[Prev] [Contents] [Next]
1.1 Introduction

Siren calls from political Islam become more and more frequent, as does the rise of Islamic movements in the world. Far from being isolated cases, those sirens and movements are many times connected with violence, horror and political and social repression. The Talibans' taking over in Afghanistan or the Islamist forces of terror slaughtering civilians in Algeria are good cases in point. However, I would argue, those movements carrying the Islamic banner are too often jammed into the same box, being looked upon and analysed in a stereotyped fashion by media and observers in the West. Thereby, crucial issues explaining the emergence of the movement, what kind of environment it is experiencing, its standpoints and how it actually is proceeding might be mistargeted. Therefore, as I see it, each case of any political movement - Islamic or whatever - deserves its own particular examination in connection with its own particular context.

This study will examine Hizballah in Lebanon. Despite the fact that Hizballah probably forms one of the most notorious Islamic movements of them all, gaining a horrifying reputation during the eighties through hostage-takings and suicide bombings in the Lebanese civil war, it is worth noting that Hizballah, in these days, is a political party firmly established in the political system of Lebanon. True, the movement still conducts a violent agenda by fighting the Israeli occupation forces in the so-called "security-zone" of south Lebanon. In addition, most Western intelligence services label Hizballah as a "terrorist organization", accusing them of running a global underground network of anti-Western and anti-Israeli activities. The latter approach, however, if Hizballah run any global networks, will not be the main subject for this essay. That is more, I believe, an issue for the secret service to investigate than for an undergraduate student of political science.

My main focus of this essay will instead concentrate on Hizballah as a phenomenon in Lebanon and in the regional politics of the Middle East. That is, the particular role Hizballah play in the context surrounding them. Emerging in the aftermath of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon as an implacable and extremely determined resistance against the lingering Israeli occupation of the country, the movement brought a new discourse to the Lebanese arena of civil strife. Shia Muslim, profoundly religious in character and ideologically connected with the Islamic republic of Iran and its leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hizballah demanded the entire destruction of Israel and the establishment of a pan-Islamic state over the whole of the Middle East, despising any recognition of or justification for the Lebanese regime itself. During that period of time, though, the Lebanese state was a wreck and a mess, torn apart by local warlords and foreign powers that had dominated the scene since the civil war erupted in 1975. As this war was put to an end in 1990-91 and the state authorities were restored with Syrian assistance and patronage, Hizballah chose to join the political framework of Lebanon, operating within the same state structures they earlier on so fiercely had condemned. At the same time, the guerillas of the movement continued their armed struggle against the Israelis in the Lebanese south. That conflict is by no means over.

My own personal interest in Hizballah awoke as I served in the UN forces in South Lebanon from October 1992 to November 1993. Having the opportunity to experience this conflict at a rather close range - in the very specific and dynamic environment of this area - I noted that the impression of Hizballah among those involved differed on a wide scale. From the ordinary Israeli notion of Hizballah as being mean "terrorists" to the diversified - indeed even ambivalent - attitude of the UN personnel, sometimes understanding, sometimes indifferent, sometimes frightened; to the Lebanese themselves, detesting the movement for putting civilian lives on the line by challenging the Israeli temper, or admiring it for showing determination and courage against the occupation forces and/or appreciating its agenda of social welfare among the poor and unfortunate.

Anyway, considering that Hizballah nowadays is a part of the political and social landscape of Lebanon, since long with an explicit agenda and articulated ideology, I decided to take a closer look at it. Not only by studying the literature about Hizballah, but also by returning to Lebanon in order to interview spokesmen of the movement and let them expound their views themselves. This study will therefore deal with what conditions that formed the establishment of such a radical movement and what thereafter made it change the tune, i. e. how it adapted to the present circumstances. In my view, with respect to the multitude of the Lebanese society, its history of warfare, unrest and polarization, in connection with the dynamics of the region as a whole, no one interested in the Middle East can be unaffected by the role, cause and peculiarity of an organization such as Hizballah.

