Thursday, August 03, 2006

Two shameless academic whitewashes of Hezbollah

Thanks to Stuart Elliott for alerting me to these. The first comes from anthropologist Lara Deeb of UC Irvine, written for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP). The second, I'm afraid, comes from Juan Cole in his "Informed Comment" website.

The piece for MERIP doesn't surprise me, given MERIP's well known biases. But I found the extent of prevarication, misleadingly selective information, wild charges, and occasional disinformation in Juan Cole's piece genuinely shocking. (E.g., Cole's claim that the "Israelis stole some of their land [from south Lebanese Shiite villagers] in 1948" is, as far as I know, totally without foundation.) As Stuart Elliott pointed out, there is no consideration of Hezbollah's ideology or stated aims, of its international connections with Iran and Syria, or a range of other crucial matters. Of course, Juan Cole's post also includes some pieces of accurate information. But details aside, Cole's discussion is focused on attacking the straw-person argument that Hezbollah is like Al Qaeda, and I'm afraid that Cole uses this device mostly to evade giving an accurate account of what Hezbollah actually is like. He knows better.

We can expect to see more examples of this sort of thing. Meanwhile, David Adler offers a brief but illumunating analysis of "Deeb's Dishonesty" below.

--Jeff Weintraub
David R. Adler (Lerterland)
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Deeb's Dishonesty

Lara Deeb, a cultural anthropologist at UC Irvine, has penned a primer on Hezbollah for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP). She complains of misleading reports about Hezbollah in the mainstream media. But her own analysis, which is quite detailed, makes no mention whatsoever of Hezbollah's judeophobic worldview or the antisemitic statements of senior Hezbollah leaders, including Hassan Nasrallah. "Nasrallah is widely viewed in Lebanon as a leader who 'tells it like it is' -- even by those who disagree with the party's ideology and actions," Deeb writes. Maybe so, but Deeb does not bother to state, much less evaluate, what it is that Nasrallah says.

The New Yorker has made available a two-part series from 2002 by Jeffrey Goldberg. In the first part, Goldberg speaks with Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, author of the book Hezbollah: Politics & Religion. A Shia scholar, Saad-Ghorayeb is severely critical of Israel, even calling it "a colonialist state." But she is also quite frank about Hezbollah ideology. "There is a real antipathy to Jews as Jews," she says, citing the following line from a Nasrallah speech: "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli." That right-wingers are quoting this to justify Israel's current assault on Lebanon does not give Deeb license to ignore it. (For more on Nasrallah's Jew-hatred see David Aaronovitch's piece in the London Times.)

Deeb goes on to rewrite the history of how the current conflict started:

The Hizballah rocket attacks of July 2006, which commenced after Israeli bombardment of Lebanon had begun, have thus far killed 19 civilians and damaged numerous buildings -- nothing like the devastation and death wrought by Israeli aircraft in Lebanon.

Hezbollah's rocket attacks did not commence after Israeli bombardment had begun. Hezbollah staged a diversion with rocket attacks in the north, then it abducted the Israel soldiers.

Deeb continues:

[Hezbollah] stated that they had captured the [Israeli] soldiers for use as bargaining chips in indirect negotations for the release of the three Lebanese detained without due process and in defiance of the Supreme Court of Israel. As noted, there is precedent for such negotiations.

And as not noted, the capture of soldiers for use as bargaining chips is hostage-taking, a direct and unambiguous violation of the rules of war according to Human Rights Watch. Israel's administrative detention policies are indeed unjust, but if Deeb can work in verbiage about that, at least she can clarify how international law applies to Hezbollah on this question, rather than avoiding the question altogether. (Deeb goes on to cite Human Rights Watch in regard to Israel's use of cluster munitions.)

I could continue. Deeb does convey some anthropological insight, as well as information about the plight of civilians in Lebanon, but it's in the context of a political apologia for Hezbollah. It's a misleading piece of work at best.

There is a need, all the same, for dispassionate study of Hezbollah, given the Bush administration's talk of Middle East "birth pangs" and new paradigms and such. (It's astonishing how this president and his flunkies continue to preach optimism.) Tonight on PBS Shimon Peres warned an entirely compliant Margaret Warner of Hezbollah's attempt to "de-Lebanize" Lebanon and Iran's attempt to make the Arab world Persian. Broader geopolitical issues matter, but these lurid scenarios are being used to deflect questioning of Israel's conduct, which we will see continue for days if not weeks.

posted by David R. Adler @ 4:15 PM

[Update, 8/4/2006: MERIP have acknowledged and corrected one of the inaccuracies in their account of how the present Lebanese/Israeli crisis began:
CORRECTION: Due to an editor's error, the initial version of this article misleadingly implied that Hizballah did not fire any rockets at Israel in July 2006 prior to the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. In fact, there was a rocket attack in the Galilee on the morning of July 12, prior to Hizballah's raid on the army convoy and the current Israeli military campaign. We regret the error.
However, as the blogger DavidP pointed out by e-mail, the erroneous version of the story is still widely believed.]