Mats Wärn: Staying the Course: the "Lebanonization" of Hizbullah
|[Prev] [Contents] [Next]|
2.0 Shaping a theoretical framework
A central argument of this thesis being that an understanding of the Islamist movement is specifically related to context, the ambition of this chapter is to provide a theoretical approach in this regard. One way would be to view context as a terrain to be conquered. That is, to consider a political actor as an ideological agent keen on muddling through a brushy terrain - full of obstacles and differing viewpoints - with the ultimate aim at dominating this terrain. With respect to Islamists, for instance, such an approach would easily depict these movements as using "foul means" when opting for political integration; i.e, paying lip service to notions of democracy while at the same time packing the "Trojan Horse" with totalitarian ideas while waiting for the political electoral victory. For example, in regard of Hizbollah´s presence in the Lebanese parliament, one observer argues that the "real question" concerns whether the party "has become moderate as a result of being included in the political system or is this yet another manoeuver - the instrumentalists' line - to gain power in Lebanon." He points out, though, that there is "no way to give definitive answer" to that question; "[o]nly time can be the ultimate arbiter"(Kazemi 1996: 5). While such a reasoning may be valid from the angle that Hizbollah would indeed in theory implement its total agenda if dominating politics of Lebanon, it overlooks the issue whether the current status of the movement will have any significant impact on its political surroundings, as well as on itself. When studying the political integration of Islamists in Pakistan, S.V.R. Nasr argues that "[t]hus far, most observers have been preoccupied solely with the impact of Islamic revivalism on politics, whereas participation in politics has had an equally important influence on the development of revivalist movements, which in turn conditions their political impact" (1997: 136). Hence, hampered by what is usually referred to as "the reality", even Islamists - whatever their divine plan - must learn to cope with prevailing power relations and constellations of various interests in society. Therefore, analyses "ought to critically examine both the extent of the impact of the Islamic revivalist movements on state policy and patterns of political change once these movements join the political process" as well as "the nature of the constrictions on the political maneuverbility of Islamic movements pursuant to their political enfranchisement" (ibid.).
With respect to political movements, Björn Beckman argues that "we need to have an open mind" on their "contradictory and changing nature": "They may at different points in time either be supportive, indifferent or hostile to the democratic project" (1996: 3). Mere idealism, that is, hardly benefit democratic aspirations; politics is more about self-interests. Rueschemeyer et al. maintain that groups who have been excluded from the political framework are those who also have been the harbingers of democratic demands. Additionally, those who benefit from the status quo are usually those who most likely will oppose change and reform. The bourgeoisie, for example, often regarded as the historical protagonists of lilberal democracy in the West, did indeed wrest "its share of political participation from loyal and aristocratic oligarchy, but it rarely fought for further extensions once its own place was secured" (1992: 46). Instead they depict the working class - being the excluded majority - as harbingers of universal suffrage and democratization (ibid.).
Then, recalling the case of Jordan, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) advocates further democratization as they believe that such a measure would benefit their influence on the political system, considering their public support in society. However, the Hashemite regime is reluctant to extend the power base for the Islamists as these oppose the peace and the current normalization-efforts with Israel and have assailed several other vital policies conducted by the government (Ghadbian 1997; Milton-Edwards 1996; Robinson 1997a). Thus the interests of the state come into focus. Beckman argues that the state is neither "neutral" nor "without roots" in society. Rather, the state ought to be regarded as an arena of competing interests that strive for access and protection. The state structures therefore reflect "what groups have access and their interests protected and promoted, and what groups are victimized, marginalized and repressed" (1996: 5). When considering the quest for change, one ought to critically examine the "bias" of the state and its relation to the various groups in society. What interests in society are favored by the legal order? What interests are demanding change? What is the current nature of this order and how is it to be understood in relation to the current nature of forces in the opposition?
