Mats Wärn: Staying the Course: the "Lebanonization" of Hizbullah

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3.0 Shiism and resistance

As a Lebanese Shiite Islamist movement, Hizbollah was born, bred and formed within the context of war, occupation, socio-economic misery and political marginalization. Naturally, these circumstances are vital components of the movement´s trademark and characteristics; let alone the reason for it to emerge in the first place. However, despite its birth following the large-scale Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, I regard it as imperative to acknowledge Hizbollah´s connection to the Shiite activist creed emerging during the twentieth century; a creed to which also Ayatollah Khomeini owns his dept. Shiism, as we shall see, is a religious ideology intent on dealing with the ever-present problems for believers who find themselves living in a world hardly in accord with their own divine preferences. Activist Shiism, moreover, is a reaction against the traditional Shiite view that refraining from politics is preferable in the absence of God´s own representant on earth, the Mahdi. Ayatollah Khomeini was to become one of the most successful protagonists of this creed as he made the Shah regime bite the dust and enabled the establishment of the Islamic republic of Iran. Religion and politics were no distinct phenomena, according to Khomeini: a religious call was rather the legitimate point of departure for any just and authentic political doctrine. In a world where colonialism, capitalism and various forms of modernization implied the subordination to foreign mighty powers and their local proxies, the Muslim was obliged to return to his own genuine source for political mobilization and resistance, Islam. As a part of this creed, the Lebanese Hizbollah became the ideological spearhead of Khomeini´s outlook; fighting an unjust political order of which Lebanon was just a small part. But as Norton stresses, the Lebanese Shiites "did not appear instantly on the political scene, pulled out of the top hat like so many dumb rabbits by an Iranian magician" (1990: 121). Rather, as their mobilization has been going on for decades, the significance of Hizbollah is its moving the Shiites' struggle on to an international level. Lebanon´s predicament, Hizbollah spokesmen say, ought to be sought in the world order. Their ambition is to make Lebanon part of a regional force that aspires to change that order. The aim of this chapter is to provide an understanding of Hizbollah and its formation according to the context of Lebanon and the ideological appeal of the movement. I intend to display the main characteristics of Shiism and its doctrines, the efforts of which try to make the divine norm compatible with wordly life. Secondly, I will discuss the main idea behind Shiite activism and its connection to Khomeini´s Islamism and Hizbollah. Thirdly, I will approach the context of Lebanon and the way Lebanese Shiites paid attention to battle cry Khomeini issued from Iran.

3.1 The deprivation of the divine

As a religious ideology, Shiism embodies the dilemma of craving the divine while living the worldly. The call issued by Allah through his Prophets is to pious Shiites an ultimate moral guidance for a rational, albeit fallible, human being. Man needs guidance, according to Shiites, as he is continuously struggling against his inner greedy desires which, if let loose, will have a devastating impact on himself and his society; creating social inequalities, corruption, misery and oppression. As Sachedina puts it, "Humanity is constantly faced with a fundamental choice of conducting itself as to conform to the divine norm and be prosperous or face perilous doom as a consequence of rejecting that norm." (1992: 47). According to Shiism, the fundamental problem harrassing mankind is the long time absence of a righteous leadership. In the subsequent power struggle about who was to be the Prophet´s heir after his death in 632, the group later to be known as the Shiites (partisans) regarded it as imperative that the legitimacy of rule should rest within the Household of the Prophet, i.e. that the Prophet´s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, should head the Muslim community. To the Shiites, Ali was an Imam (divine leader), appointed by the Prophet to succeed him; only he had accordingly the skills needed for translating the Qu´ran - the words of God - and make it understandable for human beings in a contemporary context.12 But instead of Ali a Muslim leader from the Ummayad clan, Abu Bakr, was appointed to head the Muslim community. Ali and his followers could not recognize the leadership of Bakr and therefore the "partisan"-epithet was minted on this group, the Shiites. Furthermore, the Imams - Ali and his heirs - were only to be twelve, the last one of them disappeared, according to Shiite belief, in occultation in the year of 874. As a result, a messianic doctrine, ghabyah, established that the only just society will be realized once the Mahdi, the Hidden Imam, will return to earth on Judgement Day. In the meantime, any ruler or regime should more or less be regarded as illegitimate. Accordingly, the Shiites are not merely facing the problem of their leader being deprived of the legitimate position of power - they have also been deprived of the most skilfull leader to head their community. Bound to be on their own and rendered vulnerable to the arbitrariness of illegitimate rulers, they have come to realize that they must make their own day. In that context, Shiite leaders have wrestled with the task of helping their community to cope with their surrounding and day-to-day living. They had to conceive that the human being, although highly fallible, yet possesses an ability to "reason, deciphering, rearranging, and interpreting the tenets of Islam which form the moral order of Islamic society" (Mackey 1996: 115). This ability, labelled as the ijtihad, was to be the delicate task of the most well-skilled Shiite scholars, the mujtahids. The scholar thus became the functional Imam, Mackey notes: "To him befell the charge to interpret all moral questions - social, political and religious - until the return of the Mahdi" (ibid: 110). However, while leading their community, the mujtahids have experienced the ever-present problem of justifying and modifying their relations to the political authorities of the state. Depending on context and its constellations of power relations, the ijtihad has made them able to either opt for integration or rejection. "As a religious ideology", Sachedina maintains,

    Shiism functions within a specific sociopolitical order which constantly evaluates and calls upon its adherents either to defend and preserve or to overthrow and transform...[It] is both a critical assessment of human society and a program of action, whether leading to a quetist authoritarianism or an activist radicalism, as the situation may require, to realize God´s will on earth to the fullest extent possible (1992: 421).

