Friday, August 04, 2006

The Fig Leaf(let) of Warning

Looking for the Bright Side


Banta Singh has been hit by a car, and his colleague Santa Singh is visiting him in the hospital. Seeing Banta swathed in bandages, Santa racks his brain for something cheerful to say.

Finally, he observes, "Ohe Banta, look at it this way, at least it is only your left hand that's broken, not the right."

Banta Singh brightens up immediately. "Aha! At last, a person who appreciates my presence of mind! You know, actually it was my right hand that was under the car at first. I thought to myself how terrible that would be, so I quickly withdrew my right hand, and put in my left instead!"

--From my late friend, philosopher, and guide, D. Subbarao.

If Banta Singh's logic appeals to you, then you should have no difficulty applauding the wisdom of the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman.

Speaking of the deaths of ordinary men, women and children in Qana and other places in Lebanon, Mr. Gillerman told the Security Council that Israel regretted every casualty, and was indeed so concerned to avoid them that each time, before bombing, it dropped leaflets beseeching people to leave the area. His nodders, assistant nodders, and sundry yes-men on the US side, including John Bolton, Condoleezza Rice, Tony Snow, Hillary Clinton and why, even Bill Maher, have been echoing Mr. Gillerman's words in their own remarks.

The Israeli statements exceed even the old Billy Bunter double-defense, "I never touched that cake. Besides, it tasted terrible". First they said they were ultra-careful to hit the correct building. Then they said they were sure Hezbollah was holed up near, if not inside the building itself. Then they said they had used precision missiles. Then they said they were sorry, but this was war, and errors do happen. This is why they dropped leaflets in the first place.

Once you have given a warning, you are absolved. What next, complaints that Israel only dropped printed leaflets, of omitting to put up warnings on the web and send out an email message to everyone in Lebanon? (A Jewish state sending out spam?). Some people are never satisfied.

By this fresh piece of Israeli-American logic, however, Hitler's atrocities are mitigated, if not absolved, because he had given umpteen warnings to the Jews, all the way from Mein Kampf on, of their impending fate if he came to power. If people didn't believe him, stuck around and suffered the consequences, it was because they did not follow their many smart cohorts who left Germany when they were warned. Hezbollah and Hamas, too, are similarly exculpated, because they have never left any Israeli in doubt of their intentions towards Israel. As is Osama bin Laden because, long before Khobar Towers, Cole and 9-11, he repeatedly warned American to leave the Muslim lands.

Welcome to the 21st century version of "Let them eat Cake".

Going along with this argument for a moment, assume that I, as a resident of Lebanon at whose feet a floating Israeli leaflet has just landed, decide that prudence is in order, and taking the warning seriously, depart town with my family. I return two days later to find my roof lying on my living room floor, my town devastated, my water and power supply busted. One million Lebanese are, like imaginary me, estimated to be refugees within their own country, having left their residences in heed of Israeli warnings or fear of being buried alive by a bomb. Surely they are beside themselves in gratitude for Israel's pre-bomb warning leaflets.

The natural tendency of the human mind is to equate the protagonists in a fight. In the subconscious of world opinion, then, the Hezbollah is acquiring coequal status with Israel. Current reality too has added to the perception. Once upon a time, Israel finished off three whole countries and doubled the territory under its control, all in less time than God took to create the universe. Today it cannot advance more than two miles along a narrow front, against an entity that is not even a regular army (maybe for that very reason).

By its tactics, which have killed ten times the number of people as has Hezbollah, Israel has also obliterated any distinction between itself and its enemy which, as it says, does not care about the human toll. Along with its leaflets, myths of Israeli military invincibility and moral superiority too have dropped out of the sky, making their way to the ground where Hezbollah stands.

The Banta Singh analogy does not end with Israel, however. Those who rejoice in the damage to Israeli myths should be equally mindful of falling victim to the mystique of Hezbollah. The tragedy remains that it has taken a religious and sectarian militia to accomplish what broad-based nationalist and secular movements could not. To take heart in Israel's discomfiture, ignoring this reality, is to emulate Banta Singh's smug satisfaction in salvaging the right hand by sacrificing the left. No pun intended.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at His blog is at

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