There is reason to argue that the nature of the state will determine the nature of the actions and ideas of the forces in opposition. Various ways of looking at the structures of the state power may produce various ways of forming strategies and agendas. A socialist scholar, Antonio Gramsci, who once provided a platform for actions for the radical left in Europe, argued that the state mainly constituted its power base on two pillars, the civil society and the political society.7 The civil society consists of the schools, the media and the associational, cultural life which justifies and recognizes the prevailing order under the state, encouraging a certain consent for the system. The political society, on the other hand, consists of the means of coercion, the police, the army, the courts of law etc. This conception of power, he argued, to rule both by consent and coercion - i.e. to control the civil as well as the political society - forms what he labels as a hegemony. The reason why the capitalist breakdown in the West never occured, as Marx once predicted, was because of its well developed civil society; i.e. the widespread and profound consent of the system. Neither was Lenin´s reorientation of Marx predictions relevant for Europe, according to Gramsci. Lenin had argued that revolution was the way to pave for the capitalist breakdown and the socialist take-over; an intellectual vanguard, skilled in the theory and values of Marx and the worker´s proleteriat, would lead the uneducated masses against the powers that be. Gramsci argued, however, that Lenin had succeeded because of the lack of a civil society in Russia, i.e. the Tsarist regime did not enjoy any public consent. Thus it was all due to context, and Europe with its capitalism and mosaic of various interests and organizations inherent in the civil society needed another approach. Instead of rebellion and revolution, Gramsci therefore advocated integration. By becoming a part of society and gradually integrate the socialist agenda in schools, media, trade unions etc. the socialist radicals would be able to provide an alternative agenda of values to the present order of consent. Thereby the one vital pillar of the bourgeoisie order would be undermined and the state accordingly get weaker. Equally important, Gramsci acknowledged the futility of the working class' struggle on its own. Thus he promoted a sort of "alliance-politics" with other forces in society, an approach he labelled as the war of positions. As Stuart Hall notes,
But, as Sidney Tarrow points out, the quest of accomodating means and alliances posed a dilemma for Gramsci: if integration and dialogue went too far and continued for too long, the risk may appear that the cultural power of the bourgeoisie order would dominate the working class instead of vice versa: "Collective action there would be; but it might well be on behalf of the collective interests of the bourgeoisie" (Tarrow 1994: 12).
The same theoretical, albeit not political, aspects are these days most relevant for Islamist movements in the Muslim world. Like the socialist trend in Europe during the twentieth century, Islamists today are advocating an ideological agenda radically different from the prevailing order in their own societies - or at least that is what most of them say. Moreover, like the various ideological strands within the socialist trend, even Islamists are often advocating different means for the struggle for political influence and change. While some Islamists apply peaceful, though not necessarily accomodating methods and strategies, others resort to violence as a way of attaining their ends. In addition, some Islamists recognize political pluralism and participation, while others reject any form of system that does not resemble their own vision of the divine order.
The Holy Writ, according to Islamists, comprises all walks of life: the faith, the life-world and the state. As such, Islam is the ultimate divine norm provided by God so that man should be able to establish the most just, equal and righteous society. It ought to be noted, however, that there are vast disagreements among Islamists over the character of such an enterprise. Islamic state theories are often very vague and varying; stretching from rather loose demands on upholding the shar´ia to more rigid state models (Taji-Farouki 1996). Neither is there any Islamist consensus concerning the legitimacy of contemporary self-proclaimed Islamic states like Sudan and Iran. According to Farouki, the whole idea of implementing a theory of an Islamic state is due to the "pressing demand to reinstate forms rooted in the indigenous culture and consonant with its fundamental values, in the face of an increasingly global, Western-dominated culture that appears to deny the validity of all cultural and civilizational alternatives" (1996: 35). But when down to scrutiny, he argues that these theoretical enterprises usually resemble the Western notions of modern political theory which they are supposed to reject, containing basic elements as "the rule of law, political participation, and government accountability" (ibid: 47). Maybe a statement by the former president of the Islamic republic in Iran, Hashemi Rafsajani, is a case in point. "Where in Islamic history do you find Parliament, President, Prime Minister, and Cabinet of Ministers?," he once replied to a group of parliamentary deputies who questioned the Islamic precedents of some tax laws. "In fact, eighty per cent of what we now do has no precedent in Islamic history" (qouted in Abrahamanian 1993: 15). More concretely, Yvonne H. Haddad argues the general theme within Islamist discourses concerns emancipation. Political Islam, she asserts, is a reaction against the moral decay in Muslim societies, against the denial of the right to self-determination and the dispowerment of the Muslim region as a whole (1996). As Islamist revivalists during this century have stressed the imperative for Muslims to be aware of their problems by their own means, they have rejected the application of "imported, Western, ready-made models of development and modernization" that have failed in fulfilling their promises, and which are "perceived to have failed even in the West itself" (ibid: 426). Furthermore, Islamists despise the way the authoritarian regimes throughout the region has monopolized political control and abandoned the shar´ia in favor of their own jurisprudence lacking proper accountability. In addition, they do vehemently reject the order of the region that was established by the Sykes-Picot Agreement during the World War I, "through which the British and the French artificially divided much of the Middle East into spheres of influence that were later sanctioned via postwar agreements into mandate systems comprised of state units that had hitherto not existed.
