There is a very dangerous dynamic interaction occurring between Western Civilization and the Islamic World which has not yet attained the level of a "Clash of Civilizations" but threatens to precipitate the catastrophe that so many fear. The dynamic is visible in the current war between Israel and Lebanon and deserves closer scrutiny.
All people understand the world through various templates or paradigms. Most of the time, we fit new data into our existing templates until the model breaks down in the face of reality. In Psychoanalysis, much of the work involves exposing and delineating the unconscious paradigms and templates through which our patients view the world. Psychoanalysts refer to such templates as "fantasies" and transference, and by exposing such fantasies, we help our patients make a closer approximation to reality and change their dysfunctional behavior, if they so desire.
In a very simple example, consider a women who, by virtue of experiences of childhood abuse, unconsciously equates abuse with love. When her significant other behaves in an abusive way, she needs to preserve her image of him as a loving boyfriend and thus has to find ways to see it as her fault; the abuse is deserved punishment. His abuse is then taken as evidence that he "really cares." This is an over-simplification, but makes the point that our unconscious fantasies can control our behavior, often in detrimental ways.
When someone believes that his fantasy is a direct and accurate depiction of reality, it can readily lead to misperceptions and place them in danger.
There is an analogous situation with national fantasies.
In a culture which uncritically believes its own fantasies about itself (national myths, for example) this can lead to dangerous miscalculations in international affairs. One national myth that we share in America is that we are a freedom loving and moral people. I believe this is largely true, but if we believe that everything we do is therefore moral and automatically advances freedom, we can easily run into difficulty. Overextending ourselves, leading people to believe we will support their desire for freedom when we cannot do so (consider the Shia of Iraq in 1991 or the Kurds who have been repeatedly disappointed) are just a couple of the risks that can emerge from such over-confident belief in our own mythology. Luckily, we have a highly critical and free press and a contentious political system which allows for self-correction when we begin to believe too much in our own press releases.
In the West, there is currently a powerful fantasy shared by a great many opinion makers, politicians, and members of the elites, that if we only want peace badly enough and are willing to talk to our opponents (there are no "enemies", only friends we haven't made yet), we will be able to achieve peace. According to these people, most often found on the left, there is almost never any justification for offensive, military action. Thus, the criticism of Israel, which even the left grudgingly acknowledges has the right to self defense, as being disproportionate in their response. We can expect this criticism to crescendo as the Israelis continue to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities and kill their enemies, combatants and non-combatants alike.
[The far left, who are convinced that Israel is an oppressor outpost of Western Imperialism, spouted not only by the Palestinians, but by such luminaries as the Daily Kos, Richard Cohen, and mainstream European politicians, are slowly becoming more and more marginalized by their evident inability to question their own fantasies.]
This leads to the danger that the West, by believing such fantasies, will prematurely force Israel to stop their offensive, and bring about a situation of false peace which includes the seeds of a greater catastrophe in the near future. This has been noted by a great many people including the current Administration.
The Arab World has an even more dangerous intersection of fantasy and character traits than the West. In an Honor-Shame culture, appearance matters much more than reality. In reality, Hezbollah (and Hamas) have only the ability to lob terror missiles into Israel; they can occasionally attack the Israeli military, cause terrible pain, and win some hostages, but until very recently they had a minimal ability to really damage the Jewish state. With longer range missiles and thousands of Katyushas and Qassams, the equation has changed. However, because they are somewhat inept, they have thus far failed to cause a devastating strike. Until they do, Israel will practice the restraint that the Arabs interpret as cowardice. The premature ceasefire I alluded to above, if and when it occurs, would then be seen as a great victory by the Arab World.
According to the MEMRI translation of Hassan Nasrallah's recent interview on Al Jazeera TV, this is the current Hezbollah plan: [All emphasis is mine-SW]
"Victory in this case does not mean that I will enter and conquer the north of Palestine, and liberate Nahariya, Haifa, and Tiberias. This is not one of our slogans. This is a long process, which pertains to the Palestinians and to the nation. This is another issue. The victory that we are talking about – If the resistance survives, this will be a victory. If its determination is not broken, this will be a victory. If Lebanon is not humiliated, if its honor and dignity remain intact, if Lebanon continues to face all alone the strongest military force in the region, and if it perseveres and refuses to accept any humiliating terms in the settlement of this issue – this will be a victory. If we are not militarily defeated, this will be a victory. As long as a single missile is launched from Lebanon to target the Zionists, as long as a single fighter fires his gun, as long as someone plants an explosive device for the Israelis, this means that the resistance still exists."
