilians. If Israel and its supporters are guilty of anything, it’s not driving that message home better.

    This is why military people say war is hell. This is why it’s better to PREVENT a war than to fight one. This is why the failure of the UN and EU to take the threat of Hezbollah seriously, as they built up their arsenal with help from Iran and Syria, make their complaints now seem like crocodile tears.

  12. “might be greatly diminished if we would only focus our attention, energy, hope, good humor, and collaboration in an “open-sourceâ€? P2P person-to-person network of relations that obviate our governments’ and militias’ idiocy and two-dimensional outlook.

    Case-in-point examples for our need to, and the refreshing virtue of, refocus:

    1. The University of the Middle East

    2. Daniel Barenboim’s and Edward Said’s East-West Divan Orquestra

    3. Etgar Keret’s and Samir El-Youssef’s “Gaza Blues�

    ————————–

    Israel is surrounded by heavily armed forces who are dedicated it its destruction. These organizations have repeated that goal over and over again. Last Sunday’s Times had a photo of a big sign in Iran expressing that goal.

    Israel is not trying to destroy its neighbors; it wnts to live in peace. There would be no fighting today if Hamas and Hezbollah had not attacked Israel. We have repeatedly seen through car bambings and suicide bombings that groups like Hamas and Hezbollah GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to kill civilians. But no one has shown that the Lebanese civilian deaths were anything more than the tragic consequences of the confusion and intensity of war.

    Do you have any idea how many civilians were killed by Allied artillery and bombing in Europe in WWII? Estimates are in the 10′s of thousands, with estimates of the wounded in the hundreds of thousands. Some estimates of civilian deaths in France alone from allied bombing are over 60,000!

    So think carefully about what your proposition is. Would you have opposed WWII? All hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’? Suggest Aaron Copeland conduct a concert including a Beethoven symphony and ‘Appalachian Spring’ in Switzerland to show that NAZIs and Americans can find common, neutral ground through music?

  13. plnelson: A writer on another thread dubbed Hezbollah ‘psychotic killers.’ I find this sort of rhetoric self-defeating even if emotionally satisfying, because it labels and consigns the subject to the realm of eternal incomprehension.

    I find the ‘terrorist’ equally meaningless: it denudes the subject of all humanity. ‘Terrorist’ has fast evolved into a secular, irreligious synonym for the older word ‘demon’ – and I don’t believe in demons.

    So allow me please to recapitulate my question on the other thread here:

    What, in your opinion, makes ‘terrorists’ ‘like Hezbollah relish the prospect of killing civilians’? http://www.radioopensource.org/the-optics-of-this-war/#comment-14311

    (And please don’t bother with ‘because they are terrorists’. That’s a tautology as meaningless as ‘Why is the sky blue? Because it is the sky’.)

    Something makes these people view the lives of civilians–their own civilians no less–as expendable.

    What is that something?

  14. Invoking WW2 isn’t going to make anything more clear in 2006 any more than invoking Napoleon will. Killing non-combatants is wrong, criminal, and should be prosecuted by law. You are right, Israel is failing to play the media card they have been dealt by the maniacs on their borders. They are also killing more citizens than intended targets, Hizbollah sadly hasn’t even tried to make that distinction.

  15. Has anyone put together a list of sites where one can find Isreali pictures and videos about the war? Even if you only know of one, please send it to me — I’m trying to assemble a list. Thanks.

  16. I’m sorry but I think it’s a tad innocent to suggest that Israel does not deliberately inflict suffering of various kinds (economic, as well as direct violence) upon civilian populations as part of its established strategy of deterrant-disproportionate response. Does anyone remember the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, or the destruction of olive trees? Or Sharon’s abetting of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps early on in the previous adventure in Lebanon?

    The most dismaying spectacle to witness at moments such as these is the apologists rushing forth to turn the committing of a war atrocity into an occasion for moral self-congratulation, as in plnelson’s post above.

    Ben is right, we must respond to atrocities with revulsion and condemnation, regardless of who commits them, as they are crimes against our shared humanity. When we cease doing so we have chosen to embrace instead the inhuman rationalizing logic of state power, as so many (though by no means all) of Israel’s defenders seem content to do.

  17. “I find the ‘terrorist’ equally meaningless: it denudes the subject of all humanity. ‘Terrorist’ has fast evolved into a secular, irreligious synonym for the older word ‘demon’ – and I don’t believe in demons.”