While stressing emancipation, there is reason to compare political Islam with the great political trend of Arab nationalism that flourished and profoundly affected the Middle East in the post-colonial era of the 50s and 60s. As a populist movement, the Arab nationalist creed concerned "social domestic policies, Arab unity, standing up to Israel, and, at the level of international relations, identification with the 'Third World' and neutrality in the Cold War" (Ghadbian 1997: 37). With the ranks filled with new middle class elites and army officers, workers and peasants, the Arab nationalists had turned against the political and economic domination of feudal landed classes that conserved socio-economic discrepancies and were perceived to go on cultivating common interests with the former colonial powers (Bromley 1997; Owen 1992; Ghadbian 1997). As champions of Arab interests - such as Abdul Nasser in Egypt and the Ba´th parties in Syria and Iraq - overthrew the post-colonial regimes, their populist influences stretched far beyond their own borders. Several basic pillars of the Arab cause, especially the Palestinian one, became the ticket to regime legitimacy, even among the more traditional monarchies of the Arab world. As Walid Kazziha points out,
Despite the rethoric, however, many of these Arab regimes displayed a large degree of ambivalence with respect to realizing their declared aspirations. One the one hand, any deeper integration between the countries was regarded as a severe challenge to their own power bases, and on the other, too deep alignment with the Palestinian cause ran the risk of dragging them into a real showdown with Israel (Owen 1992: 81-90). When the latter actually occured with the crushing defeat in the Six Day War 1967 - implying the subsequent Israeli occupation of the Sinai desert, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip - the Arab states lost much of their credibility, not only militarily but even morally, as one main pillar that these regimes based their legitimacy upon had been conquered, occupied and humiliated.
The loss of legitimacy then provided a momentum for political Islam. As Arab nationalism had failed in boosting the needed moral for resistance and survival, large sentiments of the public turned their focus elsewhere, namely to God. According to the long-time observer of the Middle East, Eric Roleau, the Arab defeat in 1967 was the "real turning point in the Arab world". The war, lasting for six mere days, made political Islam emerge as a serious challenge to the existing regimes. "Everything collapsed with that war", he argued,
Arguably, political Islam thus echoes the same public appeal as once did Arab nationalism: emancipation, socio-economic improvement, independence from the historical domination by the West, and indeed the rejection of the state of Israel - the perceived symbol of Arab humiliation and Western hegemony. Hence, even though Islamists proclaim themselves as being messengers of a divine mandate, at the end of the day, as that particular mandate is translated into a temporal one, it displays its mundane content. The way Islamic state theories and Islamist movements are similar to already present political theories and causes is described by Charles Tripp as the "secular logic" of the state and mass politics (1996). By using the word "secular", he does not denote the nowadays common notion of it, borrowed from Western political theory, meaning the ideological aspect of secularism that distinguishes political institutions from the religious. Instead he adresses the secular aspect which comprehends the organizational efforts a state must undertake in order to provide a functioning society and thereby legitimate its rule; the term concerns "things of this world, as opposed to the hereafter" (ibid: 52). The secular logic thus implies that regimes in charge must be successful in providing their subjects with issues contingent to the contemporary notion of the modern state, such as citizens' rights, welfare services, political participation, security etc. However, the questionable efforts and successes by many a regime in the Muslim world in dealing with these issues have rendered them vulnerable for Islamist critique. As Augustus R. Norton points out, the failures of the regimes to implement the shar´ia is often the main theme within the criticism launched from Islamist opposition movements, but "central to that critique is the emphasis on corruption, malfeasance, and misbehaviour. The mistreatement at the hand of the government is a constant refrain. The Islamist critique is persuasive because it rings so true" (1995: 2). Islamists, then, have capitalized on the regimes' shortcomings and mobilized interests and views already widespread within Muslim societies. However, once engaged in political competition, Islamists will also find themselves trapped by the secular logic, offering concessions and adopt issues alien to their own ideological outlook on the world. The Palestinian Hamas, for instance, has been obliged to "compete on the terrain of territorial nationalism" against the PLO although that territory by itself once was "demarcated by the British mandatory authorities" (Tripp 1996: 64). As such, Palestine, to Hamas, could hardly be recognized as a legitimate entity, other than as a part of dar-al-Islam (the domain of Islam). But as the public identify themselves as Palestinians, Hamas has adopted that same discourse. Moreover, within this national framework, Graham Usher argues that public support for Hamas must be understood in relation to the public view of the PLO. If Hamas commands support among the Palestinians, he notes, it is not because the latter have turned to the faith en masse. Rather, it is due to the ideological crises within the PLO, "aggravated by an increasingly unaccountable, autocratic and inadequate leadership" (1995: 78). Equally important, whereas the PLO leadership is perceived to have been fooled by signing the Oslo Accords, a contemptuous agreement in the eyes of a great many Palestinians, Hamas has gained respect by rejecting this accord. In that sense, the Islamist support concerns public interests. Never mind the religious zeal and rethoric, the agenda gaining recognition is political; fighting the same cause that is perceived to be abandoned by the PLO, i.e. the liberation from the Israeli occupation.
