Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Lesson from Hezbollah

A fascinating front-page New York Times story today is worth the biblical "price beyond rubies." I'm referring to a filing by correspondent Sabrina Tavernise that tells us that the Hezbollah "has provided essential services for years to Lebanon'’s poor Shiites, settling into their lives."

Tavernise's story, headlined "Charity Wins Deep Loyalty for Hezbollah," begins with a security guard who recounts that the militant Shi'a group whose name in Arabic means Party of God, paid for his wife'’s Caesarean section and an operation on his broken nose, and brought food to his home when he lost his job. Slowly you get the sense that the entire Shi'a community benefits from the largesse of Hezbollah.

Reminds me of the Black Panthers' breakfast programs for children in Oakland, Calif. Or the communal free meals in the town of Assisi once organized by the Communist Party in starving postwar Italy.

One wonders why Israel, according to the CIA Factbook the world's 54th (out of 233) largest gross domestic product of $154 billion, as opposed to Lebanon's 108th economy in the world ($23.6 billion annual GDP), couldn't try the same thing.

It's not as if U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have been resoundingly successful. Nor is it as if Israel's bombardment of civilians in Lebanon has won Eretz Israel the Brotherhood Award of the Year. Quite the contrary on both counts.

Here is where the ancient advice becomes eminently practical.

In the New Testament, Jesus says "You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you." (Matthew 5-43-44).

This passage might suggest that Judaism, the religion of Jesus and his apostles, was a faith of revenge, yet that is not true. The book of Exodus' "An eye for an eye" (21:23) was a humane improvement on disproportional punishment in the ancient world. Moreover, the Hebrew Bible instructs believers "Seek not revenge" (Lev. 19:18.) and has God declare that "Vengeance is mine." (Deut. 32:35).

Nor is the religion of Islam, the religion of Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah, a religion of hatred and vengeance, as the Quran, in Sura 5:45, in a spirit very similar to the Jewish Torah, says: And We ordained therein for them: Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal. But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him an expiation.

How different our current events might have been if on Sept. 12, 2001, President Bush had proclaimed that the United States would not respond to violence with violence, but would challenge Al Qaeda to a contest of charity.

Imagine, then, our B-52s, B-1s and B-2s showering the poorest areas of the Middle East with food and medical supplies.

What could Osama have said? That he rejected these gifts? That he would not join in a competition to see who could be more generous? Who in the Arab world would have supported such peevish stances?

Imagine also what might happen if Israel built schools, hospitals and brought food for the Shi'as of southern Lebanon, challenging the Hezbollah not to a contest of explosions but of generosity.

Here's where Hezbollah has shown the way.


Titmouse said...

Amen! Thank you for suggesting a healthy competitive spirit among people of faith. Not that anything will ever come of it. I have faith in that.

Dave said...

Excellent thoughts. I remember desiring the same thing in the days after Sept. 11 - thinking that this was a golden opportunity for the USA to get seriously involved in bringing the world to a more positive place after such a terribly wasteful and misguided act of destruction. Though it was predictable that our leaders thought more about revenge and domination than compassion and healing, I deeply regret that the more enlightened path was not chosen or even seriously considered by most people in our society. We humans have a bad habit of putting the wrong people in charge.

Anonymous said...

When I heard the same news on NPR, these were my thoughts, exactly.