Another author, Said Amir Arjomand, argues that these Shiite scholars became increasingly pragmatic as time went by (something he labels as the depoliticiation of the conception of the Imamate) (1988: 107-114). While distancing themselves from the caliphal body, the ulama differentiated between the religious significant and the prophane spheres of life, "relegating political matters to the latter sphere. Doctrinal indifference to political authority amounted to granting autonomy to the norms of legitimacy of political leadership. Political rule was thus secularized and viewed pragmatically" (ibid: 110-111). However, Mackey notes that even though the Shiites to some extent accomodated themselves to the state authorities of the Caliphate, they still regarded it as "profane, impure and corrupt"; its governance only needed in order to protect society from the ever present threat of anarchy (1996: 108-109). This specific choice of accomodating or rejecting illegitimate authorities is elucidated by the doctrine of taqiyya (precationary dissimulation) and shaheed (martyrdom). As a marginalized and persecuted community subjected to illegitimate rulers, Shiites have through history enjoyed every justified claim for rebellion. Because of their position of inferiority, however, several of the Imams and the subsequent ulama regarded rebellion as a non-starter. The taqiyya doctrine thus provided the Shiites the right to downplay, indeed even deny, their confessional belonging in order to avoid persecution by the Sunni - or any other hostile - authority. In the face of oppression, a quietist posture could be regarded as a tactical means in order to secure survival while waiting for future action. One prominent Shiite scholar of the twentieth century argues that "taqiyya must be practised only when there is a definite danger which cannot be avoided and against which there is no hope of a successful struggle and victory". Any resistance to such a threat merely "shows rashness and foolhardiness, not courage and bravery" (Tabataba´i 1988: 205). Another scholar within the Shiite creed, Jassim M. Hussain, asserts that the Imams would have taken to arms against the authorities if only they only had had the strong and needed back-up for any such an undertaking. They delayed this task, though, "until the intellectual activites of their followers could bear fruit and be converted into political awareness which might enable one of the Imams to gain power by illegitimate means" (1988: 20). However, whereas taqiyya was a way to surviving, shaheed was a way of making a stand. The most illustrative and important case is perhaps the tale, cherised by the Shiites, of the third Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet, who, together with 72 of his men, was outnumbered and slaughtered by the 5000 troops of the impious and blasphemous caliph of the Umayyads, Yazid, in the year of 680. Imam Husayn, the tale recalls, did not back down from facing the corrupt and the evil, embodied in Yazid and his troops. Well aware that he was about to die, he challenged Yazid and thus showed his community that death should not scare the pious and righteous. Nevertheless, to a great number of leading Shiite scholars, the example at Kerbala put the finger on whether resistance was the proper thing to do. To them, Kerbala was preserved in their memories as a tragedy "reminding humanity of the sullified nature of power and the way the righteous ones suffer in the world" (Sachedina 1991: 430). Instead of causing uprising, the Kerbala memory and the position of inferiority made many a Shiite turn inwards. They escaped their dire situation by practising taqiyya, by issuing what they percieved to be pragmatism; ending up as marginalized in social and political life.

3.2 Khomeinism: Islam as resistance

Shiite leaders and ideologues of the twentieth century increasingly questioned the value of taqiyya. Alongside colonialism and the way Muslim elites began to absorb Western ideologies of capitalism, socialism, and, above all, secularism, an activist creed among Shiite scholars vehemently criticized the quietist mood of the Shiite establishment. In Najaf, a small town in Iraq and since long a main ideological center for Shiism, this activist creed warned that the foreign intrusion in the region carried the ambition of plundering the Muslim world of its resources. Equally important, while these foreign schemes acknowledged the potential for resistance in Islam, they were perceived by these activists to encourage local elites to implement various programs of secularism. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini - one of the most prominent advocates of this particular creed, and also a former lecturer in Najaf - branded the ruler of the Iranian Pahlavi dynasty for selling out the country´s resources to the interests of the U.S.. The despotic nature of the Shah regime, together with its political and financial ties with Washington, were in the eyes of Khomeini mere proof of how imperialism gained control over the Muslim world by subjugating it to local tyrants. Although it was not directly a colonial enterprise, he asserted that the historical subduing posture of the Pahlavi dynasty to the British, and later on U.S., interests rendered Iran hardly different from other colonial models:

    The government has sold our independence, reduced us to a level of a colony, and made the Muslim nation of Iran seem more backward than savages in the eyes of the world!...If the religious leaders have influence they will not permit this nation to be slaves to Britain one day, and America the next...they will not permit Israel to take over the Iranian economy; they will not permit Israeli goods to be sold in Iran - in fact, to be sold duty free! (qouted in Esposito & Voll 1997: 55).

Out of this perception, Khomeini developed an ideology which divided the world into the "oppressed" and the "oppressors", giving it a "Shiite coloration" by "referring to the Qu´ranic concept of the oppressed as 'weak' (Q4:75, mustazafin) and the oppressors as 'proud and mighty' (Q16:22-23), mustakbirin) (George 1996: 82). In this view, the post-colonial stage of the world was dominated by the superpowers - the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. - and the "satellite"-regimes serving their interests.13 In order to oppose these global power structures, Khomeini promoted non-alignment, waving the banner reading "neither East nor West, only Islam" and envisaged how the masses of the Muslim world would overturn their corrupt and despotic rulers, using the Iranian revolution as an example (Deeb 1988).14 Against what was perceived as imperialism and corrupt despotism, he accordingly displayed Islam as an authentic source for mobilization and shield for future integrity. Here, one particularity of Khomeini is his innovation of the Welayat al-Faqih (The Rule of the Jurist) which, in short, had it that the ulama were to govern the state. The logic of Khomeini was simple: as the Islamic state per se is governed by the shar´ia and as the ulama is best qualified to interpret this law of Islam, the state should be ruled by the ulama (Esposito & Voll 1997). In that sense, the Ayatollah´s vision was a stark deviation from the quietist creed of Shiism that refrained from political life in the absence of the Mahdi. But between religion and politics, Khomeini declared, there was no distinction, urging the ulama: "It is important for you...to teach ritual manners. But what is more important are the political, economic, and legal problems of Islam. This has always been, and still ought to be, the [pivot] of our activity" (qouted in ibid: 62). As noted, moreover, the Islamic revolution was not confined to Iran. Its call for justice being universal, Khomeini regarded the export of it as imperative. And the Lebanese morass, as we shall see, would indeed turn out to be a prosperous market.

