The Protesters: Right for the Wrong Reasons

Amos Oz

ARAD, Israel — A wave of anti-American sentiment has risen across the world — and with it a wave of emotional hostility toward Israel. Those who see America as the embodiment of the Great Satan tend also to see Israel as the Little Satan, Rosemary's baby. Lost amid the clatter is that many decent people of enlightened and pragmatic views oppose an invasion against Iraq, even many who supported the Persian Gulf war.

But these days the dogmatic and sentimental European left does not hesitate to link arms with the reactionary and racist right in anti-American vilification, some of it drawn directly from the scrap heap of the Communists and the Nazis — all kinds of blighted slogans about the "octopus tentacles of Wall Street" and "the sinister Zionist-capitalist conspiracy to take over the world." My objection to the war on Iraq is severely tested each time I hear these loathsome voices.

And I do object to an Iraq invasion — because I feel that extremist Islam can be stopped only by moderate Islam, and extremist Arab nationalism can be curbed only by moderate Arab nationalism. America, Europe and the moderate Arab states must work to weaken Saddam Hussein's despicable regime — but they should do so by helping those who would topple it from within.

An American war against Iraq, even if it ended in victory, is liable to heighten the sense of affront, humiliation, hatred and desire for vengeance that much of the world feels toward the United States. It threatens to arouse a wave of fanaticism with the power to undermine the very existence of moderate governments in the Middle East and beyond. This pending war is already splitting the alliance of democratic states and cracking the ramshackle edifice of the United Nations and its institutions. Ultimately, this will benefit only the violent and fanatical forces menacing the peace of the world.

Moreover, no one — not even America's intelligence agencies — can predict what will emerge when the lid is lifted on Iraq. No one can foresee the severity of the killing, the danger of the doomsday weapons, or the validity of the fear that in a battered and crumbling Iraq 5 or 10 Osama bin Ladens will emerge to take Saddam Hussein's place.

The protesters have it wrong: this war campaign does not emanate from oil lust or from colonialist appetite. It emanates primarily from a simplistic rectitude that aspires to uproot evil by force. But the evil of Saddam Hussein's regime, like the evil of Osama bin Laden, is deeply and extensively rooted in vast expanses of poverty, despair and humiliation. Perhaps it is even more deeply rooted in the terrible, raging envy that America has aroused for many years — not only in countries of the third world, but also in the broad boulevards of European society.

If you are envied by all, you should be careful about wielding a big stick. After World War II, the Marshall Plan benefited the United States and world peace more than America's old and new weapons put together. The big stick is necessary, but it is best used to deter or repulse aggression, not to "impose good." And even when the big stick is brandished to defeat aggression, it is crucial that it be brandished by the international community — or at least by a broad alliance of nations. Otherwise, it is liable to redouble the hatred, despair and lust for vengeance that it set out to defeat.

Amos Oz is an Israeli author. This article originally appeared in the New York Times and was translated from the Hebrew by Ruhama Shattan.