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

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Summary and conclusion

In this study, my point of departure was to acknowledge the dualism that in general characterizes political Islam. As two authors noted in the introduction, there seems to be a curious contradiction between the absolutist nature of political Islam (being harbingers of the divine truth) and the relativist character of democracy and multi-partyism. Hence, Islamists are often blamed for using foul means when opting for integration, i.e. they aim at overturning the system from within into a totalitarian Islamist enterprise with no room for views different from the divine norm. Be that as it may, I have maintained that the view might be accurate, that Islamists in their ideological essence do not harbour any inclination to the bargaining and meddling of multi-party politics. This view was indeed also affirmed by the Shiite mentor Sayyed Fadlallah in the introduction. Nevertheless, a central argument throughout this study is that essence is one thing and pragmatism something else. Once within the fray of pluralist politics, the agenda of the Islamists seems less to concern absolutist ventures and more a policy of how to improve the life of the mundane and most temporal. Once within the rules of the game Islamists are ready to acknowledge day-to-day politics - if allowed to, of course. As Anderson noted, regimes often "deserve" the nature of the forces in opposition. In that vein, Islamists often have been intent on taking to violence when facing exclusion and repressive rule. Aggressive rejectionism of that kind could thus be considered as reactions against the specific regimes in charge rather than as being due to purely ideological standpoints, despising anything that does not correspond to divine doctrines and orders. Several authors therefore argued that inclusion will breed accomodating and pragmatic postures from Islamists. Charles Tripp labelled this phenomenon "the secular logic" of the state and mass politics. That is, as a force in opposition, Islamists will capitalize on the shortcomings of the state and respond appropriately. Both actions and agenda of Islamists are thus to be understood in their own specific relation to the state. Food for thought, then, is that political Islam is the continuation of the same ideological interests that once were promoted by Arab nationalism, i.e. it mainly concerns central issues such as self-determination and socio-economic development and dignity. Whereas Arab regimes generally have made a mockery of these visions, Islamist movements, at least in the Arab world, have emerged as standard-bearers of the same themes, albeit with new colours. In short, they have thrived on the failures of their governments, or competing political movements - as was the case with the PLO and Hamas in the occupied territories of Palestine. From that angle, then, circular reasonings on political Islam could be avoided. Islamism, that is, does not merely comprehend rethoric and personell (as was argued by some authors in the introduction) - but a popular political agenda already rooted within the Arab public opinion.

Maybe Sayyed Fadlallah was to the point in this regard when he expressed his doubts about the Palestinian guerillas who fought the Israelis in south Lebanon during the seventies. After the Arab debacle in the 1967 war, Lebanon emerged as the boxing-ring for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Besides blaming both the PLO and Arab nationalism in general for their lack of long term strategies and efficiency, Sayyed Fadlallah cultivated the thought of a resistance more enduring, visionary and self-sacrificing. His wishes came true with Hizbollah. In the sectarian context of Lebanon, the Arab nationalist left, i.e. the LNM met competition from Sayyed Musa Sadr and Amal. Here, the regional ambitions of Arab nationalism thus clashed with the Shiite communal aspiration of overcoming political marginalization and socio-economic misery. Whereas the civil war fragmented Lebanon in sectarian schisms and the Shiite community became fed up with the PLO, the LNM lost popularity to the advantage of Sayyed Musa and Amal. Furthermore, as the Israeli invasion of 1982 crushed PLO, it further weakened the Arab-Lebanese left, leaving the idea of a continued resistance up for grabs. At first, Amal´s secular-oriented leadership hesitated, noting a willingness in accomodating a regime ready to deal with the Israeli invaders. Accordingly, radical and pious Shiite sentiments broke with Amal in order to form its own Islamist-inspired resistance, Hizbollah. Through religious zeal, partly inspired by the Iranian Pasdarians in the Bekaa, Hizbollah then managed to mobilize its lethal conduct. By defeating the MNF and Israel, these Islamist upstarts succeeded in liberating Lebanon from the perceived threat of an American-Israeli ambition of supervising the country. Ideologically speaking, this achievement was truly in line with Ayatollah Khomeini´s international discourse, i.e. to fight a current form of colonialism: the American quest for domination; Israel being its ultimate spearhead. Nevertheless, the Islamist struggle also concerned the for decades long Shiite mobilization that demanded socio-economic betterment as well as the end to political marginalization. In this vein, Hizbollah´s Islamism was able to merge regional and national ambitions.