3.3 Lebanese Shiite activism

The predicaments of the Lebanese Shiites at the time of the revolution in Iran in 1979 stretched far back in time. As a community, the Shiites had been subjected to social and political marginalization for decades. Ever since the official independence from the French mandate in 1943, Lebanon had been governed by the so-called National Pact, an agreement - accepted by the French - between Christian Maronites and Sunni Muslim elites, which stipulated that political posts were to be distributed according to sectarian belongings.15 As this idea of confessionalism consolidated the old French idea of Maronite domination in Lebanon, it was made feasible by guaranteeing the financial interests of the Sunni elites. Lebanon by the time was a laissez-faire project in which politicians were guaranteed revenues in order to consolidate their power bases through vast patron-client networks. At the lower levels of this political hierarchy, the Shiites were represented by feudal landlords who merely paid lip service to their subjects.16 Investments by the government were mostly directed to areas of no concern for the Shiite communities with the result of socio-economic standstill in the Shiite strongholds of south Lebanon and the eastern parts of the Bekaa Valley. Moreover, as Palestinian guerillas started to flow into south Lebanon after the defeat in the 1967 war and the Black September in Jordan in 1970, hostilities between these and Israeli forces became increasingly present in and around the border zone next to Israel. Caught in the middle of the cross-fire, Shiite refugees from the south started to crowd the shanty-towns of southern Beirut where they no longer were under the protectorate of their patrons and where they painfully experienced the ignorance of the state in regard of social care. Meanwhile, the Lebanese state became increasingly fragmented and paralysed as the repercussions of the war of attrition in the south spread northwards. While supporting the Palestinian cause politically, the Maronite leadership urged for Palestinian restraint and the containment of the PLO forces whose actions were regarded as a threat to Lebanese sovereignity and - equally important - to the power-base of the Maronites.17 The Muslim stratas, of which the Shiites constituted a great number, were affected by the era of Arab nationalism and demanded reforms as the National Pact increasingly was regarded as obsolete and downright unjust. In 1975, the civil war broke out. The Sunni elites had a hard time in keeping their legitimacy as the "Muslim street" urged for more active support for the Palestinian cause. Non-parlamentarian, mainly Muslim, forces began to mobilize an opposition against the Lebanese state; joining hands with the politically and military branches of the PLO who also had begun to demand a more influential part at the Lebanese political scene. In fear of losing their priviliges as the the Lebanese state deteriorated and its army disintegrated, Christian communitites formed militias in order to improve their security and violently oppose the emerging radicalization of the non-parlamentarian opposition.

Whereas many a Shiite in the prelude and early stages of the civil war had joined the Lebanese Nationalist Movement (LNM), a Shiite mobilization also occured alongside more sectarian lines.18 The Lebanese ulama had for a long time acted in a quiestist way and usually refrained from the political game in Beirut, serving the interests of the Shiite zuama and their patron-client networks. But as poverty and war started to shake the main foundations of the Lebanese state, a number of Shiite mujtahids took on an activist political posture. However, it is noteworthy that this creed of Shiite activists split in two parts: The first was headed by Sayyed Musa al-Sadr, the other was represented by Sayyed Muhammed Husayn Fadlallah. Although both of them, no doubt, were dedicated scholars of Shiite thought and doctrines, they perceived the Lebanese predicaments differently and accordingly also promoted different methods of dealing with them. They had in common their contempt of the quietist traditional ulama as well as of the passivity of the zuama who did not want, or dare, to challenge the ignorance as it manifested itself in Beirut.19 Both argued that the Shiites had an obligation to react, to participate and, if necessary, to fight in order to change their fate and surrounding environment. But whereas Sayyed Musa worked from within a nationalist discourse and did not hesitate to participate in the Lebanese political framework, Sayyed Fadlallah argued according to a more internationalist discourse and rejected any personal political involvement. In 1974, Sayyed Musa formed Amal, a Shiite political - and later on armed - movement with the ambition to improve the sociopolitical status of the Shiite community as well as to protect the Shiites in the south from Israeli fire-power and the increasingly arbitrary - and often violent - domination of armed PLO forces in the area. But although Sayyed Musa missed no opportunities in pointing out the faults of the Lebanese regime, he did not act subversively against it. He did not share the sentiments among the Lebanese left of the time who maintained that Lebanon ought to be turned into an Arab nationalist revolutionary enterprise, as had several other states in the Middle East. Sayyed Musa had, according to Fouad Ajami, "learned the realities of the country" and therefore he "remained committed to the idea of a sectarian contract among the country´s principal sects" (ibid: 73).20 While preaching harmony and existence, his quest for justice concerned a rightful share of the power and influence on behalf of the Shiites.21 Moreover, with respect to the Palestinian cause, which so vehemently had imposed itself on Lebanon, he sympathized with the Palestinians on a political level but rejected the violence generated by the actions of the PLO in the south. The southerners, he asserted, had had enough burdens to bear. According to one observer, Sayyed Musa once stated that "The PLO is a factor of anarchy in the south. The [Shiites] are conquering their inferiority complex with respect to the Palestinian organizations. We have had enough!" (qouted in Norton 1987: 43).22 The ongoing war in the south truly posed a serious problem for many a Shiite leader: How to make a concrete stand in regard of the Palestinians? The southerners call for protection against the Israeli wrath was one thing, whereas shunning the tragedy of their Palestinian fellowmen would imply defeat against the Zionist state that all of them despised and considered illegitimate. "This tug-of-war between nationalism and internationalism", Chibli Mallat notes, "had become in the late 70s the common dilemma of most speakers from Jabal Amil [i.e. south Lebanon]" (1987: 9). In that context, Sayyed Fadlallah´s stand was crystal-clear: the diagnosis of the Lebanese predicament could only be sought, and solved, on an international level; the problems in south Lebanon were tied to the Palestinian tragedy as a whole, which, in turn, was connected to the large-scale imperialist designs for the Muslim world at large.23 To his mind, the very nature of the Zionist state was one of an usurper: just as Arab land had been confiscated by Israel in 1948 and 1967, so did the Lebanese south face the risk of being stolen and its population expelled (Kramer 1997: 115).24 Furthermore, once recognized by the colonial powers and now enjoying a total commitment and support from the U.S., Israel and its bonds with the Americans were, according to Sayyed Fadlallah, merely "aimed at turning the entire region here into a U.S.-Israeli zone of influence, as required by the strategic, political, and economic interests of the United States" (qouted in ibid.: 116). And finally, the expulsion of the Palestinians, he noted, could never, whatever the circumstances, be regarded as a legitimate action. If Muslims should stay true to their faith, they could not "for a moment recognise Israel´s legality", just as they could not "deem alcohol or adultery to be legal" (qouted in ibid: 115). "We believe in the liberty of man and the struggle for liberty", he has characteristically stated in one of his many condemnations of the Jewish state.

