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Multiple choice
a) Israel b) Hezbollah c) Ignoring both d) None of the above / rejecting both

August 1, 2006

Yet another situation which is reminiscent of the war between Hitler and Stalin. Of course, back then, during World War II, these two sides didn't have a clear record so that people could understand their nature; but no one can suggest today that we don't know enough about these two sides. Therefore our positions are, hopefully, informed by this knowledge and based on a kind of future/goals that we hope to see in the region and by extension the world.

In the past few weeks, since the war began, we have seen four possible positions.

1) There are some who emphasize Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. They also keep telling us that Israel is the only democratic state in the region and therefore it should be supported. I do not agree with this position but I respect it.

2) There are those who emphasize the rights of Lebanese/Palestinian people to fight the occupiers and also emphasize the importance of limiting the power of Israel in the region. Some of the proponents of Hezbollah also remind us that what this Islamic movement is doing is in fact helping the whole region to fight new forms of colonialism. Once again, I do not agree with this position but I respect it.

3) Then we have those who will go on repeating general, superficial clichés about the situation without necessarily addressing difficult issues. Contrary to the first two groups who, because of their positions will have to face difficult questions and criticism, the third group of people is basically trying to avoid such problems by following the known and established discourses of soft criticism. (1)

By soft criticism I mean statements such as 'both sides should come back to the negotiating table', 'this war should come to an end', ... and similar *obvious* and yet useless statements. I do not respect this position mainly because there is nothing to agree or disagree with. I am sure we all remember the cartoon's affair. While many people took positions and the debate between opposing sides was actually quite informative, there were others (mainly in academic environments) who simply preached that 'both sides should calm down', or 'of course, the Danish publication should have paid attention not to offend religious sensitivity of Muslim people and of course Muslims should avoid violence while they are expressing their dissatisfaction... ' The same (kind of) people are now preaching Israel and Hezbollah to sit on the negotiating table and solve their problems through dialogues!

4) And then we have a fourth group who condemns both sides based on the fact that both sides have violated even the most fundamental rights of human beings. This is crucial because I believe the interconnected ideas of democracy and human rights create in fact the most significant and fundamental ground upon which we have to define our positions in relation to different issues. For example, in the case of Iran's nuclear issue, I believe we cannot accept the position of the American administration because it is clearly based on a double-standard approach (e.g., why Israel can have nuclear weapon but Iran cannot).

We cannot accept the position of the Islamic Republic because placing such weapons in the hands of those people is, to say the least, most irresponsible. In the nuclear debate therefore, the focus should be on one issue only: promoting democracy and defending human rights in Iran. In other words, if democratic institutions are established in Iran then I am sure Iranian people will manage to make a reasonable decision about their nuclear technology.

The least we can be certain about is that they won't develop nuclear weapon in order to establish and impose Islamic rules and laws over the region. Indeed, promoting democracy in Iran is the only chance we have to prevent the destruction of our country because sooner or later the current regime will succeed in initiating a regional confrontation. Fortunately, it seems that this idea of emphasizing democracy and promoting human rights is gaining ground at least among Iranian dissidents. The most recent example is Mr. Ganji who has decided to prioritize this issue over all other Iran-related issues.

But let's go back to the question of Israel and Hezbollah. What are the practical steps/ideas? To begin with, Hezbollah should be disarmed because in a democratic country no political party should be allowed to have its own army. It simply doesn't make sense. Hezbollah should also be criticized for conducting its activities from populated areas. I think we should even go further and discuss the relationship between Hezbollah's ideology and the way its approach to war. Obviously this is a difficult proposition because Hezbollah is the only group with some military capability to fight Israeli occupation but again this decision, too, should be made by the Lebanese people.

On the other side, Israel should be condemned for its violation of the most fundamental rights of human beings, namely its disrespect for human life. Here, too, the approach of the Israeli government to war (which has produced many instances of war crimes) should be understood in relation to its strategic goals in the region. The crucial point in this process is to define this neither-nor position in such a way that the criticism/rejection of one side cannot be used by the other side. This is indeed what is missing in the position of the group number 3, mentioned above.

Of course, I am not sure if defining our position will necessarily lead to any tangible change on the ground but then again, who knows, if those who believe in these long term goals (promoting democracy and defending human rights) put their energies together, maybe in a future we can hope for a better Middle East. One thing is certain though; so far other efforts and approaches have not been that successful.

Incidentally, this was the type of intellectuals and intellectualism I was talking about when I wrote, a few weeks ago, about a new book called *Let me Tell you* I am not going to continue that discussion mainly because I don't think anything new will be added to the debate; but just a few clarifications in this footnote.

1) Some people wrote in response that the book has literary value and I did not take that into account. I don't consider myself a literature specialist and I believe this book could have literary value. But this is not relevant; my point had nothing to do with literature.

2) I still believe that the voices of Iranian women who were tortured for many years and some of them lived to write about their experience deserve to be heard. Do we really consider their *true* stories not to have any literary value and that is why they are ignored?

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