Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Calling people animals is a way to dehumanize them, and probably helps convince individuals that the other people around them approve of treating the animals badly. In ways that aren’t entirely clear, this way of speaking is certainly wrought up with violence and even genocide.
Israel’s Defense Minister called the Palestinians of Gaza “human animals” when he announced a “complete siege” of Gaza after the horrid Hamas terrorist attack of October 7.
Galant’s willingness to destroy most of the homes in northern Gaza and to displace over a million people, leaving them cold, hungry, thirsty and increasingly victims of disease, surely was enhanced by his conviction that he is dealing with animals rather than human beings. Some might defend him, saying that he only called Hamas “human animals.” But if that were true, why is he treating all Palestinians in Gaza worse than dogs?
The Nazi dehumanization of Jews is notorious. They called them rats, lice, cockroaches, foxes, vultures
Such language proliferates in times of tension and war. The impulse to it should be resisted by ethical persons, and even just by normal non-psychopathic human beings.
Prominent New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, alas, fell victim to the seductions of such language in his Friday column. He openly said that he approaches the Middle East at times from the perspective of the Warner Brothers’ Animal Planet channel.
Friedman actually wants a two-state solution and so wants something for Palestinians more than what they now have, and he is hated by the Israeli far right (which is increasingly the Israeli mainstream) for these stances. So it is unfortunate that he deployed the language of insects for Iran and Hamas members. He might defend himself by pointing out that he called the United States an “old lion” of which no one in the region is afraid any more, or that he caricatured Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a lemur. But in his column, the old lion and the lemur are not depicted as vicious or disgusting.
The three-time Pulitzer prize-winner compares Iran to a parasitoid wasp that lays its eggs in caterpillars. He says that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is like the wasp, and the caterpillars are Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shiite militias, and Yemen’s Helpers of God (Houthis).
How does this language add to understanding? If he is saying that Iran has fostered Shiite militias in nearby countries on the model of its Revolutionary Guards, this is true.
But why would Lebanese be interested in Iranian training, weapons and monetary support?
In 1947-1948 Zionist militias ethnically cleansed over half of Palestinians, expelling them from their homes and farms and forcing some of them to Lebanon, where they dwelled in camps. As a liberal Zionist, I presume that Friedman applauds this ethnic cleansing, though the liberal part of the equation makes him sympathetic to Palestinians getting a state on 22% of the land of the British Mandate of Palestine, all of which was promised to the Palestinians by the British White Paper of 1939.
By the 1970s some of the younger generation were radicalized and formed armed bands to strike across the border into Israel. Many lived in south Lebanon among the Shiite population there. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, ostensibly to deal with the Palestinian attacks but actually to reshape Lebanese politics and install a far right wing Christian puppet government. The 1982 invasion left about 50,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians dead. Then the Israelis occupied about 10% of Lebanese soil for 18 years, subjecting the southern, largely Shiite population to their military rule in alliance with an artificially created Christian militia. Some Shiites, determined to resist the latest Israeli land-grab, formed Hezbollah in 1984 and began a long struggle to get the Israelis back out of their country. By 2000, they had succeeded.
No one in Lebanon, however, trusted the Israelis to cease attempting to dominate Lebanon, and so the rest of the Lebanese appointed Hezbollah as the border guards of the south.
Israel created Hezbollah by its occupation of Lebanon and its attempt to control it.
So Iranian influence in southern Lebanon is not a “natural” phenomenon of “injecting eggs.” It is a political alliance by the poor and the weak seeking a patron to help protect them from a serial predator.
If the Israelis had permitted a Palestinian state to emerge in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians in Lebanon would have moved there. They told me so enthusiastically when I interviewed them in 2008. Then the whole history of Israel interventions in Lebanon would have been obviated and perhaps Hezbollah would never have been formed.
Likewise, several of the Iraqi Shiite militias were formed in response to the US occupation of that country for which Friedman was among the foremost cheerleaders. When the US occupation led to the formation of ISIL (ISIS, Daesh), the Shiite militias were the only force that could take it on in 2014-2015, and the US gave them air support at Amerli and Tikrit.
Had Bush, with Friedman cheering him on, not invaded Iraq, any Shiite militias in that country would be small and covert, as they were in the 1990s.
Then the Houthis in Yemen are rural Zaydi Shiites who reacted against Saudi dominance of their country and their region. The Saudis were trying to convert them to Wahhabism and were buying the Yemeni government to allow them to extend their influence. The Zaydis minded, and some in the north rebelled.
Mr. Friedman told us that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who bombed Yemen for seven years, further radicalizing the Houthis and driving them into Iran’s arms, is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Then he compared Hamas to a trap-door spider because it took hostages.
But we all know how the Palestinians in Gaza turned to Hamas and in what conditions the Israelis have kept the Palestinians of Gaza — virtually as prisoners in a concentration camp. 70% of the families in Gaza are refugees from southern Israel, from which the Zionists expelled them.
So the biggest problem with Friedman’s glib column isn’t even its racism. It is the illusion of explanation created by the use of insects as metaphors for human beings. By sidestepping imperialism, settler colonialism, and capitalist exploitation, by ignoring social class and history, Friedman can skate away with his facile sociobiology, having elucidated nothing, having understood nothing . . .
and having sidestepped the ways in which his own commitments, to liberal Zionism, exploitative forms of leveling capitalism, and to American imperialism in places like Iraq, created the mess he now dismisses as a nature documentary.