Yet the eighties signified war and rejectionism. By Hizbollah´s standards, the Lebanese state by that time was good for nothing. The elites running the state were not ready to challenge Israel - rather, these notables displayed an apparent readiness in signing a peace treaty with the Jewish state. Thus the hostilities from Hizbollah. However, the Ta´if Accord and the Syrian ascendacy into the bargain brought about what Hizbollah regards as imperative: the legitimacy of fighting the Israeli occupation of the south, the last remnant of the American-Israeli project of the eighties. The Syrian leverage thus enabled Hizbollah to continue and develop one vital part of its internationalist quest of opposing American-Israeli schemes. Then, in terms of Gramsci, Hizbollah is seemingly close to the political society of Lebanon, ultimately Syria. Indeed, the two players have embarked on a joint venture ever since the emergence of Hizbollah. For the time being at least, this alliance seems to hold, although it may encounter severe challenges if a breakthrough would occur in the negotations with Israel.

Still, on a domestic level, the confessional system remains intact. The Islamists despise this system as it is seen to merely benefit the laissez-faire-policies of the elites and encourage sectarianism and social division, thereby hampering efforts for national unity. Not the least, the confessional system also discriminates the Shiites - and accordingly Hizbollah - as their seats in parliament do not reflect their proportion of the populace. Hence, opposing these structures is serving both the internationalist ambitions - connected to Khomeini´s Islamism - and the decades-long domestic struggle of the Shiite community. Indeed, with respect to Hizbollah´s role as a harbinger of social welfare and non-corruptive standards of procedures, the movement - like many other Islamists in the region - has gained a reputation of honesty and integrity. On the one hand, this could be seen, from a Gramscian angle, as efforts at integrating its message into the civil society, fighting the war of positions in the competition of popular support. On the other hand, as noted, this domestic social orientation of Hizbollah has been on the agenda of the Lebanese Shiites since the early days of Sayyed Musa al Sadr in the late sixties. No doubt that this is an important reason for Hizbollah´s popularity: they have not - as Amal - become a part of an establishment which is perceived to neglect a great many areas of Lebanon, not the least where the Shiites reside. Hizbollah has managed to stay true to the core of these domestic appeals of the Shiites.

Nonetheless, the ideological zeal of Hizbollah still haunts many Lebanese, them being afraid of the Islamists gaining a real position of power and imposing for example Islamic codes in the Lebanese way of life (as was done in some areas during the civil war). In addition, the upsurge in popularity for Hizbollah is also a fright to other parties and elites in Lebanon. Indeed, even Syria seems, to some extent, to wish to keep the Islamists at bay. The movement is thus forced to walk a tightrope if not to upset and antagonize an already fragile environment. Hence the indefatigable calls for unity and reconciliation from the Islamists. Equally important, Hizbollah has adopted a national discourse aimed at striking chords among the Lebanese public, no matter its confessional or political belonging. Just as Gramsci told the working class to universalize its socialist agenda, Hizbollah is promoting issues that will gain a hearing beyond its own constituency. Echoing the pillars of Arab nationalism, this agenda concerns a continued armed resistance as long as the Israeli occupation of the south remains in place; a stronger emphasis on social welfare in regard of economic policies; and the coordination with Syria and Iran in terms of foreign policy. With respect to liberating Jerusalem, for instance, a spokesman argued that Hizbollah is working from within a national consensus. Therefore, they have dropped to talk about that issue although it remains an essential ideological corner-stone in their minds. Needless to say, such a venture of liberating Jerusalem would hardly gain a vast hearing in contemporary Lebanon. However, this elucidates Hizbollah´s current effort at attaining a Lebanese consensus it can approve of and use as a framework of action. By finally driving the Israelis out of Lebanon without any agreements being signed, Hizbollah would achieve a great deal in terms of political prestige. With mission accomplished, Hizbollah would probably stop short of the international border as the Lebanese consensus, at that stage, would not approve of any attacks across it. As liberators of the south, however, Hizbollah would likely encourage other Islamist and anti-Israeli activists in the region to heat up various forms of resistance against the Jewish state. In the occupied territories of Palestine, the message would be loud and clear: Israel can be defeated. At least, it would boost a spirit of "keeping the conflict with Israel alive"; if not on military so at least on political terms.

