National Catholic Reporter
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September 15, 2006


Israel’s sworn enemy

Margot Patterson’s analysis of Hezbollah (NCR, Aug. 25) cast a benign light upon an organization whose charter demands the death of Israel. Ms. Patterson lauded Hezbollah’s “more complex, nuanced stand on religion.” Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has described Jews as “grandsons of apes and pigs” and “Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures.” Now there’s nuance! Hezbollah, whose stated mission is to terminate Jewish existence, wants things both ways. It started the recent war and then sought United Nations intervention to dampen the Israeli military response.

In 2000 the United Nations certified that Israel had completely departed Lebanon. Hezbollah kept the Israel-Lebanon border simmering, sarcastically declaring that Israel still “occupied” a parcel of Lebanese territory. The United Nations declared that this small parcel is Syrian territory, whose disposition will be settled between Syria and Israel. Israel is never granted latitude by the international community to pick and choose when to follow U.N. edicts, with no price for noncompliance. Israel’s sworn enemies have chosen to lie to the world for so long they now believe their own lies. Make no mistake: Genocide aimed at Jews is the Hezbollah agenda. Nasrallah, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and others are planning the next Holocaust while denying the recent one. Will there be an unequivocal objection voiced by the Catholic church?

Emeryville, Calif.

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After the hard work of Pope John Paul II, why would you publish an article that unfairly characterizes the enemies of the Jewish people, thereby distorting the actions of the Jews of Israel? John Paul tried to overcome the enmity between Catholic and Jew, trying to bring our people together. The article “Disarming Hezbollah next stage in Middle East drama” sets a wedge between us. Surely, anyone who is familiar with Hezbollah knows that its leader once said, “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli” (The New Yorker, Oct. 14, 2002). We also know that Hezbollah calls for Israel’s destruction. So why would your paper attempt to hide this and portray Hezbollah as a reasonable, even tolerant organization?

Do you not realize that Jewish people read your paper? What do you expect them to feel when they see people with similar attitudes to Hitler portrayed this way? Unless your goal is to alienate the Jews from the Catholics once again and reverse the progress of a pope that so many Catholics and others saw as a great man, please do not excuse or cover up the truth about those who are the inheritors of Hitler’s goals concerning the Jews.

New York

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Ms. Patterson’s long article about Hezbollah includes everything except the basic facts. Hezbollah’s charter declares the Jewish state must be obliterated. Hassan Nasrallah wants to obliterate all Jews in the world (2002 interview in Lebanon News). Since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 Hezbollah fighters have attacked 18 times and shot a huge number of rockets into Israel. These are Russian military rockets, Katyushas, and worse. Israel has no argument with Lebanon, but Lebanon has abandoned the southern part of its country to Hezbollah. Your article is slanted toward making the reader feel sorry for poor Hezbollah and portrays Israel as a wanton invader and killer. This is grossly misleading. By the way, Hezbollah has said it is surprised that Israel responded so forcefully to its cross-border raid that killed civilians and soldiers and abducted two soldiers. Hezbollah thinks this should be treated as business as usual. Israel disagrees.

New York

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Margot Patterson’s portrayal of Hezbollah as a “pragmatic” and “nuanced” group that should not be considered a terrorist organization overlooks key facts about the organization, and obscures a much uglier nature. Hezbollah is driven by a deep hatred for Jews and a desire to destroy the Jewish homeland. Nasrallah’s Jew-hatred is not limited to verbal insults. It also expresses itself in devastating violence. Eighty-six people died when Hezbollah bombed a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The July 12 attack wasn’t Hezbollah’s first since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000. In 18 other attacks, Hezbollah murdered nine civilians, 14 Israeli soldiers and one U.N. officer. It injured six civilians, 29 soldiers. It abducted three civilians and three soldiers, whose dead bodies were returned as part of a prisoner exchange. Additionally, two more Israelis were murdered during this time as part of initiation rites into Palestinian terror groups linked to Hezbollah.

The article’s suggestion that Hezbollah has transformed itself into a legal political party says more about the failings of Lebanese democracy than it does about the organization itself. Hezbollah usurped Lebanese sovereignty when it attacked Israel. The group’s recent actions, which were not authorized by the Lebanese government, drove hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians underground and placed Lebanese civilians in danger. Hezbollah’s actions are not those of an organization intent on wielding power for the benefit of the Lebanese people, but of a gang of thugs driven by hate against the Jewish people and unconcerned with the consequences of their aggression.