    I don’t know why there is any semantic confusion about “terrorist”. Every time this comes up someone suggests there is some relativism or subjectivity about the term – “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” and all that.

    I have a very simple definition of “terrorist” : someone who DELIBERATELY sets out to kill civilians in order to achieve political or social change. Very simply, a terrorist gets up in the morning and says “let’s go kill some civilians today”, and he measures his success by how well he achieved that goal.

    I have no evidence that American or Israeli military leaders do this. They kill plenty of civilians, but I have no evidence that they specifically set out to do so.

  18. “What, in your opinion, makes ‘terrorists’ ‘like Hezbollah relish the prospect of killing civilians’? ”

    Because they do it with such enthusiasm. Car bombs and suicide bombs do not kill civilians accidentally – someone has to WANT to do so.

  19. Don’t you realize that the violence of state and non-state actors proceeds differently? States are often able to commit awful acts—like terrorizing civilian populations—because they manage to normalize and rationalize that violence and gain an often passive consent from their populations? The Holocaust is the classic example, but the whole language of “surgical strikes” and “collateral damage” is all about making state violence seem like the operation of reason itself.

  20. “Something makes these people view the lives of civilians–their own civilians no less–as expendable. What is that something? ”

    As I said in another thread, we don’t posess a good science of human behavior. As science, psychology and sociology are probably back where chemistry and physics were around 1800. So this is simply not a question we can answer in any inrtellectuallyrigorous way. My undergrad background is in bio-psych so believe me, I would LOVE it if we had some hard science to explain why people behave the way they do.

    But people who go to great trouble to kill lots of civilians on purpose EXIST and since we cannot reliably “cure” them we have to either keep them far away from us, take away their means of hurting us, imprison them or or kill them. All those methods are simplistic and crude but we don’t have subtle methods we can have confidence in.

  21. “Invoking WW2 isn’t going to make anything more clear in 2006 any more than invoking Napoleon will. Killing non-combatants is wrong, criminal, and should be prosecuted by law. ”

    Those are just emotional assertions on your part. What do you base them on? Why is it any more wrong now than it was then? Human beings haven’t changed since then. Our social and political institutions are no more sophisticated than in the 1940′s. We don’t adhere to some new moral or religious code now that didn’t exist in the 1940′s. The nature of war itself has not changed very much – weapons are a little more precise but not so much so that civilian casualties can be reliably avoided, and if you are fighting an enemy that deliberately tries to blend in with civilians, this actually increases the risk of civilian casualties compared to WWII when enemy armies had the common courtesy to look like armies.

  22. “I’m sorry but I think it’s a tad innocent to suggest that Israel does not deliberately inflict suffering of various kinds (economic, as well as direct violence) upon civilian populations as part of its established strategy of deterrant-disproportionate response. ”

    No one here has suggested that.

  23. “the whole language of ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘collateral damage’ is all about making state violence seem like the operation of reason itself. ”

    The language of “surgical strikes” has a bigger impact on the “loonies of the left” than the “loonies of the right” (to use Capitol Steps’ phrase.)

    My whole point in these postings is that there’s NO SUCH THING as a “surgical strike”, because the peace activists have swallowed the Administration’s “surgical strike” language hook line and sinker, which is why they criticize Israel for not using those magical techniques. Next thing you know the anti-Israel crowd will complain that Israel didn’t use “shock and awe”.

    There’s no such thing as a clean, nice war. Anyone who thinks otherwise has been playing too many video games or listening to too many pre-Iraq-invasion speeches by Bush lackeys. War is horrible and lots of nice people get killed, maimed, blinded, burnt, or psychologically destroyed for life.

    But when you are attacked or about to be attacked if you choose not to have a war you better be prepared to suggest a plan B.

  24. “Our social and political institutions are no more sophisticated than in the 1940’s. We don’t adhere to some new moral or religious code now that didn’t exist in the 1940’s.”

    uh…United Nations, UN Charter on Human Rights, crimes against humanity statutes, International Court at the Hague, end of European colonialism and beginning awareness of its brutalities, etc. etc.

    “if you are fighting an enemy that deliberately tries to blend in with civilians, this actually increases the risk of civilian casualties compared to WWII when enemy armies had the common courtesy to look like armies.”

    you mean like the Resistance, which is one of the most important instances of the success of “blending in with the population” in asymmetrical warfare?