At the same time, Hizbollah is eager in rooting itself within the civil society of Lebanon. By continuing the Shiite quest for social and political improvements, Hizbollah will make sure of its own position in case of a change of the course within the political society of Lebanon. What to do for instance if Lebanon, together with Syria, finally signed a peace accord with Israel? What to do if Syria changes its ideological and strategical posture and decides to normalize its relations with the Jewish state? Hizbollah may then end up in shambles. Therefore, a firm rooting in the civil society will imply a fortunate resort. The greater the support for Hizbollah, the harder it will be to ignore. From that position, Hizbollah would be able to generate a force of opposition against any efforts to normalize Lebanon´s relation with the Jewish state. But a further rooting also implies further integration and accomodation. Thus, another Gramscian thought or problem appears: how far can Hizbollah integrate without being too accomodating? At what stage would it lose its authentic appeal? Already criticism has been launched from the Bekaa - most likely Hizbollah is learning from these kind of charges. Thus it is important to note that Hizbollah is not merely contained but also a part of the Lebanese context. That is, it emerged as Amal lost credibility and the Lebanese left was up against the ropes and as Israel was tormenting the country with assaults and occupation. During this period of time, Islamic Iran was eager in exporting its revolution and Syria keen on regaining its position in Lebanon. Although violent at its birth, Hizbollah adopted to circumstances and played by the unwritten rules laid down by the constellation of particular power-interests. Once elections were at hand, moreover, Hizbollah decided to join, well aware that it enjoys a particular mandate within the public. This mandate, as we have seen, has more to do with the shortcomings of the political actors within the Shiite community and the Lebanese state than rigid Islamic doctrines and decrees. Most likely, this socially-oriented discourse will continue to be the raison d´etre of Hizbollah once the country is revealed from the Israeli occupation.

Then, just as for the Islamists in Jordan, integration has served as a strategic step for Hizbollah. According to the activist school of Shiism, this could hardly be regarded as an illegitimate measure. The Shiites creed, as noted, emerged because of the perceived dilemma of craving the divine while living the worldly. Like Gramsci opposed Marx determinism, Shiite activists such as Ayatollah Khomeini and Sayyed Fadlallah declared that it was incumbent upon man to make his own day. Political participation was thus necessary, indeed imperative, if to promote the divine norm, i.e. a set of principles that function as a leading light when fighting an order of oppression and exploitation. The doctrine of ijtihad is accordingly a way of translating these principles into a contemporary context and figure out the best means of attaining them.

In sum, then, the so-called "Lebanonization" of Hizbollah is a splendid example of the way the secular logic will form the agenda and the actions of a specific Islamist movement. It also shows the way an Islamist actor, historically speaking, is a part of the constraints and opportunites given by the context in which it is operating. While the context once bred rejectionism and violence, it now breeds domestic courtesy and accommodation. In any case, it has enabled Hizbollah to stay the course. Only the rocky road ahead can determine whether the movement will change that course or not.


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