Dexter Van Zile is Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Margot Patterson responds:
The article on Hezbollah began as an attempt to look at the record of border violations on the part of both Hezbollah and Israel following Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 until just prior to the outbreak of open warfare in July 2006. Readers who wish to draw their own conclusions as to the severity and number of incidents can go the Web site of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, at for a description of these violations.

The words “complex” and “nuanced” were those Mideast scholar Fawaz Gerges used in describing Hezbollah’s move away from its original demand for an Islamic state in Lebanon to an acceptance of the pluralist nature of Lebanese society. Neither I nor Professor Gerges were discussing Hezbollah’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, about which there exists a diversity of opinion as to its scope and significance. Hezbollah has clearly made anti-Semitic statements, as letter-writers point out. But many scholars and analysts would dispute that Hezbollah is a genocidal organization intent on the extermination of Jews.

Augustus Richard Norton, professor of international relations at Boston University and author of Amal and the Shi’a: Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon, notes that unlike Hamas and some other Palestinian organizations that have made Israeli civilians the target of terrorist attacks, almost all the attacks waged by Hezbollah during Israel’s long occupation of Lebanon were against Israeli soldiers and militias allied to Israel, not civilians. Professor Norton said that hostility to Israel has grown markedly during the three decades he’s studied Lebanon, particularly among the population of southern Lebanon. About 20,000 people were killed by Israel during its occupation of Lebanon, thousands of them civilians. “You have an enmity based on practice, not on ideology,” he said.

While Hezbollah is clearly anti-Zionist and rejects the legitimacy of the state of Israel, Hezbollah has stated that it would accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if that is what Palestinians desire.

Peoples’ strong faith

John Allen’s article on evangelical strength in Latin America (NCR, Aug. 25) was right on target. Having lived in Mexico for a time, I recall how impressed I was by the strong faith of the people. This was faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Virgin of Guadalupe, but it was not necessarily faith in the church. The church in Mexico was at one time too closely connected to civil authority, then it went through a difficult period when draconian laws were passed against it. The result was that there are not and never have been a sufficient number of priests to minister to the people, so people may be deprived of the Mass for weeks at a time. The lay movement is in operation in some places today, thanks to small Christian communities. But most people discontinue their religious education after their first Communion.

During Holy Week in Mexican villages, people carry the cross through the streets. At Christmas a procession wanders the streets looking for a place in the inn. Later villagers bring the baby Jesus from their home crèches to church and sing a lullaby to him, rocking the baby. The celebration on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe starts early in the morning with the people singing “Las Mañanitas” to Mary. It is the same song sung on birthdays.

These devotions show how much the people wanted to make their religion part of their daily lives and not just a ritual that they could watch on Sundays. Many of the evangelical churches offer the people a personal opportunity to express their faith in a small group, one that meets regularly and is not so dominated by a hierarchy. Catholics have much to learn from such groups.

Brandon, Fla.

Leaving homes

I empathized with Deborah Halter as I read her brilliant and poignant story of loss and longing for her two homes, the one in ravaged New Orleans and the other in the Catholic church of the 21st century (NCR, Sept. 1). Were I called to ordained ministry, I, too, might see no alternative to leaving the spiritual home of my childhood and my ancestors. How sad! Our beautiful church, like New Orleans, suffering great losses and then being resurrected as an exclusive club that some of us barely recognize and in which women continue to be denied the priesthood just because they are women. For the time being, I will stay, bound as I am by the sacramental community. But in many ways, like Ms. Halter, I look with dismay at the church, trying in vain to find the loving, inclusive family in which Jesus found a place for all to serve according to their gifts. Godspeed, Deborah! Your light will shine wherever you choose to unveil it.

Roeland Park, Kan.

Mozart needed friends

Thank you for John Allen’s informative article on Mozart as Catholic and Mason (NCR , Sept. 1). Thirty-six years ago I completed a dissertation for a master’s degree in musicology at The Catholic University on that very topic. For what it’s worth, I concluded that Mozart was drawn to the Masons because of his need for friendship. It was a place where fellow Viennese intellectuals understood his genius and celebrated it. His many Masonic compositions indicate that it was much more than a passing fancy.

Catholics and Masons in the 18th century were not so violently at loggerheads. Henri Daniel-Rops, the church historian, even states that a Masonic lodge was founded in the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux. The deep hostility toward the Catholic church developed much more in the Scottish rite of Freemasonry. Mozart had a well-justified skepticism about the leaders of the church but remained a Catholic to the end.

No wonder so many turn to Mozart for an experience of beauty and of humanity at its best. Indeed, he becomes part of one’s spirituality. Paul Henry Lang, the musicologist, says that this amazing man reveals to us “the deepest regions of the human soul.”

Adrian, Mich.

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National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2006