    It is conditions of radically disproportionate power and domination that produces these tactics, and they have a proven track record of success. Forget the human behavior speculations, it is political conditions that produce these tactics, and they should be addressed primarily in a political (as against military) fashion.

  25. “There’s no such thing as a clean, nice war. Anyone who thinks otherwise has been playing too many video games or listening to too many pre-Iraq-invasion speeches by Bush lackeys. War is horrible and lots of nice people get killed, maimed, blinded, burnt, or psychologically destroyed for life.”

    Right, but it can never ben “anything goes”, agreed? Geneva Conventions and all that other “quaint” stuff. You point to the inhumanity of your opponent as an excuse for an unbounded and morally unaccountable violence, and in that you are no different from that opponent, from Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney, or from other, still more murderous regimes of the twentieth century.

  26. “I have a very simple definition of “terrorist�: someone who DELIBERATELY sets out to kill civilians in order to achieve political or social change. Very simply, a terrorist gets up in the morning and says “let’s go kill some civilians today�, and he measures his success by how well he achieved that goal.�

    So, in your opinion, these people are what – demons?

    Are they utterly lacking in any morality?

    I think that’s a whitewash.

    They have morals – not OUR morals – but morals defined by a globally best-selling book that very few Americans have ever read.

    Jihad – not the meaningless conceptual black hole ‘terrorism’ – is explained simply by reading the Koran.

    I take it from your other posts that you’re familiar with military history. Therefore you know that victory comes not from attacking an enemy’s strengths but his weaknesses. To anticipate our enemy’s weaknesses, we must first understand him.

    We can’t begin to understand our foes while we demonize them. We can’t outfox them by applying old, ill-fitting templates to them.

    We have to outthink them, and to do that we first have to understand them. Otherwise, we will continue to radicalize their region and, sooner rather than later, lose the battle for reason.

    Irrationality will reign supreme.

    So long as we call them by our word ‘terrorists’, they win and we lose.

    We need new memes in this fight, and fast. But first we must comprehend their memes (and then appropriately revise those of our own), and not consign the Islamists to conceptual black holes like ‘terrorist’. This isn’t Manichean, and it isn’t rocket science either.

    We’re just not (yet) willing to admit that our analysis is founded on the wrong metaphors.

  27. Well said, Old Nick.

    An important part of that is acknowledging the political grievance that is at the heart of the momentous (and troubling) growth of radical Islam in the Middle East. We have to figure out a way to engage that, instead of fixating so much on the terrorist Other. One can do that without seeming weak—it used to be called “diplomacy”.

  28. Any apologetics for aggression against non-combatant populations shouldn’t be easily accepted. PL, we have changed since the 40s. Things were acceptable or accepted then that are not now in a very big way, and the change has largely been good. There are too many examples off the topic that easily illustrate this. What’s most startling is that the US, Israeli, et. al are not clearly framing their side of the issue as resistance pushing aggressors back and defusing the situation. Instead, it has all the appearances of state arrogance, domination, and control, not the appearance of fighting to maintain any peace or order. While Hizbollah et. al. are firmly maintaining their appearance as freedom fighting lunatics and organized criminals at best. (On that note: John Dillinger got a lot more sympathy than J. Edgar Hoover ever did.) Israel is providing too much media ammunition to the radicals and I don’t think the brute force is going to thin their ranks enough to warrant the human tragedy.

  29. It might also be described as “inviting one’s enemies to the party in advance, so that no one, even symbolically, ever feels left out of the fun.” It means that then the enemy has the luxury of being able to choose whether the put aside differences and attend the happy party, or to choose to sit out of the planned opportunity for fun. Giving one’s enemy the feeling of free choice before any opportunity arises, opens up the possibility for diplomacy, rapproachment, even treaties and detente– look at the example of Anwar Sadat.

    I know what you’re thinking, Sadat was the strong head of a central government, so he could take up the opportunity when it presneted itself, whereas unstable governments like the PA and Lebanon can’t even dream of attending the party… they’re just ticked off having to be kept up all night by the noise of merriment in their building without being able to leave their crumbling apartment without it caving in.

    Remember that the Second Temple, and Israel as we knew it under the Romans, was destroyed 1,938 years ago not really because of the Romans themselves, though they certainly contributed the starting and finishing touches to the devastation and diaspora. It was because of the gratuitous hate rife among and for those living within Israel at the time, creating an irreparable instability.

