A recent article I seeded about the Israel-Hezbollah conflict drew quite a remarkable chorus of voices, many of them outraged that I would dare to seed an article which was sympathetic to the Hezbollah viewpoint. In preparing to seed the link, it had certainly occurred to me that there would be debate, and yet I found myself rather unprepared for the hatred and prejudice which quickly boiled to the surface.
Obviously, this war is something which people feel strongly about. Why we feel compelled to take sides, however, is another question. Looking at the history of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, it is easy to see that both sides have repeatedly attacked the other. Both sides have contributed to the situation which is currently unfolding. There are plenty of arguments sympathizing with Israel’s long, uphill struggle to merely exist. There are also arguments supporting Hezbollah’s claims that Lebanon has been terrorized by Israel. The fighting in the Middle East over Israel has gone on for most of a century, and there is no quick, comprehensive study guide which can explain the layers and layers of perfectly reasonable distrust on all sides of the issue.
Why, then, the hatred? Particularly in the West, where we are distanced from this battle and could be expected to take a careful, dispassionate view of it? Why, here in the United States especially, has violence become the only language we feel is viable as a solution to international problems?
I suspect there are several answers to these questions. A large part of the solution undoubtedly lies in the role of our governments and corporate media, both of which consistently assure us that there is, in fact, a “right” side and a “wrong” side in this conflict, as in all others in the world. There’s war, so there must be clear good and bad. We, as humans, want this to be the case. Holding a middle ground is not easy, and is not an easy place to attach emotional impetus. It’s hard to feel passionately about not taking sides.
Much of the hatred I hear seems to come from people who respond to any sympathy for the Lebanese people with some version of how they had it coming, after kidnapping those Israeli soldiers, or conversely from those who claim Hezbollah is merely defending their territory from the tyrannical Israeli state. This completely ignores the history of aggression and counter-aggression between these nations. The conflict there is long and complicated, and perhaps part of the problem is our “Cliff Notes” mentality, which wants a brief summary and a clear conclusion. This, our government is happy to supply, running back just a year or two and pointing the finger in big, bold text at the evil terrorists.
Which begs the question: Why does the U.S. government engage in a campaign of marketing hatred? Israel has been a useful friend to have, a toe-hold in the generally antagonistic Middle East, where so many of our economic interests lie. Perhaps more importantly, they are a government fighting “terrorists”…and the U.S. government has done well with its marketing campaign based on hating terrorists. Standing staunchly behind Israel in this conflict strengthens our argument that terrorists are everywhere. It reinforces the idea that terrorists do bad things all the time, and therefore we must be ever vigilant. In short, it gives the U.S. government more emotional clout to put behind their questionable policies, both at home and worldwide.
This also answers the question of why the citizenry of the United States has decided to take sides in this convoluted conflict. We view each action taken in their conflict as an extension of our own. If we are supporting the War on Terror, we must support it everywhere. But we are ripe targets for the marketing of hatred if we need it to support our decisions. We have, effectively, become junkies, caught up in a cycle of hatred and intolerance which we use to quell our doubts and fuel our sense of moral rectitude. Any conflict anywhere in the world that could be construed to involve terrorists, or at least Islam, on one side of it provides us with our next fix.
In order to break this cycle, we mustn’t be afraid to examine our own ideology and admit flaws. Whatever you believe is based on a certain amount of assumption, and in a “civilized” culture where marketing is so pervasive as to be subliminal, even when it’s right out in front of you, we must learn to question all our assumptions. There is no emotional security in this policy, there is not absoloute truth on which to rest your head. There is, however, freedom. And freedom is what everyone is supposedly fighting for.