    This is the basis for our struggle with Israel which we believe has no legitimate right to Palestine. That they were living there or ruling that land over 2000 years ago is a historical or political joke. They stole that land and expelled its people. That is why we tell the Israelis to get out of Palestine and let them return to the lands from which they came...We have said that even if the Jews become Muslims, they do not have the right to remain in Palestine because they stole other people´s homes and land - which is unlawful. The problem has nothing to do with Jews or non-Jews. It is simply a matter of returning the land to its rightful owners.25

Hence, the fight against Israel, whether it was committed by Palestinians or Lebanese, was existential and universal; it concerned defence of land, protection of rights and the recapture of what had been dispossessed; issues too imperative for being contained or ignored in the name of calm and security. Then, as Kramer notes, whereas "Sayyed Musa saw the armed Shiite as a defender of his sect, which sought parity with other sects", Sayyed Fadlallah saw "the armed Shiite as an asset of Islam in a comprehensive confrontation with unbelief" (1997: 98). But beyond the religious rethoric, I believe that it is important to note that Sayyed Fadlallah stressed the same political criterias as Ayatollah Khomeini: they mainly concerned the right for self-determination in the face of the perceived imperialist aggression that sought the the resources of the Middle East region as well as the submission of its people.26 However, although he regarded the Lebanese and Palestinian predicaments as one of the same, Sayyed Fadlallah throughout the 70s remained ambiguous concerning the method of solving them. He held no greater illusions of the Palestinians' guerilla warfare in the south, or, for that matter, the political trend of Arab nationalism. The problem of the Arab world, he argued, was its "emotionalism", the expectations of a "quick fix" to solve fundamental questions as well as the inability to plan for the long-term (ibid: 95). While approving the call for unity inherent in the Arab nationalist trend, he acknowledged its weakness in mobilizing the masses and its failure to liberate Palestine (ibid: 93). Islam, he asserted, moved with another force, rejecting - like other Shiite activists - the historical quietist posture of the Shiite establishment. Taqiyya may once have been used as a means by his predecessors in order to survive in times of trouble - but it could not remain a permanent hideaway. The absence of the Mahdi did not mean that politics ought to be abandoned; religion was not to be contained to the mosques, away from life itself. Islam provided a path for those who wished to oppose the historical injustice created by men who had subdued to their own greedy desires. As believers, Shiites should seek strength in Islam when changing facts on the ground. Islam would sanction martyrdome and sacrifice and make the pious pursue what Sayyed Fadlallah labelled as "the rebellion against fear" (Kramer 1993: 546). Imam Husayn´s fate at Kerbala provided an example. If the absence of fear was strength, Imam Husayn had shown the way. As that day of his death is remembered and manifested by the Shiites on the day of the Ashura, Sayyed Fadlallah elucidated the symbolism of it: "Let the Ashura become the slogan of this century", he declared, "a true expression of a movement, which springs from within our nation in order to change our reality for the sake of a better future.

    Ashura endows us with a sense of purpose and a knowledge of how to meet challenges. On this day man feels that ideas are not merely the stuff of reading and philosophy, but forces that spur us to action, fundamentals that motivate us to confront the reality in order to alter it, to fashion it anew to the best of our ability...We are in great need of an Ashura mentality to build a new man who is aware of his role and ready for action, for we know that Allah helps only those who help themselves. It is incumbent upon man to take the initiative (qouted in Sivan 1990b: 65-66).

Sayyed Fadlallah´s internationalism lacked executives, however. The time was not right; his prayers would not gather the masses as the greater numbers of Shiites in Lebanon were not yet ready for it. During the turbulent years of the mid-70s, while Sayyed Musa caught the bulk of the limelight, Sayyed Fadlallah and his followers thus remained in the background, laying - as he put it - "foundations" for the future; waiting for their turn (Kramer 1997: 96). Nevertheless, as the Lebanese morass worsened, as Israel invaded the country on a grand scale in 1982 and put the Lebanon war on center stage of world attention, and as Ayatollah Khomeini became victorious in Iran, that very turn would finally arrive.