Hence, there is reason to argue, as Tripp does, that the nature of any opposition, whether Islamist or non-Islamist, divine or worldly, will be formed and transformed alongside the character and nature of the state. Tripp thus may be to the point when he argues that "manifestations of self-consciously Islamic political activity are best understood as responses to encounters with particular forms of power, of which the state may be the most public symbolic and actual repository" (1996: 52). Without grasping the nature of the state, therefore, it may be futile to try to understand the nature of the Islamist movement in question.
Within Islamist intellectual circles of today there exists a heated debate on whether Islamists ought to integrate themselves into a pluralist political framework or not. Even though Gudrun Krämer notes that "the strategy of integration can be seen as a rule, and not the exception" of today´s Islamist activists who are offered political inclusion, their ambivalence is still noticeable, and sometimes severe. The Islamists, she assumes, "share the dilemma of all protest movements that pose a radical alternative to the existing order and value system,
Hence, the Islamists' anxieties concerning political integration resemble the same dilemma as earlier noted by Gramsci. If compromises and accomodating strategies aims at gaining political influence, it may as well imply political impotence and submission. Indeed, another tangible reason for Islamist worries would be that the recent process of liberalization by various regimes in the Middle East has less to do with any genuine ambitions of realizing free and fair elections, and more to do with hampering and containing mobilized forces in opposition that threaten the already declining legitimacy of the existing regimes (Anderson 1997; Krämer 1994).9. Nevertheless, like Krämer, Norton stresses that the majority of Islamists, when once allowed to, will opt for political participation, although such a decision may cause severe ruptures, if not splits, within the party (1995: 5). Furthermore, downright rejectionism is also given political and structural reasons rather than essentialist ones. At the eve of the elections within the Palestinian Authority in 1996, for instance, Yassir Arafat invited Hamas to participate in the hope that inclusion would make Hamas put an end to its campaign of violence against Israeli targets. Hamas refused, though, arguing that participation would imply an implicit recognition of the Oslo Agreement; a deal the Palestinian Islamists vehemently reject (Robinson 1997: 193). Noteworthy is that Hamas did not shun politics right away, however. With respect to municipalities, for example, the movement declared itsself prepared to participate.10 Anderson argues that reasons for Islamist violence and rejectionism ought to be sought in environments of exclusion and repression rather than any "putatively Islamic doctrines (1997: 18). The character of the opposition, she notes, is often related to the character of the regime; it has "the unusual characteristic of being defined by what it opposes" (ibid.). Hence, with respect to the often arbitrary and despotic nature of the regimes in the Muslim world, the Islamist forces in opposition are responding in the same coin. Repressive measures will breed violent resistance, a lawless government will face lawless opponents. Or as Anderson puts it, "although Islamist leaders frequently condoned the use of violence...the quick resort to violence for which the Islamists were so often noted was at least partly attributable to the violence visited upon them by their governments" (ibid: 28; see also Anderson 1987).11 Therefore, as Islamic doctrines and divine decrees might, at least alone, be regarded as poor tools when explaining the rejectionist mood among various Islamist strands, focus ought to be set on the political environment in which these movements are operating. And just as exclusion then may breed violence and rejection, so would inclusion breed civility, courtsey and accomodating postures. During the polarized political climate of the twentieth century, Göle argues, the prevailing strands of Islamism were constituted of what she labels as etatist Islamism and civil Islamism. To etatist Islamists, life can not follow a true Islamic way in the absence of an Islamic state and their political quest thus concerns a "revolutionary change from top to bottom". To civil Islamists, the degree of faith among the individuals are superior to politics; and "overpolitization is often criticized for impoverishing religion" (ibid: 27-28). Whereas the first category thus can be described as "Islamization from above", the latter can be described as "Islamization from below". However, as the recent decade had experienced the participation of Islamists in elections within the Muslim world, Göle assumes that the electoral Islamism can be regarded as the "meeting point" between etatist and civil Islamism: "as Islamist politics orients itself toward a power struggle not 'over' the game, but instead 'within' the rules of the game, it shall counterbalance the holistic and communitarian tendencies of Islamism" (ibid: 28). This is certainly the case, she notes, with the Islamist Refah party in Turkey which successfully have participated in the Turkish elections (before it was banned by the Turkish state in 1997). In Turkey where secularism for long has been regarded as universal and development-oriented, and where Islam has been equated with "backwardness" and "extremism", the Refah party focused its agenda on mundane demands that concerned the average citizen, not merely the religious ones; its "campaign combined a humanistic, inclusionary, almost social-democratic tone with a concrete, issue-based understanding of politics" (ibid: 29). In a context where the liberalized economy of the 80s have created great social divisions, the Islamists gained a hearing:
