Civilization’s lament

This is a republication of an original article written by Robert Tanenbaum in the Jewish Press on Wednesday, August 23, 2006.


As the Hizbullah-Israel war wound down last week, pundits were quick to label winners and losers. Some said Hizbullah won because it survived, bombed Israel with 4,000 rockets, and earned the applause of the Arab “street.” Others maintain that Israel won because Hizbullah was partially crippled, its leadership is in hiding, and the Lebanese will emerge from the dust furious at Hizbullah for a war they did not seek.

The pundits must not be so provincial. Many more parties will feel this war’s effects.

The real winners are the agents of extremism and war – the two-headed monster of Radical Islam: the Shia ayatollahs of Iran and the Sunni radicals of al Qaeda, Hamas, and their ilk. The real losers are ordinary Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Israelis, and global, progressive civilization as we know it.

Radical Islam won because it hijacked the Middle East agenda. The ayatollahs showed the world that the price for opposing their nuclear and regional ambitions was war. Buoyed by the “success” of the rockets it supplied to Hizbullah, Iran has demonstrated to the region that its bluster matches its bark. Iranian influence will multiply in Shia-led Iraq, where Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi militia awaits merely a nod from Mr. Ahmadinejad to unleash his fury on 130,000 American troops. Its influence will continue to grow in Syria, where the incessantly weak Bashar Assad relies on a formal pact with Iran to safeguard his terrorist-sponsoring, failing regime. And Iranian backing of Hizbullah will ensure that Lebanon remains a launching pad for foreign, imperial terrorism.

Of the Sunni radicals, let us discuss just one group – Hamas. Hamas won because the pressure that was ostensibly building in Palestinian society against its intransigence will instead turn against voices of negotiation and compromise with the “Zionist entity.” Rejection of Israel, forever the fad of Palestinian politics, will only grow with the Palestinian perception of Israeli vulnerability. To wit, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least 50 newborn babies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were named after Hizbullah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah in the past month. The same trend engulfed Palestinian society in 1991, when Palestinians named their newborns after Saddam Hussein, following his Scud attacks on Tel Aviv. What benefit did this support bring them? More than 300,000 Palestinians were thrown out of Kuwait. Go figure.

Hamas’s raison d’etre is Jewish statocide. By trumpeting the perceived success of Hizbullah, Hamas will be emboldened to pursue its maximalist campaign against Israel.

What about the losers?

Ordinary Palestinians lost immensely. What does Hamas deliver for Palestinians? Israel removed 10,000 of its own people last summer from Gaza, and for the first time, Palestinians ruled themselves. Did Hamas respond by building roads and schools? By tearing down the squalid camps that house and breed poverty? No, Hamas followed the path of its mentor, Hizbullah, and waged war from the very hilltops that the Jews evacuated. A victory for Hamas promises Palestinians not a better life, but relentless conflict.

The Lebanese lost because their democracy has been strangled in the cradle by Hizbullah’s callous war against Israel and its continuing refusal to abide by UN Resolution 1559. Hizbullah rightly noted that it harvests “victory” with every death in this war, whether Jew or Arab. The Lebanese, then, have paid a bloody price for this victory – one that ensures their continued domination by a malignant junta.

The Israelis lost because their vaunted deterrence could not do the impossible: apply overwhelming force against Hizbullah so that its leaders would think twice before violating Israeli sovereignty, while concomitantly exercising restraint against an organization that stores rockets under the beds of Lebanese civilians.

The cease-fire is but a mirage. Many more Israelis will bleed in the years to come when Hizbollah rearms and wages its next war.

Finally, world civilization itself lost.

Radical Islam cannot succeed in a civilized world. Thus, it must wage war against it. Its wanton murder of innocents, its employment of terrorism to bring open economies to heel, its racist and anti-Semitic program, its endless grievances, its rejection of peace and compromise and its fanatical reliance on a power that knows no earthly bounds – such characteristics are anathema to the practicality and freedom of a progressive world.

Today, Hizbullah has risen up against Israel. Tomorrow, radical Islam will rise up against the rest of the non-believers, the kafir. Civilization – democratic values, economic progress, rational inquiry, coexistence – has already tasted terrorism. In Bali, Breslav, Buenos Aires, Baghdad and Brazil; in Darfur, Calcutta, Turkey, Morocco and London; in Sharm el-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia, New York City, Amman, and Madrid. And the civilized world will taste more because the success of extremism by definition spells the death of moderation.

So how did we come to this? What are radical Islam’s “grievances”?

Its grievance is the refusal, thus far, of much of the Muslim world to succumb to radical Islam’s prostitution of Mohammedism.

Its grievance is the threat of progressive values that challenge radical Islam’s medieval and tyrannical objectives.

Its grievance is Jewish self-determination, because radical Islam espouses that Muslims must be sovereign everywhere and the Jews nowhere at all.

Its grievance is the blurring of distinctions between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, where democratic mores carry with it love for life, aspirations for individual happiness, and the replacement of the ubiquitous external threat (read: “the Great Satan”) with a popular insistence on domestic success.

If the world is to remain civilized, it must grasp what every free generation has learned: freedom is not free.

Radical Islam is an aggressor, yet the Hizbullah-Israel war is not its only front. The civilized world – ordinary Palestinians, Lebanese and Israelis included – must awaken to this reality because if the civilized world cannot defend its freedom, then it does not deserve it.


About the Author

Robert Tanenbaum is a J.D./M.A. candidate at American University’s Washington College of Law and School of International Service. He received his B.A. in History and Islamic Studies from Brandeis University in 2004.