"For 23 years, we have been talking to our people, motivating them, talking about martyrdom, the honor of martyrdom, and the place of the martyrs. Do the Zionists, or those who encourage them, believe that I, or anyone in the Hizbullah leadership, fears martyrdom? We love martyrdom. We take precautions in order to prevent Israel from making any gains. But on the personal level, and as a personal aspiration, each and every one of us hopes to be destined to martyrdom at the hands of those people, the killers of the prophets and the messengers, and most hostile to the believers, as it says in the Koran."
When Israel left Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, this was considered a great victory for the "Resistance." The model they present is that anything short of genocidal destruction by the West is considered a great victory for Islam. Further, they consider their own fervent desire to commit genocide to be a sign of great faith and ultimate victory:
Gholam-Ali Haddad 'Adel: "The Palestinian refugees should return to the land of their forefathers, and you, who came to Palestine from other countries, should return to your homes too.
"Today is the day of the liberation of Palestine, and the day of resistance. As said by Hassan Nasrallah, this courageous, vigilant, and informed religious scholar, the war has just begun."
"We say to America, England, and the supporters of Israel in the West: You will not benefit from supporting Israel. You are earning the hostility of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, under the pretext of supporting a handful of Zionists, whom you brought and stuck, like a dagger, in the hearts of the Muslims in the Middle East."
Crowd: "No more humiliation.
"No more humiliation.
"No more humiliation."
Gholam-Ali Haddad 'Adel: "The Americans should know that as long as this festering growth remains in the body of the Islamic world, with their support, the Muslims will never, under any circumstances, cease to hate and to oppose America."
Crowd: "Allah Akbar.
Gholam-Ali Haddad 'Adel: "The Muslims throughout the world say: Stop your support for Israel, or else don't expect any kind of peace or reconciliation with the Islamic world."
Note the emphasis on humiliation. This is the mark of an Honor-Shame culture. Is their profession of hatred and rage hyperbole? It doesn't really matter because appearance becomes reality and the Arab dynamic is controlled by the most flamboyant, the most effusive, and the most florid. "Death to Jews, Death to America" are chants that we have heard for almost 30 years from the Middle East.
Here then is the problem:
If the West, in their surfeit of morality and diffidence, refrain from an overwhelming destruction of Hezbollah and Hamas, and refrain from killing multitudes of the enemy out of Western concepts of morality, the terrorists will convince themselves they have won. It is no good claiming they really know they have lost because that is not how it works. They will spout their bombast and convince all who see them (especially themselves) they are great warriors and have won a great victory over the "Little Satan", Israel. They will immediately begin restocking their weapons, while their patrons feverishly race to develop more and more lethal weapons of mass death. Ultimately, it only ends with the destruction of Israel and a second holocaust, which will consume them as well; if they are only partially successful but cause a great enough insult, the deaths and destruction of large swaths of the Arab and Persian Middle East will almost certainly follow even if a truncated Israel survives.
Dinocrat points to Lesson #2 in the big lessons needed to fight this war, a lesson currently being learned by the West:
Many in the West are to be forgiven for their slow pace in understanding the enemy, because it is an awful thing to contemplate. A Hezbollah leader said this 20 years ago about France and the US: “We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.” But it’s just so hard to put the ridiculous statement of some puny terrorist group into a context where it needs to be taken seriously.
But 20 years is a long time, and we have now seen a pretty undeniable trail of murder and mayhem with a single, highly identifiable source. This sea change has been particularly pronounced in the post 9-11 world — we note that the MSM have been particularly, and unintentionally, useful in shaping this new mindset through their Iraq reporting; though they use the reporting often to beat up the Bush administration, the non-stop atrocities illuminate, more than anything, just what kind of people are our enemy.