3.4 The rise of Hizbollah

Sure enough, it would be too easy to say that the Israeli invasion of 1982 created Hizbollah. But the invasion, no doubt, triggered its coming to existence. "The raison d´etre for [Hizbollah´s] formation was the [Israeli] occupation", the present secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah argued in 1996, and there was - according to him - no other plan than that. "True", he added, "Jerusalem and Palestine was on our minds, culture, thoughts and conscience. But Palestine had been occupied and Hizbollah had not been formed. What led to Hizbollah´s inception was the invasion of Lebanon in 1982"27. However, its emergence stemmed from a further radicalization and ideological split within the Shiite community which occurred as the Lebanese situation worsened and became even more violent. In this context, several factors were at play. Firstly, the Israeli engagement in Lebanon had increased in scope and intensity at the end of the 70s. From having of started of with frequent pin-point attacks against the PLO forces in the south during the late 60s and later on raising and financing a Lebanese proxy, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), around the border zone from the mid-70s and onwards, Israel invaded Lebanon for the first time in 1978. The Israeli change of policy was now aimed at squashing the presence and actions of the PLO forces in the south.28 International protests, though, including the declared UN resolution 425, soon made the Israeli forces conduct a partial withdrawal, i.e. down to its self-declared "security-zone" controlled by the SLA.29 However, in contrast to 1978, the Israeli invasion of 1982 carried far greater ambitions. Again, the aim was to crush the PLO but now the whole political and military infrastructure of the organization was to be expelled from Lebanese territory. Equally important, the Israeli plan intended to bring an end to the Lebanese civil war and facilitate the implementation of a Maronite-dominated government in Beirut, ready and able to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with the Jewish state. Israel envisaged the leader of the Lebanese Christian Phalange party, Bashir Gemayel, to be the new Lebanese president heading such an enterprise.30 In order to attain that goal, however, Israel would have to force the Syrian troops out of Lebanon as well. The Syrian army had intervened in Lebanon in 1976, allegedly to save the Beirut regime from being over-taken by the LNM-PLO alliance. As neither the Israelis nor the Syrians at the time had approved the idea of a such a revolutionary Arab regime in Beirut, the Israelis had given given their tacit understanding to the intervention. But in 1982, the Israelis accordingly decided to turn the tables on the Syrians.31 Thus Lebanon was about to move into a new sphere of influence which was, if not dictated by Israel at least coordinated with it - something that alarmed the Syrians as well as the newly born Islamic republic in Iran. To Syria, Israel was the arch-enemy, an occupier of the Syrian Golan Heights and a "state alien to the region" whose interference could only be "illegitimate and malign" (Seale 1988: 276). Agha & Khalidi points out that the Syrian hostility to Israel is "essentially reactive, based on a deep-seated perception of an Israeli military, political and cultural threat.

    But this hostility also has other elements, primary among them the Syrian commitment to the Palestinian cause. From a [Syrian] Baathist Pan-Arab perspective, the creation of Israel is not only morally unjust and a trespass against the Palestinians but a transgression against the Arab people and the greater Arab homeland. In this sense, the Syrian/Arab-Israeli conflict is not merely a political confrontation but a clash of destinies and civilizations. Israel is seen as a device to perpetuate Arab division and weakness, thus facilitating the continued external exploitation and manipulations of the Arab world and its resources (1995: 42).

As the battle between Syria and Israel for years had been fought by proxy on Lebanese soil, the loss of Lebanon into an Israeli sphere of influence would render Damascus isolated in the region. Moreover, even to Ayatollah Khomeini Israel was anathema. The Iranian Islamist rejection of the Jewish state stemmed from the latter´s earlier cooperation with the Shah regime on the one hand, and Khomeini´s ideological conviction that the Americans sought to subdue the Muslim world through the presence of Israel on the other. In addition, taking into account the Ayatollah´s quest for exporting his revolution, "strife-torn Lebanon", as Ramazani puts it, would serve as an "ideal battlefield" when opposing the "twin evils of Zionism and American imperialism" (1986: 155). And there were indeed radicalized Lebanese Shiites eager to fight that battle. A serious split had occured within the community as Sayyed Musa mysteriously disappeared during a visit to Libya and his movement Amal thereafter had adopted a secular leadership. A great number of the religious sentiments were thus left aggrieved and alienated.32 Furthermore, the Iranian revolution with all its aura of passion and Shiite righteousness had demonstrated "what a pious, well organized, and motivated Muslim movement could accomplish in the face of oppression and injustice" (Norton 1987b: 213). Whereas the Iranian experience was a mere source of inspiration for a great number of Shiites in Amal, the more religious sentiments increasingly regarded it as a profound idea of a political solution, even to the ills of Lebanon. The ultimate watershed, however, was Amal leader Nabih Berri´s decision to join the National Salvation Committe, a political body formed by the Lebanese president Ilyas Sarkis during the first stages of the Israeli invasion in 1982 with the intention of countering the consequences of the Israeli assault. The committe included the political elites of the country and most particularly Bashir Gemayel, the Phalangist leader by many regarded as "Israel´s man" in Lebanon and, rightly, accused for having a part in the invasion.33 From that day on, therefore, Amal was branded as a "sell-out" by the radicals who accordingly turned their back to the organization.34

Hence, external interests merged with domestic as both Damascus and Teheran wished to provide assistance to a Lebanese resistance bold enough to take on the mighty force of the Israeli war-machine. Meanwhile, the Amal leadership, which during the days of Sayyed Musa had served Syrian interests, now hinted that it gradually distanced itself from Damascus.35 In the search for a new player, then, Syria approved an Iranian offer to send a small contingent of 800-1000 Pasdarans (Revolutionary Guards) to the parts of the Bekaa Valley still under Syrian control (Agha & Khalidi: 15). The mission of these ideological soldiers was to boost Islamic steam, spirit and appeal of the Iranian revolution into the hearts and the minds the Shiites in the Bekaa who refused to recognize the accomodating postures of Amal. Then, as the internationalization of the Lebanese conflict intensified, the internationalist discourse stressed by Sayyed Fadlallah, now being encouraged by Ayatollah Khomeini, gained momentum.

3.5 The zeal and success of the Islamic Resistance

The small military cells of Hizbollah would strike fear into the hearts of its enemies in a way the PLO never had been able to do. If to be victorious, they had to be fearless. As Sayyed Fadlallah had argued: if to be strong, the Shiites had to rebel against their own fear. And so they did. As far as military means were concerned, the Lebanese Islamists acknowledged their weakness against the Israeli fire-power. But instead of conventional warfare, Islam and the Shiite activist quest for martyrdome and sacrifice would be the ideological fuel for will-power and strength. "We were a young movement wanting to resist a legendary army", Sayyed Nasrallah later recalled in the Lebanese daily al-Safir.

    This kind of direction required special kinds of men who would not worry about their homes being destroyed or about being hungry, thirsty, wounded or injured. The need was for men with the spirit of jihad, self-sacrifice and endless giving. The only name that befits a group born with such motivations and spirit, a group which has pledged itself to the almighty God and which takes decisions of self- martyrdome when resisting enemies, despite the huge military fighting imbalance of power between them, is the name of Hizbollah [Party of God] (qouted in Jaber 1996: 20).

