The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Who Are the Radicals? Hamas, or America?

Had a conversation with a friend who kept insisting Hamas are radicals because they pay suicide bombers to kill people and engage in propaganda.

Personally I’ve never understood why people get so upset by suicide attacks when bombs dropped from airplanes kill far more people.

I guess Americans are radicals, since they spend billions of dollars funding people to blow up other people and Americans have killed a ton more people in the last eight years than Hamas has.  Heck, Hamas isn’t even in contention, it’s apparently orders of magnitudes less radical than America.

I just don’t get it.  I really really don’t get why people get so caught up on the form of things, rather than the end effects.

I have no idea what the word radical means, I guess.  Perhaps it means”they don’t kill people in the ways we approve of, and they believe in a different religion than us”.  Or something.  I just don’t know.

But if funding people to kill other people is the metric, well then, Hamas are hardly radicals at all compared to most governments in the world.  Pikers, in fact.

As for propaganda, they’re just not very sophisticated.  American propaganda is far better and far more pervasive.  How many Americans thought Iraq was behind 9/11?  How many do today?  Without even having to use Mickey Mouse.

Propaganda makes you radical?

Welcome to the Radical States of America – which funds more murders and engages in more propaganda than Hamas could ever hope to.

And without even as much justification.  What did Iraq do to America compared to what Israel has done to Palestinians?


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  1. Eureka Springs

    Oh Ian, The U.S. is supreme in it’s cowardice. How about sitting in Virginia operating a drone bombing mission via a computer half way around the world? And if conducting torture isn’t an ultimate example of cowardice, then I don’t know what Dick (5 deferment) Cheney is.

  2. adrena

    Is this “The down is up and the up is down” theory, or something? 🙂

  3. Jim

    This is a very interesting question.

    When I was a union organizer I was called a radical.
    When we opposed the Viet Nam War we were called radicals.

    When we supported civil rights we were called radicals.
    If you want to protect the environment you are called a radical.
    If you support single payer universal health care some people call you a radical or a socialist.
    People have called me a socialist or a communist because I support cutting the military budget to help pay for universal health care, social security, free college education, etc.

    If you don’t understand class interests, the word radical is a very subjective notion. Any grouping can call any other grouping “radical;” anyone with one idea can call someone with a different opinion “radical.” There are folks accusing each other, in the USA, of being “radical right” as well as “radical left.” Is Hamas radical or is US foreign policy radical? However, if you do include class interests in the analysis, you can make a more objective evaluation. Based on your own class interests, which, if any, of these groupings are acting in your interest and which are not? Or, even more specific, which actions (bombings, wars, undeclared wars, attacks on social security) benefit your interests, your class interests?

  4. Ian Welsh

    Nope, this is the Inigo Montoya “You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means” post. Or to put it another way: it’s hard to come up with a definition for radical or terrorist which doesn’t include the US and Israel. Unless you just say “radical means “our enemies””.

  5. Bolo

    Our culture is up to its eyeballs in propaganda. So much so that when I try to explain what you just said in this post to people, 99.9% stare at me like I have two heads. Ok, I just pulled that percentage out of my butt. However, it’s pretty close. 🙂 I’ve stopped trying at this point.

    This has been happening more and more lately, to the point where I’m avoiding political discussions now. Hell, Obama just spoke at my current school (ASU) and I’m in a program here that you would think would be on the more “Left” side of things–and I really can’t talk politics with many people here because they worship the ground he walks on. When you’re arguing with people who think that sending more troops to Afghanistan represents “change” you can’t even get near to putting our country into some actual perspective. There’s just no good reference point within the mainstream culture.

  6. Tallifer

    I have always understood the proper meaning of radical in the political sense to be “attacking the roots of a problem.” In the sense of the radicals of English Civil War who wanted to tear up the episcopacy (and if necessary the accompanying monarchical order)”root and branch.”

    Therefore, radical to me means that which is against the powers that be. Hamas then truly is radical. The American government and military are tyrannical, abusing their power.

    When I was an undergraduate student, I proudly considered myself a radical. Indeed we all dreamed about the revolution, which is the essence of radicalism.

  7. senecal

    Agree with Tallifer. Radical means getting to the roots, overthrowing the superstructure. Anyone desiring to change the existing system is radical. Neither the US nor Israel is radical in this sense.
    Terrorist, on the other hand, means anyone who uses indiscriminate violence against civilians in order to achieve political goals. Both the US and Israel are terrorist in this sense, by orders of magnitude greater than Hamas or Hizbollah.

