Why America Can’t End the Conflict

Mark Perry

Bitterlemons, August 10, 2006

Even the most unhappily married couple in the world knows this salient truth about their relationship: that there are things that should never be said, because they will never be forgiven. The same is certainly true for politics, and most certainly for American politics: it is one thing to question your opponent's position, but you dare not question his or her patriotism. It is sad, but predictable, that this rule is not applied in war. Perhaps this is expecting too much, though we know that the leaders of warring nations can, by their words, deepen hatreds and so escalate bloodshed.

But the slurs and stereotypes we find excusable when uttered by those fighting for their nation are difficult to excuse when used by those for whom a war provides an opportunity to air their political laundry, further their political career, or enhance their professional life. In such a case a slur and a stereotype is simply a slur and a stereotype--and nothing more. So it is that the implication by Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman that Europe may wish to cleanse its Muslim population (or "take care of them," as he indelicately put it) is in some sense forgivable. That is not true, however, for America's chattering classes, who have made great strides in uncovering their own racial and religious preferences.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is a case in point, blithely comparing Hassan Nasrallah with Adolf Hitler, holding forth on "Islamofascism," and feeding verbal softballs to New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, who once claimed that there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and harboring members of al-Qaeda: "I think what's been lost in a lot of this coverage [of the war] is just how anti-Semitic Hizballah is in the rhetoric," Cooper said. Goldberg agreed of course (that's why he was on the show) saying that anti-Semitism is embedded "in the core" of Hizballah's ideology and that "They don't hide it. They don't try to mask it in any way."

The exchange was blunt and disturbing--not so much because of Cooper and Goldberg's allegation, but because neither quoted from any Hizballah document to support their claim. Three nights later Cooper fed the same softballs to Dan Gillerman, who dodged the anti-Semitism allegation, but defended Israel's bombing in Lebanon because "this war is not just about the safety of Israel or the freedom of Lebanon, it is about preserving civilization as we know it." Cooper was more careful with Gillerman than he had been with Goldberg, telling his viewers that Hizballah declined to respond to these charges because CNN was "broadcasting tonight from the state of Israel". Perhaps Hizballah's non-appearance signals the truth of Cooper's claims--or perhaps Hizballah commanders decided it might be too difficult to make their way to Haifa.

Cooper is not alone in his claims (Fred Barnes of Fox News called Muslims "enemies of western civilization") and he's entitled to his opinion, but that CNN might expand their news coverage to include such opinions shows just how deeply the language of "the war on terrorism" has taken hold of America and how significantly it has affected the views of America's political elite. It is now nearly impossible for diplomats to take seriously the Bush administration's claim that it seeks an early end to the conflict. The language of the war on terrorism has opened a chasm between the United States (which has a small Muslim population) and Europe (which has a significant, and growing, Muslim constituency). The Bush administration seems stunningly unaware that European nations might have difficulty explaining to their Muslim constituencies why their troops are being used to police Muslim lands. Which is why I believe we here in America will simply be incapable of stitching together the international agreement that is essential to bring this conflict to an end.

I have spent three years meeting with and speaking with Hizballah leaders. I have met them at all levels of their organization. I have walked the streets of South Beirut, speaking with Shi'ite families. Not once, not ever, have I heard one anti-Semitic remark. Not only that, but one Hizballah leader told me bluntly that Hizballah "has no argument with Jews, but with Israel." His response was emotional: "We're human beings. We're not racists and we're not barbarians." Of course, he may well have been lying and I may have been gulled by his sweet words. Or perhaps Jeffrey Goldberg is right when he noted that al-Manar producers never said anything overtly anti-Semitic in front of him because "they are slightly more schooled in let's say obfuscation or public relations."

There it is: the only reason that we can't find evidence of Hizballah's anti-Semitism is because they've become so adept at not talking about it. Those clever bastards.

This article first appeared in bitterlemons-international.