The philosopher David Selbourne says that Israel’s battle with Hezbollah is a microcosm of a worldwide struggle. While the West is in moral crisis, Islam is seizing its chance to become the Church Militant of the 21st century
Truth is generally the first casualty in war. On the battlefields of the Middle East, especially when Israel is involved, Reason also has a hard time of it. For neither Israel nor the Jews are seen — whether by themselves, by their friends, or by their foes — as a nation and a people like others.
One form of irrationality, shared by (some) evangelical Christians and (some) Jews, has it that Israel is the ‘Zion’ of prophecy, part of God’s plan, with its borders fixed for eternity by the Almighty. A contrary irrationality denies Israel’s right to exist, or regards Israel as not a nation at all. In the words of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in April 2000, it is merely a ‘cancerous body in the region’. Or, according to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’, speaking last Sunday — and breaking new medical ground — Israel is an ‘infectious tumour for the entire Islamic world’.
Even the lesser irrationalities on the subject of Israel disturb. It is smaller in area than Sardinia or Wales, with only half the population of Mexico City, but its potency, like that of the allegedly world-conquering Jews themselves, is inflated to an inordinate degree. Conversely, the notion that Israel is presently engaged in ‘a fight for its very existence’ is an equally irrational assertion. With its formidable military arsenal, and armed forces which can easily outgun its local foes, it is not, or not yet, in such danger. But similarly irrational is Israel’s vow to ‘destroy Hezbollah’. The right arm of the advancing power of Iran, the so-called ‘Party of God’, cannot now be ‘destroyed’.
Nevertheless, unreason, whether it be Islam’s or Judaeo–Christianity’s, has its uses. One man’s ‘tumour’ may be another’s ‘Promised Land’, yet such beliefs serve both in their Manichean ordering of the world — a world of darkness and light, good and evil, which overrides the true complexity of things. It is the same kind of simplistic ordering which the concept of the ‘bourgeois’ and ‘proletarian’ provided, once upon a time, to the Marxist; and the same kind of ordering which, for today’s Islamofascist, makes Muslims and ‘infidels’ into two near-distinct human species. It is a distinction comparable with that made by Nazism between ‘Aryans’ and the inferior races, Jews chief among them.
In the latest outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East, as Israeli forces strike Beirut and southern Lebanon on one side, and Hezbollah’s missiles target Haifa and various Israeli townships on the other, calls for ‘diplomacy’ and a ‘negotiated settlement’ between the combatants are also less rational or practical than they may seem. So too are proposals for the ‘deployment of peacekeepers’ and the stationing of ‘buffer forces’ in southern Lebanon and Gaza. For the desire to see Israel extinguished on the one hand, and on the other the declaration by Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, that there are ‘moments in the life of a nation when it is compelled to say “No more”’, are not reconcilable: a truce can be only temporary.
Similarly, between Nasrallah’s assertion in October 2002 that if the Jews ‘all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide’, and Olmert’s assertion that ‘only a nation which can protect its freedom deserves it’, there is no possibility of finding a genuine or lasting via media. Moreover the parties themselves know it. They have known it for decades — Camp David, ‘road maps’ and all the other ‘initiatives’ notwithstanding.
Despite the heat and harm-doing of the present local warfare, the battlefront in the Levant is merely one front, and a minor front at that, in the wider conflict between the Islamic and the non-Muslim worlds. Moreover, the time for serious diplomacy and dialogue between the Muslim and the kafir has not yet come. Indeed, it may never come until one or other of the forces in this war of the worlds — a war now being fought, with differing degrees of intensity and in different ways, from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa, from the Caucasus to Kashmir, from Nigeria to Xinjiang, and from the Levant to South-East Asia — has finally been vanquished.
The arguments for ‘diplomacy’ in the Middle East are also not what they seem, since most of them stem not from the dictates of reason but from the geopolitical interests of rival powers, each in pursuit of its own ends. In the current flare-up, the US, Russia, France and Iran — but not Britain, since it has no foreign policy worth the name — all have distinct purposes in mind. For the struggle in the western Mediterranean is a war of position as well as of arms; so too with the conflicts in Chechnya, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.
The combatants in each theatre of this near-global combat are fighting, by definition, for more than local causes. The US, weakened by divisions at home comparable with those during the Vietnam war, and poorly led, thus finds in Israel a useful instrument for the hoped-for imposition of a pax Americana upon Syria. Iran, a growing threat to Arab nations in the region as well as to the non-Muslim world, is likewise benefiting politically from the belligerence of its proxy Hezbollah, and from the fears in the infidel’s heart which it engenders on Iran’s behalf. As for Russia and France, they have their own historic relations with Lebanon and Syria, and their own interests in thwarting US hegemony wherever they can, and at whatever cost to the fortunes of ostensible allies in this vast war.
