Saturday, August 26, 2006

Michel Hajji Georgiou & Michel Touma -- Origins of Hezbollah

Two scholars from the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut trace the history of Lebanon from Ottoman times, explaining the origins and development of what we now know as Hezbollah. Thanks to the diligent and timely translating of Nur al-Cubicle those of us who are gluttons for punishment can plow through this excellent three part piece.

I was able to get all I needed reading from the monitor but I would suggest printing it out to read later.

Whatever the outcome of the current conflict impacting the nation, a grand debate will doubtlessly ensue on the political future of Hezbollah and on the nature of its future relationship with the other elements inthe Lebanese social fabric. Certain questions are on everyone’s mind. Are Hezbollah’s political decisions, yes or no, in some respect owing to orders from Iran? Is Hezbollah motivated strictly by community interests, which go beyond Lebanon and are defined in a larger context? How is the rapid rise in power of the Shi’ite movement explained? In a series of three articles, Michel Hajji Georgiou and Michel Touma analyze the different historical, sociological, doctrinal and political factors that comprise the structure and foundations of Hezbollah. The first article discusses the long historical and sociological processes which paved the way to the birth of the party at the beginning of the 1980’s.All three ariticle are drawn from a study published in Issue 77 of Travaux et jours printed by the University of Saint-Joseph (Beirut).

Part 1

Under the Ottoman Empire, the rights of Shi’ites were not recognized as demonstrated by the formation in the 1800’s, in compliance with an edict of Shekib Effendi, of an advisory council of each of the caïmacamat (districts) created in Mount Lebanon at the middle of the century. With the outbreak of the 1845 confessional troubles in the mountains, the great powers of the period initiated talks with the Ottoman authorities to end the conflict. Because of these international démarches, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shekib Effendi, decided to create within the two mountain caïmacamats a mixed council bringing together -one representative per community– magistrates representing the Maronites, the Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Sunnis and the Druze. The Sunni magistrate was to represent the Shi’ites as well.

This discrimination persisted until the fall of the Ottoman Empire and one would have to wait until 1926 before the existence of the Shi’ite community as a social entity, was officially recognized.
...socioeconomic disparity persisted long after Lebanon’s independence in 1943. It constituted the seeds of a less than desirable social situation which the Shi’ite community, representing the majority of the population, faced in the disadvantaged peripheral areas annexed by Lesser Lebanon...
...The status of the Shi’ite population was further degraded at the end of the 1960s and at the beginning of the 70s with the establishment of armed Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon, the escalation in Fedayeen operations against Israel from their base in Arkoub and Israeli reprisals targeting the heavily Shi’ite southern region.

A progressive but sustained exodus of the these populations toward the suburbs of the capital resulted. The exiled southerners swelled the ranks of the Shi’ite sub-proletariat that formed a “misery belt” around the capital. It is within this potentially explosive context that a number of Shi’ite ulemas debarked in Beirut from Qom and Najaf during the 1960s. Three of them, Imam Mussa Sadr, Sheikh Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddeen, and Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, rapidly distinguished themselves by their religious jurisprudence, their vast religious learning and the clear vision of the path that would lead the Shi’ites out of their status as a disinherited population.
The Movement of the Disinherited thus constituted the first sociopolitical structure made available to the Shi’ites since the Ottoman Empire. Witnessing the implantation of armed Palestinian organization in the Arkoub and under the effect of the military escalation that followed, Imam Sadr secretly created, at the beginning of the 1970s, the armed Amal militia, that was then supervised and trained by Fatah. The existence of this militia – the new façade of the Movement of the Disinherited – was spectacularly revealed in 1974 following a murderous explosion during a military training exercise in the Bekaa Valley. The appearance of Amal fostered by Mussa Sadr created a current within the subproletarian Shi’ite community that, in the absence of such a structure, would have attracted them to secular movements or the Left, such as the Communist Party, the Lebanese Communist Action Organization (OACL) or the Ba’ath Party and absorbed them.

Part 2 LINK

The creation of the Islamic Republic in Iran in February 1979 and its policy of exporting revolution adopted shortly thereafter by the new power have been, from all available evidence, the main catalyst in the development of the radical Islam in Lebanon. When Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Tehran, small radical Shi’ite groups were already active in Lebanon, but on a small scale.
This amorphous situation was maintained until the June 1982 Israeli operation, “Peace in Galilee”. The rapid penetration of the Israel Army (Tsahal), which reached the gates of Beirut, incited these small groups to conduct prompt resistance operations. The ranks of the radical movement were reinforced during that June when discord broke out within the Amal movement, led by Nabih Berry, following the death of Moussa Sadr in Libya in August 1978. After Nabih Berry's decision to join the National Salvation Committee crated by Elias Sarkis in June 1982 (which included the head of government, Shafik Wazzan, as well as Bashar Jamayel and Walid Jumblatt), several leaders and officers created the dissident movement, Islamic Amal.
At first, between 1982 and 1985, the radical movement gave top priority to resistance operations against Tsahal. Despite the significant asymmetry in forces, Shi’a fighters rapidly succeeded in striking a few blows against the Israeli Army. This punctual success against the Israeli Goliath can be explained by the importance of martyrdom in the Shi’ite cosmos. The martyrdom of Imam Hussein in the Battle of Karbala (680) constitutes for believing Shi’a Muslims a heroic narrative and an example for emulation by every individual. Hezbollah’s Number 2, Sheikh Naim Kassem, underscores this in his book on the Party of God...