    Both Palestine and Lebanon suffer from this crippling internal instability, making them intractible, impossible neighbors. And what makes any foreign-bolstered armed religious militia ‘tick’ within these weak environments is the very nervous energy of the instability itself; otherwise, they would have no place nor need to exist.

    What defines a “terrorist group” is exactly that: any ‘Non-Governmental-Organization’ that feeds off the mounting instability of a country that is in the throes of losing its hold on power, both on central power, and on person-to-person power. ‘Power’ as defined by Hannah Arendt as opposed to ‘Violence’, where mounting violence indicates a loss or a vacuum of true power, where true power needs no instruments (like arms) to perservere and prevail.

    Obviously, a diplomacy of stability-fomenting collaborations among individuals, non-governmental bodies, and even the governments themselves, will lead to the absolute dissolution of any extant “terrorism,” state-sponsored, grassroots fundamentalist, or ‘psychotic’.

    And then the milk-farmer combat photographers and reporters can go home and get a real job, instead of unwittingly aiding, abetting, and expanding the vacuum of true powers attempting futilely to take hold in the region.

    Maybe their prodigious talents of eye and word can be put to true-power-fomenting use: like when Barenboim and Said began the East-West Divan Orquestra out of their pass-time of playing four-handed Bach piano pieces together as friends.

    Now there’s a far better, far more peaceful, use of abundant talent… instead of gunning for the Pulitzer with story after story about the wanton abrogation of true power to instrumental violence.

    Of course we’ve all got the right to defend ourselves from attack, but the underlying problem of instability must be resolved through true-power-fomenting collaboration, or the violent self-defense will go on ad nauseam and ad infinitum.

  30. “uh…United Nations, UN Charter on Human Rights, crimes against humanity statutes, International Court at the Hague, end of European colonialism and beginning awareness of its brutalities, etc. etc. ”

    What about them? Everything you’ve cited is just declarations and documents. Prior to that point in history we had plenty of saints and religions with pious positions on things. In practical terms that didn’t amount to much either.

    SINCE most of the things you cited came into existence we’ve had Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, and countless other violations. We’ve had several wars where the total tonnage or ordnance expended has exceeded what was used in WWII’s ETO.

    I don’t see any concrete, empirical evidence that anything has actually changed in either human nature or human institutions since WWII.

  31. “you mean like the Resistance, which is one of the most important instances of the success of “blending in with the populationâ€? in asymmetrical warfare?

    It is conditions of radically disproportionate power and domination that produces these tactics, and they have a proven track record of success. ”

    To the extent that Germans ended up dropping a bomb on a house by mistake because they couldn’t distinguish it from the real CNR or AS house, yes, exactly.

    Most of the time the Germans didn’t both with long-distance weapons like that; they just rounded up villagers and shot them. But to the extent that the AS or CNR deliberately created conditions to result in civilian casualties, then the same dynamic applies, of course.

    “Forget the human behavior speculations, it is political conditions that produce these tactics, and they should be addressed primarily in a political (as against military) fashion.”

    THAT is the speculation. The empirical fact is that Israel has a heavily armed force on its borders TODAY dedicated to its destruction. Any political solution would take decades or generations to work; what is Israel supposed to do in the meantime?

  32. “So, in your opinion, these people are what – demons?

    Are they utterly lacking in any morality?”

    I never said that. I agree with you that they have a different morality. Their morality in which it’s desirable to kill large numbers of civilians to achieve political or social goals is dangerous to peace-loving, civilized people. I was providing a simple, operational definition of terrorist.

    “To anticipate our enemy’s weaknesses, we must first understand him.”

    First you have to present evidence that it’s POSSIBLE to understand them. You are making the same mistake that Bush, et al, made in Iraq – that of intellectual hubris. You THINK we know more than we really do about what makes people tick. We do not HAVE a science of human behavior that can account for why thousands of young men would happily volunteer to blow themselves up along with a crowd of bus travelers, shoppers, or office workers.

    I’m not “demonizing” them – to ascribe “demons” to people is a sort of explanation people used to use for mental illness or other conditions. I am merely noting that terrorists EXIST. I’m not opposed to trying to understand them – my background is in science and I’ve always been an enthusiastic supporter of scientific research and a member of several national science organizations. So, yes, by all means we should try to understand them.

    BUT I disagree that the current state of the art makes such understanding a practical tool in preventing or countering terrorism.

    “So long as we call them by our word ‘terrorists’, they win and we lose.”

    Why? It seems like a perfectly accurate description to me. What should we call them?