  8. jbaspen

    Americans have to conjure up a way to transform a Foriegn Policy that aims to steal other People’s stuff using green pieces of paper; while we indulge the paranoid fantasies of our Likud-nut “allies”. And, we desperately need the help of progressive Jewry – the Glenn Greenwalds, Bernie Sanders, even (now) the Joe Kleins. The brutal, withering, vituperative attacks on those who simply suggest that the Palestinians have been on the receiving end of Israeli injustice is sickening. Witness the brave Cynthia McKinney. Her demise is not lost on the American political class, most of which consider Moral Courage an oxymoron anyway.

  9. Tallifer

    The United States as a terrorist state is an interesting, if exaggerated idea. Consider the world’s first terrorist empire, the Assyrians, who would massacre all the males of a resisting city or would exile an entire city’s population to another part of their empire. All to encourage other neighbours to surrender and to discourage their conquests from revolting.

    If we compare the warfare of the United States to any other warring power throuighout history, we see that the Americans are in no way exceptionally bad. It is a simple truth that war brings little good and much evil. However, the hypocrisy of the United States and their allies is indeed galling to the left, considering the terrorism practiced or fostered by them in Latin America and of course Vietnam.

    Another interesting window into the American mind is the widespread use of torture to obtain information and coincidentally revenge in many television shows and movies: Supernatural, 24, various crime shows. Not long ago, such situations were presented as dilemnas for the characters to resolve in favour of rectitude and duty, common humanity and justice: now they suffer some brief angst and proceed to violate all decency.

  10. JustPlainDave

    I think you might want to examine the statistics behind this statement in greater detail:

    Personally I’ve never understood why people get so upset by suicide attacks when bombs dropped from airplanes kill far more people.”

    We’ve recently seen two major theatres where the two strategies have been pursued extensively (Afghanistan and Iraq). In both the death toll from suicide attacks has broadly tended to be quite comparable to the death toll from air attacks (and not infrequently has greatly exceeded it).

    As to the definition of “radicalism” part of it is indeed that “the other” does use different methodologies for killing, but a great deal of it also has to do with different definitions of what or who is considered to be a legitimate target, the type of military benefit expected from a given attack, what constitutes collateral damage and how much collateral is considered excessive.

  11. Jim

    Tallifer says, “Indeed we all dreamed about the revolution, which is the essence of radicalism.” Yes and no?

    Both sides of the fence, so to speak, must respond to the current economic crisis. From my side of the fence, the unprecedented transfer of wealth from the public sector to the private sector is “radical;” that is, way out of any bounds of reason. From their side of fence, this transfer of wealth is reasonable and must take place to try and save capitalism. From their side of the fence, transferring wealth from the military budget to pay for universal health care would be very “radical;” a crazy and fiscally unsound policy and a political mistake. I guess what I am trying to say is that both sides of the fence can appear very revolutionary (radical) to the other. My question is, “Can both the ruling class and working class be radical and revolutionary? “

  12. senecal

    “Can both the ruling class and working class be radical and revolutionary?” (Jim)

    Interesting thought! If there were some great catastrophe, wiping out all but forty or fifty human beings in some area, and half were owners and half workers, you can bet they would quickly learn to cooperate, for the sake of survival. Now, when and why does this simplistic situation change into one where people have sorted themselves into separate classes, with different work and different remuneration?

    We in America are indoctrinated to believe that our survival and well-being is heavily dependant on the energy and drive of the entrepreneur class, and social life is merely a Darwinian terrain where the fittest survive. When the factory worker stands next to his supervisor in the unemployment line, maybe that will change.

  13. Ian Welsh

    I’d say Tallifer nails it on what radicalism really means. What I found interesting in my conversation (which involved a large number of bloggers) was that no one made that argument, instead Hamas was radical because they did X – kill with suicide bombs and use propaganda, which struck me as absurd

    With respect to JPD’s comment, my understanding is that suicide bombing in Iraq did indeed exceed air attack casualties for a time, I’m not so sure about Afghanistan. Of course, I’m rather suspicious of civilian casualty figures in Iraq, which tended to be exaggerated for the insurgency and massively understated for the coalition. In Palestine and Israel, of course, suicide bombings were never nearly as successful at killing Israelis as Israelis were at killing Palestinians.

    The larger point is simpler, however – the US and Hamas both kill for political reasons, as does the Taliban, Pakistan and so on. None of them show all that much concern with civilian casualties, and I really have never understood why it’s so much better to be killed by a bomb dropped from a plane as opposed to one strapped to a person. There’s a reason why pilots carry pistols, and it isn’t to defend themselves, you know. Russian pilots in their Afghan war knew very well that that pistol was meant to be used on themselves, if they got shot down.

    Same with propaganda. Everyone uses it, and America is far better at it than Hamas.

    Of course every nation has committed atrocities in war time. But as Tallifer points out, there was a time, not so long ago, when that was considered regrettable by Americans and when true Americans heroes were portrayed as not committing atrocities. No longer. To me what is shocking about American torture is not that it happened, but that we have a public debate about whether it’s acceptable and that, depending on how the question is asked, half or slightly more of Americans think it is.

