Ideas & Philosophy Middle East — 26 July 2006

Living in Britain and watching events of the latest Middle East crisis unfold, it is easy to believe that Israel is justified in neutralising Hizbollah and that fundamentalist militant Islamic groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas are preventing the achievement of a real peace between Jews and Arabs.

This type of perception is in complete contrast with the narrative used by most Arabs and Muslims both in Britain and throughout the Islamic world to interpret the same events. The Muslim narrative characterises Israel as a terrorist state: a state that forcibly occupied Muslim lands; that for decades has been routinely killing and oppressing Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank; when fighting makes no distinction between civilians and militants and that has demonstrated no interest in giving the Palestinians a real meaningful state.Even the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is seen to have created nothing more than the world’s largest prison in which prisoners can be assassinated at will by the Israel army.

In contrast, many Muslims and Arabs have a favourable view of Hizbollah. The only group who can claim to have defeated the Israeli army and led it to withdraw from their occupation of Lebanon. The killing and capture of Israel soldiers that Israel claims was the trigger for the latest crisis, is seen by many as completely justified in order to use the captured soldiers as exchange for some of the many hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli administrative detention. And given the scale and severity of Israeli attacks on Lebanon’s cities, villages and infrastructure, many will also support Hizbollah’s firing of rockets into Israeli cities as a justified form of retaliation.

Whilst many in the West may question why Hizbollah needs to arm itself and operate independently of the Lebanese army, in the contrasting Muslim narrative, the latest Israel military action will fully justify in the minds of many Arabs the need for an armed independent force such as Hizbollah that is capable and willing to stand up to the Israel army; the argument that many Western inclined Lebanese politicians made was that Hizbollah should disarm because Western nations would help to protect Lebanon. A notion which is now seen to be completely flawed. Many will see Hizbollah as a group who can and do stand up to the Israel military, whilst the remaining Arab rulers look on and make excuses to their people that they are not strong enough to militarily challenge Israel.

If Western nations fail to recognise in their policies that there is a completely different narrative operating amongst Muslim peoples, then they are laying the ground for future conflicts in the Middle East, and the next generation of Jihadi groups. By not calling for an immediate ceasefire, and allowing Israel to systematically neutralise Hizbollah, many Muslims will come to the view that Western nations value Muslim and Arab lives less than Jewish or Western lives, that killing civilians is acceptable, provided they are Arab.

If anything the latest crisis in the Middle East will accelerate the trend that has been taking place amongst the Arab and Muslim peoples over the last few decades that is to support Islamic groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah. The reason cited is that they do not carry the legacy of failure and corruption that characterises the existing Muslim rulers and are prepared to challenge the existing order of the Middle East.

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