The Lebanon War & Arab Opinion
To the Editor:
It is with great concern that I refer to a piece [about the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah] entitled “The Arab Temptation,” by Joshua Muravchik, which appears in the October 2006 issue of Commentary. While I disagree with the tone and much of the content of the article, and believe that it is irresponsible and damaging to the cause of dialogue at a difficult time, my purpose in writing is to correct a mistaken and unjust attribution that Mr. Muravchik has made to me.
We are all aware of the dangers of misquoting and misattributing comment in the current climate. The quote Mr. Muravchik singles out is taken from a structured opinion piece which appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on August 14. The quote was not mine but was quoted by me from a statement in the British House of Commons, issued in 1946 after the
The title of my piece, “Let the Voice of Moderation Speak,” is indicative of the content. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to begin with the following quote, which accurately represents the tone and thrust of my argument: “Moderation will continue to battle for the hearts of those millions for whom this war on terror is an offense to their existential realities.” I was very pleased to follow this with a quote from Boaz Ganor, the prominent Israeli thinker, who addressed the question of terrorism and demanded that there be “no prohibition without definition.”
As my article highlights, I believe that moderates in the West and around the world will not shy away from backing Mr. Ganor’s statement that terrorism must be defined objectively based upon accepted international laws and principles regarding what behavior is permitted in conventional wars between nations. Surely this is the only way to protect civilian populations and to create a template for conduct that frees us all from a spiral of hate and retribution.
In this regard, it might also be helpful to highlight my concern for those caught on both sides of this terrible and unnecessary war, and my fears for the future. As I wrote, “No one can ignore the pain and suffering of the Israeli people in recent weeks, but the policies of disproportionate reprisal and abuse of humanitarian norms can only beget further violence.”
It seems that the populations of the
It is shocking that in our new century, the civilian residents of northern
At best, Mr. Muravchik’s use of my name lacks journalistic or ethical integrity. At worst, it distorts a message that calls on readers to respect the place and opinion of moderates in our fracturing region. I would appreciate a retraction of the offending paragraph, along with an apology and a clarification.
In the company of many fine individuals from across the
I await your response.
His Royal Highness El Hassan bin Talal
Joshua Muravchik writes:
I respect Prince Hassan, not for his title but for his abilities. Once in
Apparently, now that the guns have fallen silent, Prince Hassan, too, is shocked to read his own words quoted back by me. The appropriate reaction would have been to say that he was sorry he had said what he said. Instead, he accuses me of “misquoting,” “misattributing,” quoting “completely out of context,” and lacking “journalistic or ethical integrity.”
Were there any validity to Prince Hassan’s complaint, he would show precisely what was different between what he said and what I said he said. But this is conspicuously absent from his diatribe. So let me do it for him.
Prince Hassan of Jordan, veteran of a thousand peace meetings with Israelis, consciously evoked the British condemnation of the 1946 Zionist bombing of the King David Hotel in calling the Israeli attack on Lebanon “one of the most dastardly and cowardly crimes in recorded history.”
Prince Hassan says that the phrase I put in quotation marks came from the House of Commons; ergo, I “misattribut[ed]” it to him. But he invoked the House of Commons quote in his essay in order to assert that
A statement in the British House of Commons at the time  described the attack [by Zionists on the
The traumatic effects of the collective punishment of civilian populations will be felt for generations to come. The Israeli Defense Forces who occupy have made terror a daily reality for the civilian populations of
The plain meaning of these words is that the quoted judgment of the Commons on the King David attack applies equally to
As for taking Prince Hassan’s words out of context, it is not I who does this but he himself. True, his Haaretz essay contained one subordinate clause about the suffering of Israelis, but its entire thrust was to rage against Israel and the U.S. True, the word “moderation” was in the title, but the point was not to offer a voice of moderation; it was rather to argue that Israel was so blameworthy that even Arab moderates had become enraged. “The moderates are now shouting also,” he wrote.
Although in his letter Prince Hassan has resumed a less bellicose posture (toward everyone but me), it is dismaying that he repeats the point, made in his essay, that terrorism cannot be prohibited until it is “defined objectively based upon accepted international laws and principles.” This sophistry, propounded by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has blocked any international outlawing of terrorism. There is no difficulty or mystery in “defining” terrorism; Kofi Annan and other international authorities have done it. However, the Muslim states hold that no act, no matter how barbaric, constitutes “terrorism” if it is undertaken in the name of “resistance” to occupation. Thus, they have vetoed a universal agreement against terrorism unless all acts against Israelis are exempted, by “definition.”
By lending his imprimatur to this semantic game and by writing the angry, unbalanced essay that I quoted fairly and accurately, Prince Hassan demonstrates the larger point I was making in my article: namely, that Arab moderates too often fall prey to the extremists.
Covering all bases, Prince Hassan requests “a retraction . . . , an apology, and a clarification.” For my part, I request that he return to being the thoughtful figure whose words and actions I have often admired.