    The fact that the debate is occurring at all is the damning thing.

  14. JustPlainDave

    The relevant statistics for 2008 (the most recent available) per UNAMA are:
    552 civilian fatalities due to airstrikes
    725 civilian fatalities due to suicide bombs and other IEDs, with approximately 70% of fatalities due to suicide attacks

    I do not believe that it is possible to gain particularly great insight into the differences between radical and conservative orientations in the context of military conflict by looking only at the by products. Military conflict sponsored by adherents of all orientations causes civilian casualties – such casualties are inherent to conflict – the context in which these casualties are incurred matters a great deal.

    When HAMAS sponsors a suicide bomber to walk into a pizza parlour and detonate, the context is greatly different from the US dropping a bomb on the same pizza parlour in a number of important ways. In the HAMAS scenario Israeli civilians are themselves the target of the attack – killing these civilians is the anticipated tangible military benefit and the more of them are killed, the more successful (and defensible) the attack is judged to be. In the US scenario, to justify the attack, some other tangible military benefit must be anticipated (e.g., destruction of a threatening enemy anti-air system parked next door to the pizza parlour) and the more civilians are killed, the less successful (and less defensible) the attack is considered to be. Relatedly, in order to be considered potential collateral damage, in the HAMAS scenario the civilians must fall into particular categories of “civilianness” (e.g., to be Muslim or clearly not be supporting the occupying power in some way) whereas in the US scenario, their civilian status alone protects them in judgments around proportionality.

  15. John Sears

    I think JustPlainDave makes the mistake of taking at face value the ‘concern’ exhibited for civilian casualties by the US military/government after one of their bombing runs gets bad press.

    We simply have different methods for obtaining results (or the hope of results, at any rate) than Hamas. Whereas Hamas might send a suicide bomber into a pizza parlor in order to inflict a certain amount of pain and suffering directly upon a population, thus (they hope) leading to political leverage, the United States inflicts its collective punishment somewhat more obliquely. They blow up a restaurant; we destroy the power plants, roads, bridges and water treatment. Who, in the end, causes more death?

    Our method has the advantage of deniability. It’s easy to count bodies, compared with calculating death from increased disease, undrinkable water and starvation. Look at the treatment of the Lancet study on increased Iraqi mortality, and how easily it was dismissed, to get an idea of the PR value of killing your civilians a step removed.

    Still, when we find it expedient to kill people directly, just like Hamas, we do so.
    Though, he calculation doesn’t go along the lines of ‘US finds Objective X, Calculates Value of Destroying X, Subtracts Civilian Losses Y, then if still positive, Proceed with Bombing”

    It’s more along the lines of “Find Objective X, Destroy X , Recalculate Civilian Losses Y to be Less than X, Proceed With Campaign”.

    Just look at the Pentagon’s reaction to their outright slaughter of over a hundred civilians at the start of May: they spun an elaborate, fantastic conspiracy theory involving the Taliban, grenades and pickup trucks. Never mind that the Red Cross was on the scene and said these people died from US bombs; they only had to muddy the waters long enough for the press to find another story, and the *perceived* value of Y dropped, for Americans, to zero. Poof. Another successful strike.

    I’m not sure how Hamas is more ‘radical’. They definitely value the lives of their victims, if only as political capital. We negate the existence of ours using cable news and anonymous sources. If anything I find that more disturbing.

  16. JustPlainDave

    The desired results are quite significantly different. Civilian Israeli casualties help support the HAMAS strategy in the eyes of their key constituency (i.e., their supporters). About the only way that it doesn’t help them in the eyes of that constituency is if they kill truly disproportionate numbers using horrific methods – given what is considered to be justified by the historical excesses of the IDF it’s very unlikely that they could begin to approach the requisite number with their capabilities. Conversely, civilian Afghan casualties [for example] can only hurt the American strategy in the eyes of their key constituencies – even if they had been extremely minimal. Your antipathy towards them, as well as that of the Karzai government and the Afghan populace are ample demonstration.

  17. Ian Welsh

    I wonder. Bush’s key constituencies didn’t mind Iraqi casualties much. Obama’s do, but it doesn’t seem to effect his decision making, at least so far.

    And the majority of Israelis clearly don’t care about Palestinian civilian casualties.

  18. JustPlainDave

    However, the US is affected by the views of more constituencies than just the narrowly defined domestic political constituency. For example, “host” governments constitute one, their citizenry at least one, international security and economic partners another, etc. In fact, I would argue that the notion that HAMAS is affected by the views of fewer constituencies is a enabler or even a driver of their comparative “radicalism”.

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