In the Bekaa valley, The Iranian Pasdarans did their best for boosting that spirit. Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi, who later would become secretary-general of Hizbollah (and assassinated by Israel in 1992), went through a training camp run by the Pasdarans in 1982. There, he said, the Guards taught him about the imperative of sacrifice and martyrdome. "The school of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard", Sayyed Musawi later claimed, "made the Muslim youths love martyrdome. We were not suprised at all when, shortly after the arrival of the guards, a Muslim youth in Lebanon smiled at death while carrying with him 1,200 kilograms of explosives" (ibid: 546-7). The remark concerned a major attack against American targets in Lebanon, when a guerilla of the newly-born Islamic resistance drove a truck full of explosives into the U.S. Marines' headquarters in Beirut in October 1983, killing 241 Marines.36

From a political angle, the fatal entanglement of the U.S. in Lebanon between late 1982 and early 1984 was due to American willingness to assist the Lebanese state to restore order in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion - as the Israeli objectives with the invasion had went down the drain. True, the bulk of the PLO forces were expelled to Tunis by American mediation after a 52 days long Israeli siege of Western Beirut - where most guerillas had taken resort - during the height of the invasion in the summer of 1982. And the Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel, with whom the Israelis intended to cultivate relations was elected president in August the same year. But such schemes, as noted, had strong enemies - and Bashir Gemayel was assassinated shortly after being elected. His successor was to be his brother Amin Gemayel whom the Lebanese parliament elected with "an exceptionaly large majority" (Hanf 1993: 269). However, the set-up of the parliament hardly reflected the interests flourishing in the streets. The Lebanese state was weak, facing unbeaten Syrian forces in the east and a Shiite community in transformation that vigilantly observed the next moves to be made by the president. The Israelis, in turn, withdrew from Beirut as they were charged responsible for the infamous massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.37 As a result, a Multinational Force (MNF), consisting of U.S., French and Italian troops, was sent to Beirut in order to provide assistance to the regime when restoring its authority. However, the new Lebanese president surely miscalculated his moves. Firstly, confident in having the back-up by the world´s greatest superpower, he developed ties with the old traditional guard of the Shiite political establishment, ignoring the new movements - most notably Amal which eagerly had appealed and hoped for change and reform (Norton 1991: 120-121). Secondly, he cracked down hard on the Shiite community by ordering the Lebanese army to demolish their illegally built shanties in the southern surburbs of the capital and driving the squatters, mainly Shiites, away. Thirdly, he approved a treaty with the Israelis, the so-called 17th May Agreement, in 1983, mediated by the Americans and a further proof in the eyes of the rejectionist parties that the Lebanese state was no more than a defeatist entity, laying flat out in front of what was percieved as an American-Israeli alliance.38 In this context, the Lebanese state and the MNF merged into one party and had therefore to face the wrath of the Islamic resistance. Sayyed Fadlallah later stressed that the MNF was not on a mission of peace of any kind. The MNF, he pointed out, "was perceived by the people as an umbrella organization protecting the regime, protecting Israel, not protecting the people".39 Hence, instead of imposing order, the soldiers from the West became just another militia in a civil war that was far from ended, or even exhausted, as Islamists guerillas took on the MNF, the Phalange and the Israelis with an ever increasing force and will-power. In harsh words, The New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Friedman claimed that the American Marines became victims by their own innocence and by the "ignorance and arrogance of the weak, cynical and in some times venal Reagan Administration.

    By blindly supporting [president] Amin Gemayel, by allowing Israel a virtually free hand to invade Lebanon with American arms and by not curtailing Israel´s demands for a peace treaty with Beirut, the Reagan Administration had tipped the scales in favor of one Lebanese tribe - the Maronites - and against many others, mainly Muslims. Washington was helping to inflict real pain among the people, and there would be a price to pay for that (Friedman 1989: 204).

That was a price it could not afford. In February 1984, after mounting losses and severe hardships, the MNF withdrew from Lebanon, leaving behind it a curtain of gunsmoke and a Lebanese government in a serious shambles. Meanwhile, the Israelis, too, were on the retreat. Down south, where the IDF in the initial stage of the invasion had widely been welcomed as liberators from the chaotic reign of the PLO, the local population started to question the real intentions behind the Israeli presence. As one Shiite mullah of the south pointed out: "For seven or eight months, there was no resistance against the Israelis because people thought they had come for peace...Israel said it was to provide protection for the Galilee [in northern Israel]. But people were deceived. They began to believe they were facing a bigger nightmare that that of the Palestinians" (Wright 1986: 220). As the 17th May Agreement did not materialize and the MNF crouched down under continuous fire in Beirut, the Israelis searched in vain for partners with whom to conclude a security regime in the south, all in order to hamper any Palestinian attempt to once again reach the border zone. But no respectable leader of the south was either willing or able to do so.40 Instead, Israel established militias by its own means. Norton assumes, however, that "in many cases, the very men who were recruited to serve in the militias were the social misfits and toughs who had been terrorizing the south for years. Israel came to be judged by the company it chose to keep" (Norton 1987a: 111). As a result, from being welcomed as a friend, Israel turned into an enemy. Increasing mass-arrests and manhunting for a resistance that had changed from being mainly Palestinian to mainly Lebanese Shiite, strengthened the impression of the Israelis as oppressors and occupiers in the eyes of the southerners. Indeed, besides the repressive reign of the Israelis and their collaborators, the locals also perceived a danger in leaving their homes. As Jaber argues,

    If the Shiites had learned anything from the Palestinian experience, it was that fighting was the only way to prevent Israel or anyone else from taking their land. Everyone remembered how the Palestinians were driven out of their homeland when the state of Israel was founded. Most had heard how the refugees had believed their displacement would only be temporary, but it lasted nearly four decades. Above all, the Palestinians' ordeal had taught the Lebanese not to abandon their villages and homes: confrontation and opposition were the only answer (1997: 17).