  33. “We have to figure out a way to engage that, instead of fixating so much on the terrorist Other. One can do that without seeming weak—it used to be called ‘diplomacy’. ”

    Please translate that proposal into something specific and concrete. The rockets launched by Hezbollah, and previously by Hamas, ARE specific and concrete – the threats from them were definite and clear. So you at least owe us the courtesy of an equally clear and concrete proposal for how to deal wkith them using “diplomacy”.

    I certainly agree that a diplomatic solution to PREVENT Hezbollah from setting up bases in Lebanon with the help of Syria and Iran would have been preferred in recent years but all the people who are NOW calling for “diplomacy” were strangely silent then.

  34. “Any apologetics for aggression against non-combatant populations shouldn’t be easily accepted. PL, we have changed since the 40s. ”

    Feel free to cite actual, concrete, 3-dimensional evidence. I think we dress things up differently and talk about them with different language, and obviously some individual societies are either nicer or meaner than 60 years ago, but I see no evidence that human behavior or institutions overall are different.

  35. We hear that a suicide bomber can earn $20,000 for their families. What emotional, economic, moral, nationalistic, religious, and familial calculus goes into that decision? Does that person, whose father lost his job years ago, and they who have never had one, really wake up wanting to kill innocents? Throughout the world, insugencies draw upon the unemployed, the hopeless, and the disenfranchised by simply offering a purpose and a direction. Military service is wrapped in “honor”. True, there are zealots on both sides. But I must believe that given the choice, most would prefer to sing, play cards, eat well, sleep well, and love, rather than kill and be killed. Frustration and rage, loneliness and fear, purposelessness and futility – this is what makes soldiers. These are things we can address. What motivates rulers, clerics, and governments who drive them to enlist, I cannot say.

  36. Hi pl,

    “I never said that (they don’t) have a different morality.�

    True. My beef isn’t actually with you anyway, but with our collective habit of labeling people for their actions, as if a single aspect of a human’s behavior is adequate to define the person or persons. Yes, it’s useful shorthand and therefore in some ways essential, but we all-too-typically begin to believe the ‘truth’ of the shorthand instead of recognizing its limitations. This is especially true with sweeping and condemnatory labels like ‘terrorist’. I’ll explain what I mean below.

    “Their morality in which it’s desirable to kill large numbers of civilians to achieve political or social goals is dangerous to peace-loving, civilized people. I was providing a simple, operational definition of terrorist.�

    I won’t argue that this isn’t a valid definition of ‘terrorist’, but it’s much more applicable to 1970’s era entities like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or the Bader-Meinhof http://www.rotten.com/library/history/terrorist-organizations/bader-meinhof gang, than it is to complex socio-political jihadi movements like Hezbollah and Hamas. These groups, as we have learned repeatedly lately on ROS, are very much more than militias.

    And as General William Odom explained in the “Terrorism Index� show, terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy, and certainly not a ‘movement’.

    ‘“To anticipate our enemy’s weaknesses, we must first understand him.�

    First you have to present evidence that it’s POSSIBLE to understand them. You are making the same mistake that Bush, et al, made in Iraq – that of intellectual hubris.’

    ME? No way! I don’t think for an INSTANT that Bush and gang had a clue about Islamists: their endlessly calamitous policies are patent proof. Bush and his gang are the clowns who insist that the Islamists are nothing but ‘terrorists’.

    I’ve suggested before that understanding Islamists is as easy as reading the scripture that informs and molds their minds. And I stand by that suggestion. It’s not enjoyable reading, I’ll grant you that, but there’s no substitute for it.

    Jihadis don’t make up their goals from thin air: they apply the preachings in the Koran to the world around them. It’s not rocket science – but it was apparently too complex for the neocon crowd to analyze and respect.

    And you don’t even need to buy it: http://www.infoplease.com/t/rel/koran/sura2.html

    “You THINK we know more than we really do about what makes people tick.�

    On the contrary, I think we currently know very little, but I’m right beside you in curiosity and the willingness to scientifically study the irreducibly complex phenomena of human behavior. (“Irreducibly� complex is the key too: I don’t plause for an instant that creatures with so much conscious free will as humans are constantly acting out mechanistic genetic impulses, as the behavioral geneticists like to believe. I find such reductionist suppositions preposterous and even hilarious. Try Jonathan Marks’s What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee – http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-0520226151-0 – for amusing and enlightening evidence.)