As a result of this mundane approach that appealed to vast stratas within the public, the Turkish Islamists forced the secularist parties to step down from their pedestals of universalism and instead having them to engage in the debate on a horizontal level. Moreover, similarly to Norton and Anderson, Göle assumes that Islamist politicians and intellectuals, within a pluralist political framework, will be more participatory in their logic of action, generating "self-reflexivity (critical thinking) on the movement, thereby counterbalancing holistic utopian authoritarianism" (ibid: 39). Such measures could then be compared to the Gramscian strategy of integration into the civil society as a long-term effort in providing alternatives to a currently prevailing political hegemony. Facing the heavily secularized profile of Turkish politics, the Islamists within the Refah party tried to show that Islam as a religion could play a role even within a highly modern and political realm. The secular logic, so to say, had thus forced them to acknowledge the framework given by Turkish political life.
So far then, my argument is that the nature of the context most likely will shape not only the actions but to a considerable degree even the agenda of Islamist movements. As the nature of the state is formed by various interests in society, so is the nature of many an Islamist movement. The failure of Arab nationalism, as noted, accelerated political Islam. As these Arab states could not fulfill their promises and obligations, the Islamists provided an alternative, i.e. stressing the same issues but with a more profund sense of authenticity that the other ideologies did not have. I believe that this mundane aspect is worth considering when studying current integration of Islamist movements into given political and pluralist framework.
In any case, with respect to Hizbollah, I will argue that this mundane aspect does make sense. In sectarian-ripped Lebanon, Hizbollah is nowadays a political party and a movement which enjoys a large bulk of grass-roots' support and an increasing degree of legitimacy among parties and people of various sectarian creeds and colours. From being a clandestine unit of small military cells fighting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the party is now present in parliament, it runs schools, hospitals and other various forms of social services, and it still fights the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon - with the approval of both public and state. This is not to say that Hizbollah merely owes its present status to itself (it has indeed, as we shall see, some powerful friends), but it displays an interesting example of how an Islamist movement can integrate its agenda into a mosaic such as Lebanon and universalize its message to the public. And just as with the Refah party in Turkey, Gramsci would probably have been impressed.
Hence, following the core argument of this study, Hizbollah has transformed itself in accordance with its surrounding context. From rejecting the Lebanese state as a disgraceful entity and despicable enemy, the Islamists today embrace the Lebanese state, albeit promoting its reformation. Therefore, one main question to be answered is: why is that? And what made Hizbollah despise it in the first place? Could these questions be answered by the theoretical outlines of this chapter? That is, what interests formed the Lebanese state versus the interests promoted by Hizbollah, the latter seen from the aspect of the secular logic as argued by Tripp. Moreover, as mentioned in the introduction, could these reasonings also provide an understanding of how Hizbollah justifies its integration from a divine and a worldy point of view respectively? And finally, would answers to these questions bring any clarity as to what Hizbollah aims at achieving in Lebanon for the short as well as for the long term?
9 With respect to countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, and, "to a lesser extent", Morocco and Kuwait, Lisa Anderson argues that in "none of these instances of political liberalization did regimes intend to actually confront competitors for power. In both intent and content, these reforms were designed not to inaugurate a system of uncertain outcomes - democracy - but to solidify and broaden the base of the elite in power, making possible increased domestic extraction" (1997: 20). Krämer likewise notes: "Still, the purpose of liberalization from above is clear: it is to stabilize the system in a situation of acute crises...It is to contain discontent and to marginalize, and if possible delegitimize, all those that refuse to be co-opted into the system or are regarded as too great a threat to the regime to be recognized as legitimate political actors" (1994: 202).
11 In the same vein, Moussali asserts that the "founder of radical Islam", the Egyptian writer Sayyed Qutb, "was transformed from one of the most liberal writers of Egypt to its most radical thinker" because of the repressive measures conducted by the Egyptian regime against the Islamist during the era of Abdul Nasser (1995: 117).
|[Prev] [Contents] [Next]|