Hence, the more existential character of the Israeli threat as it once had been outlined by Sayyed Fadlallah and his creed was now perceived by vast numbers of the local population as a reality - and thus the Israeli forces became direct targets. It ought to be noted, though, that Amal as long as possible tried to calm the situation, although its commanders refused to formalize ties with the Israelis. But as the situation became dire and finally exploded in late 1983, even Amal turned against the IDF with full force.41 The resistance would prove itself just as lethally effective and intrepid as it did in Beirut, and nearly as victorious. In early 1985, Israel conducted the final stage of a large-scale withdrawal from the Lebanese territory it had conquered but failed to control in the 1982 invasion. It stopped short of the internationally recognized border, however, re-establishing its former "security zone" under de facto control by Israel assisted by the SLA. In the eyes of the militant strands of the Shiite community, Israel had been beaten and humilitated. For decades the stakes had been on the contrary, with Israel as a perceived proud giant and the Arab world as an eternal underdog. But now, the resistance of the south had dealt the psychic of the Israeli army some severe blows. As one Shiite leader boasted at the time of the withdrawal:

    The Israelis were famous for their intelligence coups, stealing the gunboats from Cherbourg under the nose of the French, kidnapping Adolf Eichmann, the Entebbe raid freeing the airline passengers, stealing the radar from the Egyptians. But they failed here. We have destroyed the myth that Israel is the world´s fourth largest military power. We have done it ourselves, without being paid like the Palestinians and without being helped by the Arabs. In all the Arab world, no one has resisted like us (qouted in Wright 1996: 238).

And while viewing the back of the retreating Israelis, the spirit awaken by the resistance would be transformed into a political currency. Where the PLO had failed together with the Arab nationalists, and where Amal had shown a lack of committment, Hizbollah would meet the desires of those who still regarded the destiny of Lebanon as intertwined with the fate of the region as a whole.


12"Suffice it to say", the Shiite scholar Husain M. Jafri notes, "that [Ali] was not the closest member of the Prophet´s family but from his childhood also he was brought up by the Prophet, the recipient of Divine revelation, and thus Ali and Islam grew together and he became an embodiement of the teachings of the Qu´ran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (1988: 45). According to the prominent Shiite scholar Allamah Tabataba´i, "the Holy Qu´ran emanates from sources beyond the comprehension of the common man. No one can have a full comprehension of the Qu´ran save those servants of God whom he has chosen to purify. And the Household of the Prophet are among those pure beings" (1988: 25).

13In an adress to the Gulf states in 1993, Ayatollah Khomeini accused these for merely serving American schemes in the region: "What America wants from you is oil and profit; it wants you to remain the market for it. The same thing applies to the Soviet Union; there is no distinction. They want to take advantage of you; they want to make use of the resources given you by God; they want you to be [a] servant for them. But if you encounter difficulties, then none of them will respond to your cry for help. Do you not know them? This is the situation for those who think of themselves and their own world. They cooperate with those who serve their own interests. However, as soon as they realize that this no longer applies, then they reject them" (qouted in Ramazani 1988: 23).

14In the manifest of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Khomeini boasted about the quest for independence and revolutionary steam that the Islamic experience in Iran has achieved and planted throughout the world: "We declare ourselves free and immune from those who have plundered the resources of the state and who have imported their own lackeys and proxies over them; powers who from thousand kilometers away have placed their heavy claws over their lands, and have violated and occupied their boundaries on land and in water...Our declaration of immunity is a cry of defence of our school of thought, integrity and honour in defense of our resources, wealth and capital" (Khomeini 1993: 24-26).

15A census, conducted by the French mandatory power in 1932, estimated that the Christians constituted 52 per cent of the population and the Muslims 45.5 per cent. The Maronites formed the bulk of the Christians, 30 per cent of the whole populace. Within the Muslims community, the Sunnis formed 21 per cent, the Shiites 18 per cent and the Druze 6 per cent. Therefore, it was stipulated that the strong executive, the president, was to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunnite, the speaker of parliament a Shiite, and the head of the armed forces a Druze. In parliament, moreover, seats were distributed according to a 6:5 ratio. for every sixth seat given to the Christains, the Muslims should be given five (Deegan 1993: 104-107).

16As Elizabeth Picard notes, "the Shiite elites took full advantage of the community-based system and were reluctant to make social demands in parliament on behalf of the people they claim to represent. The main Shiite leaders, members of important landowning families, augmented their economic power through other forms of legitimacy: either tribal, or inherited from the Ottoman empire with a bey titel, or through memberships of the sayyed-s - the descendants of the Prophet. They used an uncommon form of corruption to control entry into into parliament and thus assured the exclusivety of access to the state through clientist relations" (1997: 198).

17The Lebanese dilemma was embodied in the Cairo Agreement, negotiated by the Palestinian leaders Yassir Arafat and the Lebanese Army General, Emile Boustani, in Egypt in 1969. On paper, the agreement assured the PLO its right to establish armed units in the Palestinian refugee camps in the south. It also guaranteed the PLO free access to the border zone next to Israel. In effect, therefore, the agreement sanctioned the continuation of the Palestinians' guerilla warfare against Israel. It also enabled the PLO to behave as a state within a state. "By this agreement", Theodor Hanf notes, "Lebanon had granted the PLO far wider rights than any other Arab country had done" (1993: 166). For the text of the agreement, see appendix in Nasrallah (1992: 53-55).

18The Lebanese National Movement was a coalition of Lebanese leftist and Arabist nationalist forces, and the most important ally of the PLO. Its agenda stressed profound reform in terms of deconfessionalization and social justice. For an overview of this constellation and the forces keen on keeping the status quo, see (Rabinovich 1983: 60-88). According to Norton, the secular Lebanese left wing groups within the LNM, which mobilized many Shiites in the early stages of the war, had a hard time surviving. Firstly because Lebanese politics are deeply shaped and distinguished by sectarian belongings; i.e. class consciousness, where it exists, is often "overlained" and "obscured" by primodial interests. Secondly, with respect to the Shiites, they often perceived themselves as the "cannon fodder" within the LNM, "and with very little to show for their grief" (Norton 1987: 26).

19Zuama is pluralis of za´im which is equivalent to clanleader or a local powerful boss. The za´im held a powerful position in the social and political life. He was the "organizing principle", Ajami notes, the protector, the distributor of jobs, licenses and various services for a certain region belonging to a certain community (1986: 16).