As we have written previously, therefore, Lesson #1 of who the enemy is has been pretty much accomplished — most people in the US understand now that the enemy claims specifically to represent Islam and wants to kill us or convert us, and rule us under sharia law. They are barbarians, and they will kill remorselessly in the most savage ways, as they do every day on TV. Those remaining unconcinced about who the enemy is are likely to remain unconvincable, perhaps up to and including a mushroom cloud with Ahmedinejad’s name on it — it’ll still be George Bush’s fault.
Lesson #2 is no less unpleasant than was Lesson #1. It involves facing an enemy for whom the word “civilian” has no meaning in the Western sense, and for whom the so-called rules of war do not apply. We have discussed this several times.
He notes that our short term kindness may cause a longer term disaster:
It is our view that current US and Western policies on warmaking, with their exquisite concerns for civilians, will actually result in far more civilians ultimately being killed. This is because such policies empower and reward the enemy, and encourage him to strap a baby to every Howitzer. However, the West has not passed a tipping point on this issue yet. But it will — the enemy will see to that. So for now, we’ll continue to watch as mass perceptions change. They did on Lesson #1, and they likely will on Lesson #2.
Captain Ed has also read the Nasrullah interview and notes the voluminous evidence that he (and the Islamists) have seriously misunderstood the situation:
Nasrallah complains that no one ever started a war over the abduction of two soldiers, but sovereign nations have rarely if ever committed such an act. That's the entire point, one Nasrallah missed entirely. Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran misunderstood the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a surrender to Islamofascist terrorism, one of the most spectacular cases of believing one's own press in recent history. [Emphasis mine-SW] Israel pulled back so that they could treat any provocations from Gaza as acts of war and to get Jews out of the line of fire. Had they truly understood the situation, the Islamists would have known that a border raid and abduction (and the deaths of eight other soldiers) would get a singularly harsh response.
The entire interview features Nasrallah as somewhat nonplussed that the Israelis would not understand that stealing soldiers is just a bargaining tactic for Islamists. Nasrallah and Lebanon just discovered that Israelis react to acts of war by conducting a real war in return. The clueless Nasrallah had better start learning something about his enemy before provoking any further responses.
The West has been learning their lessons but the World of Islam seems trapped in their fantasies; it paints a very sobering picture.
Update: Apparently I am in good company in raising these points. John Podhoretz today wonders if our regard for the lives of our enemies is crippling our ability to win this and any future wars:
What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?
If you can't imagine George W. Bush issuing such an order, is there any American leader you could imagine doing so?
And if America can't do it, can Israel? Could Israel - even hardy, strong, universally conscripted Israel - possibly stomach the bloodshed that would accompany the total destruction of Hezbollah?
If Lebanon's 300-plus civilian casualties are already rocking the world, what if it would take 10,000 civilian casualties to finish off Hezbollah? Could Israel inflict that kind of damage on Lebanon - not because of world opinion, but because of its own modern sensibilities and its understanding of the value of every human life?
Where do these questions lead us?
What if Israel's caution about casualties among its own soldiers and Lebanese civilians has demonstrated to Hezbollah and Hamas that as long as they can duck and cover when the missiles fly and the bombs fall, they can survive and possibly even thrive?
What if Israel has every capability of achieving its aim, but cannot unleash itself against a foe more dangerous, more unscrupulous, more unprincipled and more barbaric than even the monstrous leaders of the Intifada it managed to quell after years of suicide attacks?
And as for the United States, what if we have every tool at our disposal to win a war - every weapons system we could want manned by the most superbly trained military in history - except the ability to match or exceed our antagonists in ruthlessness?
Is this the horrifying paradox of 21st century warfare? If Israel and the United States cannot be defeated militarily in any conventional sense, have our foes discovered a new way to win? Are they seeking victory through demoralization alone - by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail?
Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization - its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all - is endangering the future of our civilization as well?
I agree with John Podhoretz, but only to a point. If our enemies score a gruesome enough "victory" (imagine one or two Beslans in suburban Washington, DC and New York, or a nuclear explosion taking out an American city) the demand for vengeance may (will?) overwhelm our scruples and truly unleash the "dogs of war." The combination of our moral diffidence and our enemies grandiose fantasies of victory makes such a horrific outcome more, not less, likely.