A LOVE POEM
24 July 2006
Some readers of my open letter to Amos Oz have been posing questions to me regarding how to deal with a group that calls for the destruction of Israel. They tell me they are sick of Israel being described by the Left as inherently evil.
I do not believe there is “inherent evil” in Israel, not in its government, not in the IDF, and most certainly not in Israeli civilians. Nor do I believe there is inherent evil in Hizbullah or in Hamas. But evil has a way of growing, even if that was not the intent of seeds that were planted. One of the most powerful lessons for me in anti-racist work has been that you do not need racist intentions to have racism when it is built into the system. The same is true for colonialism. There is a system that has been set up. And we can look long and hard at how it got there, what actions people took, what intentions they did or did not have, but regardless of the answers we come up with, the fact remains that the system is there. Calls for the destruction of Israel pain me. Deeply. Calls for the destruction of Israeli colonialism, however, can not be loud enough.
Readers have asked me: “How can war be avoided? Walking away from a confrontation is not a ready option because, as we have learned, the attacks will return and the arming will continue unabated. Should Israel show further weakness by not responding again?”
I answer: no, Israel should not walk away from confrontation. Israel should respond, but if it really seeks to avoid war, it needs to take seriously the question of why there are people that want to destroy it. It needs to take many actions that go much, much further than the nature of the recent Gaza withdrawal, it needs to commit to decolonization. This, I believe, is the only response that will ensure its long-term survival as well as the long-term survival of its neighbors.
But the response from readers I have been struggling with the most is the insistence that one must criticize Hizbullah and Hamas with every breath that also criticizes Israel and the U.S. I have written a piece that tries to explain my resistance to this request. I hope you understand.
Love Poem for Hizbullah from a Non-Violence Lover
Some of my friends who trust my politics and believe in my soul have been approaching me cautiously lately. In nervous whispers they put a question mark at the end of what should be a statement: “You wrote that you’re learning to have hope in Hizbullah?” The question mark begs me to take it back, to brush it off as a moment of hotheadedness, to please, PLEASE remove it from my blog. But I replace the question mark with a period, repeating, yes, I’m learning to have hope in Hizbullah. The lectures begin. Reminding me of my commitment to non-violence. Appealing to my sense of pragmatism: “Cecilia, you will never get anyone to listen to you by using such inflammatory language.” I wonder, how is it that we have learned how to muster up so much more outrage for inflammatory language than for the flames burning where people used to be? Yes, I am learning to have hope in Hizbullah and it is just that: a learning process. And an un-learning process. Because the inflammatory language of “terrorist” — even for someone like me who has an ingrained reaction of “who’s causing the most terror here?” — has burned its way into my psyche, its dehumanizing smoke filling my ears and blinding my eyes.
The un/learning has not been made easy. My question-mark friends are frustrated by my increasing unwillingness to decry Hizbullah and Hamas each time I open my mouth about Israel and the United States. I, too, am frustrated. Frustrated by the insistence on symmetry where there is none, frustrated by terms that oversimplify like “cycles of violence,” frustrated by my own tendency to retreat into these terms when the question-marks pry at me.
But I am making progress, seeking and finding new information, clearing some of the smoke. I am coming to terms with something that I’ve tried to deny, something I’ve been taught to deny. And so I have written a love poem. For Hizbullah. Like love that inspires poems often is, this love is not all rosy and sweet. It is complicated, tortured, frustrated, somewhat inappropriate, certainly scandalous, sometimes hesitant. It is irrational and overly rational. But still, it is love . A dear friend told me today, “Nobody ever really learns something without feeling something.” So, to Hizbullah, I offer this poem.
I Don’t Want to Love You, But I Do
You were born out of death to a life in a cage
Where bombs are not the only reason people die
Fed by the violence of hunger and homelessness
Raised by colonialism
Your heart and your will still grew strong
You scare me
Not just because they tell me to be scared
Not just because they repeat, repeat, repeat
The story of 1983
Begging me to understand
Americans are worth more than Lebanese
Why do they never tell me about Jihad al Bina
That you have created so much
Saved so many lives
Improved so many more
It scares me
When I admit to myself
That I would be more scared without you
If I still took the time to see
To see the violence that does not just fall from the skies
that exists in hunger and homelessness
It scares me
That my hope is tangled up
In actions I would never want to commit
But I don’t sleep much these days
And I’ve tried hard
But I haven’t found
to give me hope that they will listen
They repeat, repeat, repeat
The story of Gaza withdrawal
Hoping we won’t see
The violence that continues
That kills in so many ways
Hoping we will now support it
Or at least stop looking
They insist talk does not work
When there is no one to talk to
It is hard to find an interlocutor
When you’re not willing to listen
How do you keep faith that talk will work
When even they are insisting it won’t?
I am learning to have hope in you
I am learning to see you as so much more
Than those actions I would never want to commit
You amaze me.
Born out of death to a life in a cage
Raised by colonialism
You did not accept imprisonment as natural
You did not accept hunger as justice
You did not accept
the ceaseless killing in so many ways
Of those next to you
Or those farther away
I love you
But I will never be yours
I don’t want you inside me
You are too male for me
And I cannot, gratefully, fully silence the voice that insists:
Some deaths you did accept
Including of some who were listening
That is why the full statement that the question-marks pry me with reads:
It is sad, but I’m learning to have hope in Hizbulla
Maybe it is the naivety
of one whose life has never been directly threatened
I still believe:
Be the change you want to see in the world.