20With respect to the Lebanese left, who in the mid-70s wanted Palestinian help to overthrow the Lebanese state, Sayyed Musa regarded that as a "doomed path", Ajami argues: "the Arab world was far too important in the global balance for such change to be permitted by outside forces" (1986: 173).

21As Jospeh Olmert notes: "The state bore the brunt of Sadr´s criticisms, not because he rejected it, but because he believed in it: Sadr shared the traditional Shiite respect for the Lebanese state and spelled out his demands as a call to the existing state to meet its obligations to the citizens" (Olmert 1987). For a twenty point political program provided by Amal in the mid-70s, see Norton (1987).

22 aIn conversation with an American political officer, Sayyed Musa is reported to have said that he did feel sympathy for the Palestinians, but "our sympathy no longer extends to actions which expose our people to additional misery and deprivation" (Ajami 1986: 162).

23"The problem of the South is a part of the Palestinian problem", he argued in 1972. "The claim of politicians and some others, that the departure of the Palestinian [guerillas] from the region would solve the problem, is talk for the sake of talk, anachronistic words, a temporary anesthetic" (qouted in Kramer 1997: 94).

24In this fear, Sayyed Fadlallah was not alone. Another Shiite ideologue, Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddin warned that the deterioration of the situation in the south would allow Israel to add "a new hostage next to Jerusalem and the Golan...Any worsening of the South, which has reached with its inhabitants the pit will lead to its loss, and to the whole of the country: after the catastrophe occurs, God forbid, there will certainly be powers to eulogize the loss of the South and writers to mourn it (Mallat 1987: 16).

25Interview with Sayyed Fadlallah, The Middle East Insight vol. 4 no. 2 1995, p. 13.

26Sayyed Fadlallah argued that "imperialism cannot bear having Muslims proceed from a premise of intellectual self-reliance and it cannot bear having the Muslims act through economic and political self-sufficiency. It wants us to continue sitting at its table, feeding ourselves with the thought and consumer products it offers us" (qouted in Kramer 1997: 93).

27Interview with Nasrallah, The Middle East Insight, May-August 1996, p. 38.

28For an overview of the Israeli invasion in 1978, see Norton (1987: 49-52); Hanf (1993: 228-231).

29Resolution 425, passed by the UN Security Council 19th March 1978, called for the "strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignity and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders"; it called upon Israel to "cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw its forces from all Lebanese territory"; and it decided that a peace-keeping force under UN auspices - the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - should be established in order to confirm "the withdrawal of the Israeli forces, restoring peace and security and assisting the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area". For the whole text of the resolution, see Nasrallah (1992: 33).

30For an account of the Israeli invasion in 1982, see Schiff & Ya´ari (1984).

31According to Norton, Israel "was poised" to invade Lebanon and crush the PLO, "the organizational impediment to Israel´s effective annexation of [the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip]. The Palestinians of the the territories were, it was thought, too petrified to challenge the PLOs authority, but once the PLO was cut down to size, things would change. Moreover, with a peace treaty with Egypt secured [in 1979], the time was ripe for the Lebanese to make peace with Israel. This would further isolate the Syrians, while lending weight to the notion that if Palestinian aspirations of independence were to be consummated, it would be in Jordan" (Norton 1993: 67).

32As Simon Shapira notes, Amal "lost its charismatic leader" it also lost "the central unifying axis around whom the entire movement´s leadership had coalesced...No longer would there be a religious leader, an Imam garbed in a traditional robe, but a largely secular and active leadership which saw its paramount mission as promoting the interests of the Shiite community within the framework of the Lebanese state, and whose feet were firmly planted in the murky reality of Lebanese politics" (Shapira 1988: 119).

33For Bashir Gemayel´s connections with Israel, see Schiff & Ya´ari (1984).

34According to one observer, that decision by Nabih Berri was "the single most important event" in the history of the emergence of Hizbollah. "Berri´s membership in the committee", he argues, "reinforced the rift in the Amal movement between Berri´s faction and those who were pushing for a more hard-line Islamic line in accordance with Iranian designs in Lebanon (AbuKhalil 1990: 391).

35Amal´s vehemence against the PLO presence in the south had made Nabih Berri envisage, and seemingly accept, a new kind of Lebanese order as the Palestinians faced defeat. In July 1982, he argued that "Some Lebanese leaders representing large factions of certain Lebanese communities have seen the Israeli Army´s entry as a liberation...I do not share this view, but I can understand it...and I must take into account the feelings of a section of the population. They may be mistaken, but it would be absurd to envisage any future for Lebanon without them" (qouted in Bailey 1987: 234 n.7).

36A few minutes after the attack, the French headquaters also became the target of an Islamist suicide-bomber. 58 French paratroopers were killed in the attack.

37For a comprehensive report of these massacres, see Fisk (1991: 357-400). Estimations of the numbers killed in the massacres vary from 500 up to 2000 civilians.

38For an analysis of the agreement, see Seale (1988: 394-420). For the full text of it, see Journal of Palestine Studies, 12(4), Summer 1983, pp. 91-101.

39Interview in The Middle East Insight, vol. 4 no. 2 1985, p. 19.

40According to Norton, the "principal cause" why Israel and the SLA failed in organizing friendly militias was their "inability...to recruit locally respected leaders. Even if [these leaders] wanted to deal with Israel for the sake of restoring civility to their homeland, popular local leaders were keenly aware of the dangers and disincentives for doing so" (Norton 1987a: 111).

41Norton argues that Amal could not cooperate with Israel as that would undermine its political integrity and leave a lot of its followers to the open arms of the Shiite radicals opposing Amal, i.e. Hizbollah. Moreover, the Syrians would not recognize any ties with the Israelis, and Damascus has a record of skill when it comes to support and divide the Shiite community in order to make it toe its line. "Given the requirements of its political milieu"; Norton concludes, "Amal´s dilemma is transparent: it must not be seen as abetting Israel´s interests, but instead it must present itself as the prime force responsible for expelling Israel from Lebanon" (Norton 1987a: 123). For another thorough discussion of Amal´s position, see Yaniv (1987: 235-247).


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