Above all, the weapons aimed at Israel are not merely the Katyusha, the Raad 2 and 3, the Iranian Fajr and the Zelzal. Rather, they are the weapons of the Ummah — the community of resurgent Islam, the Church Militant of the 21st century — weapons which are now deployed across the globe. Or, as Hezbollah’s leader put it last weekend, ‘Hezbollah is not fighting a battle for Hezbollah, or even for Lebanon. We are now fighting a battle for the [Islamic] nation.’ Even allowing for the self-inflaming fever of Muslim rhetoric, with its language of blood, fire and sword, Nasrallah’s assertion dwarfs all others, despite the (apparent) disowning of such rhetoric by ‘moderate Muslims’.
Indeed, it makes no great odds from a larger and longer perspective that Israel is bombing Beirut, or that it thinks it has set its own conditions for a ceasefire. It makes no great odds, either, that the Arab League has declared the bogus ‘peace process’ at an end; or that the Spanish Prime Minister, speaking for tens of millions across the non-Muslim world, has repeated the tired mantra that Israel’s current offensive is ‘fuelling fanaticism’, as if inaction in war were the better part of valour.
Instead, the greater truth — as the confidence of Nasrallah and of other fire-breathing ‘clerics’ in Islam makes clear — is that the advance of the ‘Islamic nation’ has got the non-Muslim world, and above all the United States, in growing trouble. Anti-Americans, who can be numbered in tens of millions in Western Europe alone, cheer the fact that America’s interests and purposes in the world are facing ever harder times. The forces which oppose its interests and purposes, including within the US itself, include ‘liberals’ and ‘leftists’, radical Islamists and their non-Muslim sympathisers, and the massed ranks of common-or-garden anti-Yankees who see the US as the root of all evil.
In relation to this largest of all truths — that America itself is on the ropes — particular or local conflicts in the war with Islam are merely elements in the immense crisis which faces the West as a whole. It is the present condition of the US to which the closest attention should therefore be paid. It is a condition of increasing bewilderment and internal division, often bordering on mutual hatred and reciprocated paranoia, among its political elite, its competing ‘experts’ on Islam, its media and its general population. The divisions within the Republican and Democrat parties, and the bitter differences over which way the US should turn, are expressions not merely of the normal political disagreements in a democracy, but of profound national disarray.
For America’s leaders themselves are unable to decide who and what they are fighting — whether it is Islam, ‘Islamic radicalism’ or ‘terror’. They are equally uncertain whether the security of the nation is a higher priority than safeguarding the rights of the individual; uncertain whether the ‘democratisation’ of the Arab and Muslim worlds is or is not a viable undertaking; uncertain, and for good reason, whether their notional allies in Europe are or are not to be relied upon; uncertain, for even better reason, whether ostensible ‘friends’ in the Muslim world, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Gulf sheikhdoms, are or are not wolves in sheep’s clothing.
In consequence, it is the American ‘don’t knows’, the unsure, who are the most numerous in the prevailing confusion. The US is a nation at war but one which has lost its sense of direction, and which is therefore at war with itself. In contrast, Islam’s new-found sense of purpose, in its third great historical advance, increases with each new conflict that its jihadist ethic and strategy provoke. This is so, whether such conflict is conducted with battlefield armaments or by means of ever-widening Muslim claims — legal, cultural, political and other — upon the societies in which their diasporas are found throughout the world.
In these diasporas, the strengths of Islam are variously obnoxious to the racist, the hedonist and the libertarian. But these strengths are likely to be increasingly vindicated as the moral crisis of the ‘free society’ deepens. Indeed, it is hardly to be expected that the United States, any more than other Western liberal democracies, will come to terms with the fact that the ‘free market’ and the ‘right to choose’ have not got the beating of the Koran and the Muslim ethical code.
Those who retain a faith in the ‘force of reason’ may wish it otherwise. Yet just as unreason plainly marks many aspects of the creed of Islam, so it also vitiates the cause of the non-Muslim world. Among the latter’s irrationalities is the myopic belief — held by the non-Muslim Israelophobe and the firebreathing Islamist together — that Israel, the ‘Jewish lobby’ in the US and the actions of Jews in general stand at the heart of this third world war. This belief, akin to that of the Nazis in the second world war, is of the greatest significance in one respect above all; indeed, it could be said to be the West’s Achilles heel. For it is a belief which permits, and even invites, Islamists to play (to their own advantage) upon a favourite prejudice of non-Muslims of all political persuasions. With the other moral debilities that afflict us, it makes it more likely that this war with Islam will ultimately be lost.
David Selbourne’s latest book, The Losing Battle With Islam, was published in the United States by Prometheus Books in November 2005.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated July 22, 2006