Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hezbollah and Apartheid

Steve left a comment on my earlier 'judgement' post, which is worth reading. I'd like to pick up on one aspect of it though, which is the comparison of Hezbollah to the Apartheid regime in South Africa:
"Was Hizbollah really "irrevocably" committed to the destruction of Israel? Such a commitment will no doubt be strengthened as a result of the events of the last three weeks. But it was not necessarily "irrevocable". The Nationalist Party in South Africa had an irrevocable commitment to apartheid, but in the end they abandoned it."
I'm happy to accept - in principle - that a view which is held to be 'irrevocable' can in fact be changed. I'm particularly happy to accept that it can be changed in the context of a religious faith (either Christianity or Islam) as I see one of the tenets of both faiths as being a ban on idolatry - and any perspective which we render 'irrevocable' is prone to turn into an idol. However, that being said, I think the differences are more important than the resemblances.

The apartheid regime gave up on its 'irrevocable' commitment to a racist polity for certain very specific reasons (this is not an exhaustive list, it's just what comes to mind - and I'm not particularly well informed about South Africa):
- a rejection of slavery (and the associated theology) by the broader mass of Christian thinkers;
- an explicit repudiation of the racist polity by the 'peers' of the white establishment, as expressed through both trade sanctions and sports sanctions;
- a slow realisation that maintenance of the status quo was untenable in the long run;
- the existence of both extreme and more moderate opposition to the racist polity, and, in the person of Nelson Mandela there was 'someone to do business with'.

In other words, there were a lot of preconditions in place allowing the regime to change.

The situation with Hezbollah seems to me very different:
- Hezbollah is drawing upon a form of language and mode of behaviour with deep roots in Islamic theology, history and practice;
- rather than being rejected, that language and behaviour is endorsed by the wider Islamic community (more or less explicitly);
- it is particularly endorsed - and materially supported - by a major regional power (Iran), which is itself aggressively pursuing the same agenda;
- there is a significant amount of truth in the critique which Hezbollah etc offers against the Western way of life (of which Israel is seen as an instance), which reinforces their sense of the rightness of their cause; and
- Hezbollah sees itself - not unreasonably - as being on the long-run winning side, not the losing side.

So when Hezbollah states, for example, that "It is an open war until the elimination of Israel and until the death of the last Jew on earth" it seems reasonable (to me) that Israel should take it as a reflection of their operating perspective for the foreseeable future. If there is a reform movement in Islam, which explicitly repudiates this ideology (and therefore accepts the long-term right of Israel to exist, not seeing it as Dar al'Harb eternally) - then I think Israel would have grounds for changing its perspective.

This does not make their actions (eg in Qana) 'right' - it is wrong to kill civilians - but I still maintain that there is a vital difference between wickedness carried out from fear (or error) and wickedness which is in the service of hate.

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