1.2 Aim and questions

The aim with this essay is to examine the rise of Hizballah, the ideological orientation of the movement and how it has adapted itself to the context of Lebanon and the regional politics of the Middle East.

When proceeding my examination I intend to answer a basic set of questions. That is, to study the context in which Hizballah emerged and operated. What did this context look like? Why did Hizballah emerge? What perception does the movement have of this context? What goals does it want to achieve? And what strategies do Hizballah follow in order to reach those goals?

1.3 Approaching the aim

In this essay, I will argue that one has to learn of the specificities of the political and social environment in which the movement emerged and is operating in order to understand the agenda of Hizballah. Richard Norton comes to the point when meaning that "the key to understanding [Lebanese] Shi'i politics lies within the realm of good political science and the range of mundane political behaviour, rather than in sensationalized images of crazed fanatics willing to obliterate themselves to gain a one-way express ticket to paradise".[1] That is, in pre-war Lebanon and during the following years of warfare, its Shia community was radicalized, confronting the regime itself and certain foreign actors involved, especially the Israelis and the Americans. Those confrontations, often marked by extreme violence - like suicide attacks - and implacable rethoric, should not obscure the fact that the Shiites' taking to arms and their will to fight and sacrifice can be regarded as the result of years of misery, marginalization and political and social mobilization. In other words, there is a rational behind the violent behaviour of certain factions within this community. And as I argue that Hizballah indisputably constitute a vital part of the Shia in Lebanon, my approach will focus on the factors within the Lebanese context which in dialectical manner prompted Hizballah to be formed.

By reconstructing this context I shall try to elucidate those factors and thereby also make the effort to find the "key to understanding" the agenda of Hizballah, i. e. to discover the rational behind it. If the movement and its agenda can be regarded as a result, or a reaction, against various developments and events in this context, I regard it as necessary to know what those "developments" and "events" actually were about. Thus, when rebuilding this context I intend to start with treating the factors contributing to the civil war and the breakdown of the Lebanese state structures. The outbreak of the war is a crucial milestone. Not only because the war and the disorder formed the future context of Lebanon, but also because the war itself was caused by domestic and external factors which indisputably had their impact on the political mobilization of the Shia community. This particular mobilization will also be treated because it forms a vital factor for the genesis of Hizballah and their becoming a mass movement. The Israeli invasion of 1982 is equally crucial. In fact, the present secretary-general of Hizballah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has even argued that without this invasion he was not sure that the movement would have had the reason to emerge. "It might have been formed", he has stated, "but not as quickly - possibly within 10 or 20 years. Circumstances would have allowed it to form as a natural development or evolution".[2] Instead, I say, the invasion caused a revolution.

Furthermore, as we shall see, the muddle in which Hizballah was formed and operated during the war changed drastically in 1990-91 as the civil war ended and the Lebanese state restored its authority over the country (despite of Israel's still remaining occupation of south Lebanon). It is therefore necessary, I argue, to reconstruct even this particular development in order to find out what new challenges the movement faced, its agenda from the eighties taken into account. Hence, by reconstructing the context of that particular period as well, in 1990-91, I will confront this development with the ideology of Hizballah and the earlier mentioned rational behind it. In regard of the rather radical outlook of that agenda some questions will be asked about the proceedings of the movement. Those questions also constitute the core of my field study. That is, the questions asked in my interviews with Hizballah representatives. Hopefully, by using the results from those interviews - alongside sources from the literature - I will be able to answer the basic set of questions and attain my aim.

The analytical set of questions will penetrate my study by being attached to each chapter and each part of the essay. In that way, I intend to keep the reader alerted and aware of what I am discussing straight through the study, without losing the main line connected with the aim.

