Does Hezbollah Stand for Arab Pride?

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Commentator Adeed Dawisha is a Iraqi-American and a political analyst. He's been keeping a close eye on the war between Hezbollah and Israel. And one of its ramifications, he says, is that each day Hezbollah stays in the fight, there is a growing sense of satisfaction among Arabs. Dawisha is the author of Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We've been featuring a variety of views on the fighting in the Mid East. Commentator Adeed Dawisha is an Iraqi-born American, a political science professor at Miami University in Ohio. He says one result of the war is increased satisfaction among Arabs every day Hezbollah stays in the fight.

ADEED DAWISHA reporting:

While ruin and destruction are heaped on Lebanon, Arabs walk the streets of their respective cities with their heads held high. It is clear to me from following the Arab and Western media that Hezbollah's actions have infused a sense of intense pride amongst people throughout the Arab world. Sure, a few have been skeptical about Hezbollah's cross-border raid that triggered the present conflict. But most are unreservedly supportive, many simply ecstatic.

Self esteem is the thing that seems to have returned to the Arab street as a result of Hezbollah's actions. In Hassan Nasrallah, the clerical who heads Hezbollah, Arabs seem to have found an iconic hero who they insist has restored their self worth, even their honor. Such sentiment is encapsulated in a message sent to Nasrallah by a group of Egyptian intellectuals and professionals, the cream of Egyptian society. It extolled the virtues of the fight against Israel, calling it a noble quest that has restored the Arabs' dignity, spirit and confidence.

You know what I find odd about all this? It is the sheer meagerness of Hezbollah's achievements so far. I could well understand the sentiment if the Arab street was rejoicing in a famous victory by Hezbollah over Israel. But all it takes is for the militant organization to simply engage the Israelis in some military action and the people take to the street, feeling abundant pride fortified by skyrocketing morale.

Surely, this says something about the contemporary Arab condition. Simply put, it is a region that suffers from a perceptible achievement deficit, a region mired by authoritarian rule so suffocating of the creative spirit that it leaves people desperately clutching at the slightest bit of accomplishment that comes their way. Throw them a few bread crumbs, and these are devoured as if they were haute cuisine.

A confident people on the other hand, would have gone slow on the adulation and asked a few pointed questions of Hassan Nasrallah. Was the leader of Hezbollah oblivious to Israel's security doctrine, which by the way has been in place for more than three decades? The Israelis euphemistically call it a doctrine of massive retaliation. In practice, it means the indiscriminate demolition of large chunks of inhabited lands.

Was the cross-border raid worth the risk, the risk of an Israeli response that would wreak havoc and destruction on Lebanon? Equally egregious is Hezbollah's matter-of-fact admission that it had spent months planning its raid. Really? And during those long months, did the thought ever cross Nasrallah's mind that he should consult with the hapless prime minister of Lebanon, who happens to be one of the very few Arab leaders who came to his position through the democratic process?

And now, does Nasrallah have a plan B as he sits and watches the country descend to the verge of ruin, the country in whose Parliament sit members of his own party?

You know what is so sad about the present conflict? It is that innocent Lebanese are being sacrificed at the altar of Hezbollah's callus adventurism, Israel's unbridled militarism and yes, of course, Arab pride and self esteem.

SIEGEL: Commentator Adeed Dawisha is the author of Arab Nationalism in the 20th Century: From Triumph to Despair.

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