Learn From Thine Enemy

Yesterday’s New York Times story “Relief Agencies Find Hezbollah Hard to Avoid” touches on something I’ve been meaning to blog about for weeks.

One reason for Hezbollah’s success comes from working as a kind of government within the government of Lebanon by providing key social services. I don’t mean to defend Hezbollah insurgents, for my government views them as terrorists, but I also can’t ignore that the organization is doing something right: Serving the people. 

Hezbollah’s social services network was pervasive and efficient before the war and it is no less so after more than a month of bombing. According to the Times: “Hezbollah has been the fastest and, without a doubt, most effective organization doling out aid to the shattered towns and villages of southern Lebanon”. Relief organizations are trying to bring needed supplies and medicines without involving Hezbollah. Reasons: US policy forbids aiding terrorist organizations and concerns Hezbollah could use aid to regroup and retrench in Southern Lebanon.

But there is another, related consideration: The hand that gives out the aid will be the one adored later on. The Times reports that relief organizations find it increasingly difficult to dole out aid without it passing through the Hezbollah organization. If Hezbollah directly gives assistance to the people, the group will get the credit.

The timing for endearment couldn’t be more important, following weeks of Israeli bombing and military occupation, when anger is great and relief most wanted.

Back in July, I spoke out against Israel’s war on Lebanon because of resentment [Editor: Story is lost, so link removed.] Conflict creates resentment, which fosters hate and pathetic justification for retaliation. Generosity soothes and even removes resentment. Gratitude is a powerful salve for wounded psyches. Hezbollah has done right through service, by fulfilling basic needs of the people of Southern Lebanon. The group benefits from the people’s gratitude.

The United States could learn something from its enemy and offer bread instead of bullets or bombs in countries like Afghanistan or Iraq. Killing is an unnatural act that comes easy to almost no one. While resentment is a byproduct of anger or want, it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to killing. Happy people, those who are grateful, do not exhibit anger or resentment towards their benefactor(s). But the benefactor(s) can rally the grateful people in anger and resentment against somebody else. Our enemies gain converts through charity; giving is the humane course of action.

My question: Why don’t we do the same? The United States calls itself a religious, predominately Christian, nation. Charity is an important Christian precept, and it holds important regard among Jews and Muslims, too.

Hezbollah has made charity a fundamentally important activity. Writes the Times: “Though Hezbollah is only one of many groups providing social services in Lebanon, its reputation for delivering those services honestly is unmatched, making it that much harder to circumvent”.

The United States should make giving—the kind of grassroots efforts that truly reaches people—a major facet of its foreign policy. Who makes friends by telling people they are wrong or by attacking their friends, families, or homes? But such action will create enemies. As long as terrorist organizations rain down charity and the United States rains down bombs and rhetoric, enemies will easily recruit allies to attack us.

We are the wealthiest nation on the planet, and we have a moral obligation to share the bounty we have with other countries. If we fail this mighty obligation, other peoples will resent the United States and its citizens. Sharing our great bounty can endear others to the United States. So being generous will help others and ourselves.

If America fails this great trust of generosity, history will condemn this country. And a woeful condemnation will it be.

Photo Credit: Dan Queiroz

Editor’s Note: On July 30, 2017, this post was recovered, using Archive.org Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of joewilcox.com during 2006, when months of content was lost while changing blogging systems and webhosts. Date and timestamps are authentic.