    “We do not HAVE a science of human behavior that can account for why thousands of young men would happily volunteer to blow themselves up along with a crowd of bus travelers, shoppers, or office workers.�

    Right – but we don’t need science for this – it’s sadly simpler than that. Much, much simpler. It’s all about belief and faith in the ‘Great Beyond’.

    Try Sam Harris’s The End of Faith – http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-0393327655-2

    “I’m not “demonizingâ€? them – to ascribe “demonsâ€? to people is a sort of explanation people used to use for mental illness or other conditions. I am merely noting that terrorists EXIST.â€?

    The people you define as ‘terrorists’ couldn’t care less that we’ve got them wrong – in fact, they can use our mistaken labeling of them to their advantage. Any 14-year-old Lebanese Shiite can see for himself that Hezbollah provides schools, hospitals, and social services to their constituency. This young lad will therefore know much more immediately than any American that the imam who claims that Americans are lying infidels must be right: Hezbollah, to him, aren’t ‘terrorists’– they’re heroes.

    Thus: “So long as we call them by our word ‘terrorists’, they win and we lose.�

    We can’t afford to keep proving our enemies right in the esteem of their prospective recruits. Our failure to recognize the obsolescence and misapplication of our pejorative labels only plays to the hands of the Islamists.

    We have to see them for what they are: religiously formulated non-state alternatives to the sham governments of the region. And then, to counter them, we have to offer something more compelling than ‘martyrdom’. This will take a lot of fresh thought.

    Many Islamists want a reprise of the classical Arab caliphates. I don’t know how we counter that, but I’m damned sure we can’t figure out counter-alternatives so long as we conceptually reduce them to secular demons like ‘terrorists’.

    Here’s a post that speaks to my worries: johnhartwell @ 9:46 PM Aug 2nd in the New Map of the Middle East thread.

    John’s fears match mine: once the thundering boil knocks the lid off the pot, it won’t stop. The scalding water and steam will affect most of the Muslim world and even the EU, whose countries are home to millions of Muslims.

    We haven’t got much time. We’ve got a lot of innovative thinking to do, and fast. Sadly, our government’s neglect of American liberal education is a millstone currently dooming us to unimaginative acceptance of vacuous words like ‘terrorists.’ This ain’t the 1970’s any more. We’re living in a very new world: The Beginning of the Future, as Ari Shavit dubbed it this past Monday night.

    Q: “What should we call them?�

    A: Islamist jihadis, who believe that paradise awaits martyrs to Allah’s cause. Nothing less. What we deem ‘terrorism’, they term jihad. Righteous jihad. Moral jihad – and a Muslim duty. (Read the Koran.)

    I suspect one reason we want to insist that they’re ‘terrorists’ is that we just can’t honestly believe that they believe in martyrdom and paradise. Well, it may seem ridiculous, but we’re wrong. (See the Harris book.) Muslim kids who blow themselves up truly believe that their next stop is paradise and that delectable pleasures await them.

    Our definitions are as inoperative as the ancient belief that the atom was a hard kernel of matter, and that nothing was smaller and all was made from atoms. Boy was that wrong. Atoms are in fact bundles of smaller bundles of energy, and have no solidity at all.

    Likewise, our ‘terrorist’ definition completely misses the depth of religiosity—the dynamic bundles of energy—motivating the jihadis. And we can’t even begin to think the problem through if we insist on calling what it ain’t.

  37. At 1:00 PM Eastern and 10:00 AM Pacific (Thursday, August 10th), KUOW’s Weekday will air – and stream – this:

    Middle Ground in the Middle East?

    Audio available at 11:05 a.m.

    The war in Lebanon continues. There’s speculation about an expanded conflict involving Syria and Iran. This leads to a question: where’s the middle ground in the Middle East now? Today on Weekday we’ll find out who the moderates are on all sides. And we’ll ask what they’re thinking. What proposals have a chance of bringing the various sides together?

    Guests:

    Ellis Goldberg is an expert on middle east politics and a political science professor at the University of Washington.

    Daniel Levy was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.

    Walid Jumblatt is a Druze leader who sparked the Cedar Revolution in February 2005. He heads Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party.

    http://www.kuow.org/programs/weekday.asp

    It will be available as a streaming archive, and it podcasts too.

    It will also stream ‘live’ again at 12:00 (Midnight) Eastern (Friday, officially, but Thursday night) / 9:00 PM Pacific (Thursday night) here: http://www.kxot.org

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