A recent Al-Jazeera article illustrates the benefits of a common enemy in turbulent times. A small Lebanese village, Shebaa, on the border of the Israel-occupied Golan Heights and Syria, contains all the ingredients for combustion, yet shows no signs of igniting.
The population is largely Sunni, with incursions of militant Islamist groups and recently, Syrian refugees. “The presence of Islamist groups such as Jamaa al Islamiya and the Salafist movement are not new to the area, they have been around for a while,” stated the MP for the area of Arqoub, of which Shebaa is a part, who is a Baath Party member. (The Baath party ideology is a mix of Arab nationalism, socialism and anti-imperialism.)
Shebaa remains united though Egypt just threw out their Muslim Brotherhood leader following what are reported to be the largest protests in the history of humanity, Syria is engaged in a Civil War, and Libya and Iraq have daily killings by opposing sectarian groups. Even Turkey, which was supposedly “modern” and “moderate” experienced a significant popular uprising recently.
So how does Shebaa escape the carnage? By focusing on a common enemy. “When the situation in Syria started, all the different political factions, which include the Future Movement, the Baath Party, the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the pro-Hezbollah groups, sat together and took the decision to not allow the instability from both inside Lebanon and inside Syria to spill into Arqoub and Shebaa,” the Baathist leader said.
Sheikh Mohammad al Zoughbi, the Salafist sheikh of Shebaa, said, “”The people of Shebaa and those surrounding act like one big village… If there is an issue between two people who are politically opposed to each other, the politics is left at the door, and the issue is resolved between the individuals and their families. Shebaa is the grave of political parties.”
The unifying power of a common enemy is well-known and often exploited. As Condoleeza Rice reportedly said in a Houston speech in 2000, “We need a common enemy to unite us.” Catholics, the Irish, Communists, terrorists, Muslims and immigrants have all been exploited in the US as designated enemies against which the “village” should unite. Though designated enemies are often manufactured to further political agendas and distract from domestic problems, the fact is that even paranoid people have enemies. In Shebaa the common enemy is Israel, visibly looming on her doorstep.
Designating groups of humans as a common enemy has lead to horrendous massacres. Rwanda and the Holocaust come quickly to mind. Yet a common enemy seems to be a psychological need and since the Devil has been deposed, we seek others to take his place. Could we not designate a non-human enemy? Nuclear weapons? Greed? Imperialism? How about global warming, famine or water shortages? Would those fill the bill?
In a 1991 Report from the Club of Rome (of which Al Gore is a member) this possibility was discussed.
“In searching for a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill. In their totality and their interactions these phenomena do constitute a common threat which must be confronted by everyone together.” (page 75)
It remains to be seen if the enemy-need can be filled by an invisible threat like inequality or environmental degradation. And there is danger of attacking other human beings even in those designations as the Club of Rome report pointed out:
“But in designating these dangers as the enemy, we fall into the trap, which we have already warned readers about, namely mistaking symptoms for causes. All these dangers are caused by human intervention in natural processes, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy then is humanity itself.” (page 75)
Indeed, some have concluded that nasty, filthy mankind should be limited until there are less than 500,000,000, as the mysterious Georgia Guidestones advocates. Rest assured that those who hold this view do not include themselves or their ‘tribe’ in the elimination.
The famous Pogo cartoon “We have met the enemy and he is us” contains a profound truth. The classical devil as an evil spirit who could influence anyone (even you and I!) had an advantage over our current made-up devils because it forced us to examine ourselves to see if we are harboring evil. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Not us, because we refuse to take the beam out of our eye while we busily fuss over the dust mote in our brother’s.