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Trading One Myth for Another

January 8, 2009

Gideon Lichfield, who apparently works for The Economist, just published this opinion piece in the New York Times. He writes:

Israeli leaders say often that the result will be to “re-establish deterrence” against Hamas, and by extension against Hezbollah and others. This harks back to the glory days when Israel defeated three Arab armies in 1967 and fought off surprise attacks from Egypt and Syria in 1973. The trouble is that “deterrence” does not exist.

Why isn’t deterrence a reasonable goal in this situation? Because Israel is fighting “guerrillas,” not nation-states like Egypt and Syria; guerrillas can’t be deterred by the sort of battle currently being waged, apart from their complete annihilation. If anything, this sort of onslaught is likely to shift public sentiment in favor of the guerrillas, ultimately making the loss of the siege a victory of another sort.

So the myth Lichfield wants us to abandon is the myth that this siege will result in deterrence. Sounds good to me. If that was all he had said, I’d have been happy.

Unfortunately, in the course of making his argument Lichfield rhetorically conflates “guerrillas” with “Hamas.” Now, there’s no doubt that many of the guerrillas in Gaza who’ve fired rockets into Israel might well be affiliated—directly or indirectly—with Hamas. But to simply equate the two, especially when Hamas is the governing party, is to suggest that the Palestine is a state ruled by guerrillas. However, last I checked, Palestine was a democracy, not a guerrilla state.

This sort of rhetorical sliding from “guerrilla” to “Hamas” and back again reinforces the idea that Hamas, the Palestinian government, and possibly everyone who works for the government are guerrillas. This goes a long way toward justifying the myth currently circulating in the news, and thoroughly discussed in depth at The Heathlander: apparently everyone in Gaza except women and children are combatants, and therefore fair game for killing.

J. Z. Smith and Russell McCutcheon are right to insist on the significance and power of taxonomies. If we can label our targets as “guerrillas” or “terrorists” or “combatants,” as opposed to “civilians,” then we won’t need to feel any remorse as they bleed to death.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 8, 2009 10:25 pm

    They must consider women and children combatants because at least a third of the victims are from this group.

    It is a bit amusing to hear people intellectualise about this invasion: is there really any rationale that can justify this type of slaughter? Those who try, it seems to me, only look foolish to those they are trying to convince. But then most in this group don’t care to convince anyone: they are right from their point of view and will use reason like a two dollar whore to rationalise their ‘rightness’ and violence.

    It’s very sad.

    Thanks for your interesting blog on this.


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