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Victor Davis Hanson: It's Not Just About Land

Roundup: Historians' Take




Despite the claims of terrorist organizations, Israel's current two-front war is not just about land. After all, Hezbollah and Hamas fired rockets from Lebanon and Gaza well after Israel had withdrawn from both places.

Indeed, if sacred Arab ground were the driving force of the Middle East crisis, then surely Syria itself would now be willing to risk a shooting war over the all important Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Meanwhile, Cairo is still perhaps the nexus of virulent Arab anti-Semitism, even though Israel finished handing over Sinai to Egypt in 1982.

The world prayed that after the unilateral departure of Israel from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, and the recent elections in Beirut and the West Bank, it was witnessing an incremental evolution toward a lasting peace between rational democratic states. Gradually, Israel was returning to its 1967 borders. In response, gradually, it was hoped, Israel's Arab neighbors would vote into office reasonable statesmen who would renounce terror and get on with the business of crafting workable economies and governments. But all that optimism presupposed a radical change in the Middle Eastern mentality. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.

So, if the most recent war in Lebanon and Gaza is not about land per se, then whence arises the elemental desire to destroy Israel?

The answer boils down to Islamists feeling their reputation is at stake. Words like "honor" and "pride" are evoked -- in the sense that they need to be regained -- by every insecure radical in the Islamic world, from al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden to Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fist-shaking crowds, fiery mullahs and terrorists all boast of not giving an inch to infidels, and of the restoration of the now sullied honor of the Islamic people.

Why their hurt?

For about the last half-century, globalization has passed most of the recalcitrant Middle East by -- economically, socially and politically. The result is that there are now few inventions and little science emanating from the Islamic world -- but a great deal of poverty, tyranny and violence. And rather than make the necessary structural changes that might end cultural impediments to progress and modernity -- such as tribalism, patriarchy, gender apartheid, polygamy, autocracy, statism and fundamentalism -- too many Middle Easterners have preferred to embrace the reactionary past and the cult of victimization....
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