MY LOVE FOR HIZBULLAH, REVISITED
1 August 2006
When you write a love poem to Hizbullah, you receive a lot of hate mail, including graphic descriptions of the ways you should die, of the ways you should be raped. But those descriptions, of course, do not even come close to capturing the terrifying ways people are being massacred. These real deaths are then described by Condoleeza Rice as “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
I prefaced my poem to Hizbullah with the statement that I don’t think there is such a thing as inherent evil. Rather, systems get created — regardless of intent — that allow great cruelty to grow, flourish, and become institutionalized. Cruelty becomes common sense, begins to seem natural, comes to be accepted as the only possible course of action. So long as the people who actually are in positions of power to resolve conflicts peacefully fail to do so, there will be many more of us who start to acknowledge our love for Hizbullah. The hate mail I have received has been outweighed by messages from people who are also struggling to come to terms with their support of Hizbullah by learning more about who they are, what they have done, and what they believe. Though we may not agree with all of their ideologies, though we may condemn some of their actions, Hizbullah is right now standing up to great cruelty.
I can hear some of my readers screaming at me: “What about the cruelty of Hizbullah?!?” I insist that even those of us who believe in the power of non-violent resistance must acknowledge that there is no moral equivalency between the violence committed by the oppressor and the violence committed by the oppressed. Who is in which role may change over the course of history — but that must not paralyze us from dealing with the power relationships in play today. It is, of course, ridiculous to support a group just because it is the underdog resisting a stronger party. But Hizbullah is resisting forces that have institutionalized cruelty and insanity. What else can you call it when the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions across Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq are described as “birthing pangs”?
Many have asked me, “What if Hizbullah wins? Do you really want to live in a world of their design?” To answer that question, as it is framed, in a nuanced and thoughtful manner would require more space and time than is available here. Ultimately, however, the answer to that question as framed is “no.” But that question need not be framed as it is, implying that Hizbullah’s fending off Israel means that it will go on to be the new super-power, waging wars at the rate and with the destructive capacity of the U.S. and Israel.
But, of course, the U.S. needs to see Hizbullah as a huge threat that will terrorize the world if every member is not exterminated. Terrorism has become for the 21st century what communism was for the 20th. The construction of a distinct, one-dimensional evil other against which we can define ourselves as virtuous, enlightened, free and worthy — and thus justified in pursuing our unending and highly profitable wars. If you are dependent on war, you need a never-ending supply of enemies that the public will believe are worth the expense and the immorality of destruction.
Some of my readers are screaming again: “What about the immorality of Hizbullah?!?” Okay, let’s compare. A wise woman once taught me, “When they tell you about all the horrid things those people over there are doing, always ask yourself (and ask them): as compared to what?” When they talk about mistreatment and rape of women as if these are things that belong to foreign cultures, ask them to look up the domestic violence and rape rates in the United States. When they tell you about the civilians the “terrorists” have killed, ask them to look at the numbers of civilians killed by the militaries they are defending. Compare those numbers. When they insist these numbers can not be compared, that Hizbullah is hiding behind civilians, remind them that Hizbullah is not only a militarized resistance movement, it is also a widely supported and legitimized political party and social service provider whose members live as citizens among other citizens of Lebanon. Ask them where the Israeli soldiers live and whether these areas are thus legitimate bombing targets. Moreover, ask them to compare the global atrocities committed over the last 20 years by Hizbullah, Israel, and the United States. Ask them, then, what meaning the word “terrorism” still holds.
On Sunday, I bore witness to a public altar for Arabs and Arab-Americans to collectively mourn and to express outrage and hope. As candles were being lit and family members were being remembered, the bodies of the Qana massacre were still being unburied. Israeli hands released those bombs, but we should not neglect to speak of the role the U.S. is playing in all of this. Through supplying missiles, through vetoing ceasefires, through strategic advice. Many have been asking, “Don’t the U.S. and Israel realize that their actions are just increasing ‘terrorism’?” I think they do realize this. I think they see this as a win-win situation. (Especially the U.S., whose civilian population — unlike that of Israel — is not in the line of fire.) If the Arabs are quickly bombed into submission and fear, then we can move right in and set up camp and shop. If there is resistance, we have all the more justification for waging this profitable war — and it will ultimately make the long-term conquering process easier as the people and their environment will already be broken.
It is true that the U.S., Israel, and Europe have not been the only colonial/imperial forces in the world. And, if we manage not to blow up the whole planet in the near future, it is likely that they will not be the last. But this does not excuse us from seeing them as what they are right now and from doing everything in our power to stop this institutionalized, naturalized cruelty.
Maybe if enough of us within this country and Israel could get together and really put massive consequence-inducing non-violent pressure on our current administrations as well as on our larger so-called democratic systems, we wouldn’t find ourselves turning to Hizbullah for hope. In the meantime, though, the number of deaths rises every day, mostly at the direct and indirect hands of Americans and Israelis. In the meantime, I will continue to express my reluctant love for Hizbullah even as I mourn the deaths on both sides of the border.
Cecilia Lucas lives in Oakland, California.