1.4 Sources of information: literature and interviews

A great deal has been written about the Lebanon crisis and - during recent years - also about Hizballah. When reconstructing the context of the experience of the country, I intend to make use of various scholars on the matter and find support from them in my own reasoning. Especially the works of the American professor of political science and US army officer, Richard Norton - whom I have already cited - will be frequently referred to in this study. Richard Norton served during the early eighties in the UN forces in south Lebanon as an liasion officer and had thereby the opportunity to gain a first-hand impression of the conditions in this area, mainly within the Shia community. Besides that these experiences resulted in the very fruitful book, Amal and the Shi'a: the struggle for the soul of Lebanon, he has, in my view, thereafter also written very sensible articles about Lebanon and the Middle East.

Anyhow, the issue of the Lebanese crisis, I believe - and certainly of Hizballah - is quite controversial, depending on different views, values and beliefs. Concerning the large assortment of literature, I have thus used material of scholars with various backgrounds, nationalities and, most likely, also political belongings. For instance, Israeli authors such as Itamar Rabinovich, Avner Yaniv and Clinton Bailey have been very useful when putting the factors together that contributed to the civil war, the 1982 invasion and the emergence of the resistance against the Israeli forces. (Indeed, it should be added that Clinton Bailey served with the Israeli army in Lebanon during this invasion as a liasion officer). I have moreover also used sources from Lebanese, Arab, American and European authors. The Lebanese University professor Ahmad Beydon, the German scholar Theodor Hanf, and the Middle East correspondents Robert Fisk (Great Britain) and Thomas L. Friedman (USA) - both stationed in Lebanon during courses of events - are a some notables.

With respect to the mobilization of the Shia community and the issue of Hizballah, I have mainly taken part of works by Lebanese scholars such as Fouad Ajami and As'ad Abukhalil, the French professor Elizabeth Picard, the Israeli scholars Martin Kramer and Shimon Shapira (both focused on the Shia in Lebanon) and the British free-lance journalist, Giles Trendle, who has years of experience from Lebanon and thereby has developed a - for a Western journalist - quite unique relation with several spokesmen and prominents of Hizballah. Indeed, further particulars about Hizballah are often published unsigned in Foreign Report, well known for good insights within the movement. They will also be referred to.

After extensive reading I have found the chosen authors valid and relevant. The frame of this essay does not permit further comparative criticism in between them. I could emphasize, though, that even if the bias of the sources selected might vary, they are quite in accord concerning factors contributing to the war and concerning the Lebanese context as a whole.

True, I will use some written material by Hizballah as well. The basic principles of their ideological declaration is best expressed in The Open Letter Adressed by Hizballah to the Downtrodden in Lebanon and in the World, released in 1985 and published as an appendix in Norton (1987). Another source used is "al-Maokif" (Arabic word meaning "the standpoints"), an information paper released by Hizballah's Foreign Relations Department every fortnight in which the movement articulates its own views on topical issues. In regard of the 1996 election program of Hizballah, I had it translated from Arabic into Swedish in Stockholm.

However, in order to come to grips with the contemporary view of Hizballah, I regarded it as necessary to visit the movement myself. On the one hand because it was needed to get an up-to-date picture of how the movement reasons according to present circumstances. And on the other hand because it would be a favorable moment to let them expound their own point of view. A visit would also offer me the possibility to tailor my own core of questions I figured as being most relevant for the aim of my study.

To get in touch with Hizballah was no problem. At place in Beirut, the Foreign Relations Department of Hizballah was very helpful and accommodating, ambitiously trying to give me the assistance I needed. Although I noted that three weeks were not sufficient for a field study in Lebanon, I had the opportunity to meet with a few of their high-ranked spokesmen and officials. I made three interviews with Dr. Abdallah Mortada, spokesman at the Foreign Relations Department, an interview with Hajj Youssef Merhi, head of the same department and member of Hizballah's Politburo, an interview with the Hizballah M.P. Hajj Muhammad Fneish, and an interview with the head of the Holy Reconstruction Department (distributing social welfare services) Kassem Oleik. Furthermore, Hizballah arranged interviews for me with two professors at the Lebanese University, Dr. Talal Atrissi and Dr. Samir Souleiman, who both were specialized on political Islam (and indeed outspoken sympathizers of Islamic movements). They gave me insights into the conditions of Islamic movements and into their ideas in the Middle East.

