Written by Barry Rubin
January 3, 2009
By Barry Rubin
A major problem in debating about international issues nowadays is that it is so often hard or even impossible to respect our adversaries. It is quite possible to disagree with someone but to be impressed with their ability in constructing arguments, their grasp of logic and facts, their getting things partly right to the point that it makes you adjust your own thinking. Yet nowadays one is so often confronted with deliberate lies, huge factual errors, and just totally illogical claims.
Although I didn't mention this in the article, there was a very specific reason for my making that point. I am writing a book on my family and their town during World War Two. I was reading an account by a Soviet army partisan about a military action in which his unit attacked a small town in eastern Poland. The Germans had taken over the Polish Catholic church and fortified it as a defense post.
The battle happened at night and there were no civilians in the building when the partisans attacked it. Still, for a moment I was taken aback because of my own democratic and moderate upbringing and education. After all, the Germans had massacred thousands of Jews in these villages. And I had just read how they had burnt down a Polish family's home-with the family inside-because the peasant husband had given two partisans some water to drink that day. Yet to use a church as a military fort struck me as a bit shocking.
Then I reflected that this very day a mosque had been bombed by Israel's air force after being identified as a Hamas weapons' depot. I had previously written that Hamas wanted civilians to be casualties because this provided good media coverage and international sympathy. And it is notable that as Hamas goaded Israel into war it made no provision for shelters or civil defense for its own people.
Palestinian Media Watch has reprinted a speech made by Fathi Hamad, one of the top Hamas leaders, on the movement's own Al-Aqsa television station from February 29, 2008. He stated:
"For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly [Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: "We desire death as you desire life.'"
How can one explain that the Nazis never behaved in such a way? This is actually an interesting question and one that tells us something very important about the contemporary world. German soldiers fought bravely and German civilians bore up under tremendous sacrifice mainly because they were patriotic. While their cause was unjust, they supported Hitler mainly out of a belief that Germany should be "over all," as the old national anthem put it. They felt victimized by the victorious allies in World War One.
A secondary motive was in the more specific aspects of Nazi ideology: its view of the Germans as a master race, fighting a global battle with the Jewish enemy, and so on.
As nationalists, though, they had to love their country, at least in their own interpretation of it and excluding all the Jewish citizens of course. They wanted prosperity, happiness, and empowerment for the German people. Consequently, the German army and government viewed it as their duty to protect the people. And if they were the master race, all the more need to protect them.
And that is why-if they had ever thought of it-the Nazis would not have deliberately exposed their people to even more suffering by using them as human shields or stockpiling bombs and bullets in their residential buildings. However chauvinistic and inhumane extreme nationalism can be to others, by definition it has to believe itself to be serving those who it identifies as its followers, constituency, and even subjects.
Of course, Hitler led his people to disaster and in the end inflicted tremendous suffering on them. When they realized this fact, the great majority concluded that their ruler had failed them and surrendered or concluded that they had been wrong and the regime was a mistake.
But radical Islamism is different. Its goal is not to exalt its people-Palestinians or Muslims, as such-but to implement God's will. God is above the people. And the deity must be served no matter how many of the people, even Muslims, die or suffer. Thus we see the massive bloodshed in the Algerian civil war and the terrorist attacks against other Muslims in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Even an anti-Israel demonstration in Iraq was hit by a suicide bomber recently.
Thus, there is this tireless emphasis on martyrdom, and people can be martyred even if they don't choose that for themselves. What is startling-and like so many significant facts gone unnoticed in much of the world-is that Hamas never had any program for social development, quality education, improved health, or anything else but warfare for the Gaza Strip. Its only concern was to wage a war of extermination on Israel, no matter how much time and how many lives it cost.
In this same point, we have a very important clue for the international-albeit greatly exaggerated-reaction against Israel. Unable to comprehend that people would behave in this way, many Westerners assume that Hamas really wants a nice, peaceful state in which Palestinian children play happily. As is often said, doesn't everyone want a good life of material prosperity and happiness for their kiddies?
Yet right at the start, on the success of the Iranian revolution almost thirty years ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini warned us that anyone who thought the Islamic revolution was about lowering the price of watermelons understood nothing.
And that is the problem with our adversaries in the Western debate. True, they hate us-meaning Israel or America or the West in general-and despite the very principles and institutions that have brought them freedom and a comfortable life. This is, of course, the basis for a political battle. What is truly disconcerting, however, is that they understand so very little about the world, common sense, logic, honest debate, the nature of democracy and dictatorship, and the nature of the real adversary against-irony of ironies-we are protecting them.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).