Moreover, it must be noted that the interviews were conducted in a friendly and open athmosphere in which I was given the opportunity to ask the questions I wanted without any restrictions. Especially in the case with Dr. Abdallah Mortada and Hajj Youssef Merhi, the interviews turned into lengthy discussions during which I even was encouraged to put forward my own views on the topics concerned.

Another interview was conducted with Dr. Kamal Shehadi, researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (an independent forum), who gave me valuable inputs on the present context of Lebanon. In addition, I was in touch with Mikael Lindwall, spokesman for the UN forces in the south of Lebanon and Niklas Kebbon from the Swedish Embassy, who informed me about the current situation.

Finally, during my last visit at Hizballah's office in Beirut, Dr. Abdallah Mortada told me that they would not mind if I was critical against them in my study. If critical, though, I was exhorted to found my view on a "scientifically objective basis". OK, I thought, here we go, what does that mean? Can political science be "objective"? I doubt it. As human beings, I believe that no scolar nor student totally can leave aside his/hers own personal values and emotions when approaching a study of a subject. Nonetheless, I would assume that even the way the reader approaches a work is coloured with a certain bias.

My intention although is not to judge anybody or anything, but to add some nuances to a very controversial subject. If the study, however, with Richard Norton's words, could be labeled as "good political science" or not, I leave for the reader to decide.

1.5 Structure of the essay

As my point of departure will be to reconstruct the context in which the Lebanese war erupted and the Shia community mobilized and became radicalized, chapter 2 will elucidate the factors that contributed to the war and the way it formed the country until and during the Israeli invasion of 1982. Mainly, that will be the correlation between certain domestic factors, such as the political structures of power and the socio-economic conditions of Lebanon, and the various foreign actors I regard as most relevant for this scenario, i. e. the Palestinians, Syria and Israel. In chapter 3, I will reverse that development in order to especially focus on how this context affected the Lebanese Shia community; its mobilization and radicalization in the course of events. In the same chapter I shall also treat what basically distinguishes the Shia Muslims from the Sunni Muslims, and how Shiite doctrine shaped a specific paradigm by which the Shiites more easily could mobilize across stratas and unite within the frames of their own confessional belonging.

Chapter 4 will deal with the 1982 invasion and its aftermath: the various interests and actors that operated in Lebanon during this period and how the reaction among the Shiites against the Israelis was transformed into a resistance. As this resistance triggered the emergence of Hizballah, I will deal with the genesis of the movement in chapter 5 and with its articulated ideology and the means used of the movement during the Lebanese war.

The components contributing to the end of the civil war in 1990-91 when Lebanon turned a corner due to the implementation of the Ta'if Agreement, and especially Syria's role in this transformation of the context, will be dealt with in chapter 6. Hizballah's own view of the new state of affairs that the movement accordingly was facing during the nineties and the way it chose to approach them, constitute a large part of my field study and is treated in chapter 7.

Furthermore, I want to emhasize that the external and domestic factors are hard to distinguish from each other. The continuing analyse through all chapters will however deal with their interplay in both a domestic and regional perspective. It would be futile, I believe, to try and understand Lebanon - and indeed even Hizballah - if isolating them from the regional context.

Due to the scope of this essay, though, I will try not to reach beyond the regional perspective of the Middle East. Certain derivations from a global view will only be treated when I figure it to be absolutely necessary.

[1]Norton (1987), p. 13.

[2]Interview in Middle East Insight, p. 38, May-August 1996.

[Prev] [Contents] [Next]