[ed. At this point the martyrdom notion was introduced to overcome the mathematical disadvantage of the many casualties associated with gurrilla warfare. Go to the link to read the full description. I have previously linked to Matthias Kuntzel's chilling description of the Basij army.]

It is in February 1985 that Hezbollah makes public its political agenda in the form of an Appeal to the Disinherited. This document defines the party’s major policy orientations both at an ideological and doctrinal level concerning the Lebanese political situation and its position vis-à-vis Israel and the United States.
The understood hostility concerning Israel marks the political discourse of Hezbollah. The party leadership has ridiculed calls for pragmatism in order to find a solution likely to end the conflict with Israel. In this context, the party leadership does not hide its total solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people without going as far as overt aid or concrete support for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. While it affirms the rejection of blind terrorism, they refuse to condemn the suicide operations led by the Palestinians.

As to their position concerning the West, Hezbollah leaders avoid an any attitude that might be viewed as hostile to Western Civilization and affirms that they are not opposed to the West as such but to the “colonialist behavior” of certain Western states.

LINK to Part 3

I have no intention of trying to parse Part Three of this series. It is too complex. Besides, most American readers would be staring into space after a few lines, especially since Nur illustrates the post with snapshots of Nasrallah, Ho, Che and Leon Trotsky all in a row. Pretty sharp on her part if you ask me, but I'm just an old pinko history buff from the Sixties. What do I know?

The curious reader who is able to read modern continental leftist political analysis without coming unglued is invited to read this final post in the series. I don't have any sympathy for violent revolutionary movements but I am not blind to their origins, growth or existence. I have fairly strong opinions about how best to deal with them but that is a discussion for another place. The purpose of this post is to point to an excellent piece of political and historical analysis not available to my knowledge anywhere else.

One observation about this last part. When we in the West contemplate how religion and politics intersect our thinking is primitive compared to the complexity of the same topic in the Middle East. If religious influences on politics there is a game of chess, what we have here by comparison is a game of checkers.


For an informed view of recent events in Lebanon, see Amir Taheri's piece in WSJ.

There was a time when Shiites represented an underclass of dirt-poor peasants in the south and lumpen elements in Beirut. Over the past 30 years, however, that picture has changed. Money sent from Shiite immigrants in West Africa (where they dominate the diamond trade), and in the U.S. (especially Michigan), has helped create a prosperous middle class of Shiites more interested in the good life than martyrdom à la Imam Hussain. This new Shiite bourgeoisie dreams of a place in the mainstream of Lebanese politics and hopes to use the community's demographic advantage as a springboard for national leadership. Hezbollah, unless it ceases to be an instrument of Iranian policies, cannot realize that dream.

The list of names of those who never endorsed Hezbollah, or who broke with it after its Iranian connections became too apparent, reads like a Who's Who of Lebanese Shiism. It includes, apart from the al-Amins, families such as the al-As'ad, the Osseiran, the al-Khalil, the Hamadah, the Murtadha, the Sharafeddin, the Fadhlallah, the Mussawis, the Hussainis, the Shamsuddin and the Ata'allahs.

Far from representing the Lebanese national consensus, Hezbollah is a sectarian group backed by a militia that is trained, armed and controlled by Iran. In the words of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan, "Hezbollah is 'Iran in Lebanon.' " In the 2004 municipal elections, Hezbollah won some 40% of the votes in the Shiite areas, the rest going to its rival Amal (Hope) movement and independent candidates. In last year's general election, Hezbollah won only 12 of the 27 seats allocated to Shiites in the 128-seat National Assembly--despite making alliances with Christian and Druze parties and spending vast sums of Iranian money to buy votes.

Hezbollah's position is no more secure in the broader Arab world, where it is seen as an Iranian tool rather than as the vanguard of a new Nahdha (Awakening), as the Western media claim. To be sure, it is still powerful because it has guns, money and support from Iran, Syria and Hate America International Inc. But the list of prominent Arab writers, both Shiite and Sunni, who have exposed Hezbollah for what it is--a Khomeinist Trojan horse--would be too long for a single article. They are beginning to lift the veil and reveal what really happened in Lebanon.

Taheri is a long-time, well-informed observer of events in the region. See his excellent analysis of Iran's election of Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, written over a year ago right after he was put into office.

Raja at The Lebanese Bloggers also liked the Taheri piece. His remarks and the comments thread give a bigger, if more confusing picture. Lots of argument about who "won" and who did not.

Here is a short description of Amir Taheri.

...born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. Between 1980 and 1984 he was Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times. Taheri has been a contributor to the International Herald Tribune since 1980. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Taheri has published nine books some of which have been translated into 20 languages, and In 1988 Publishers'' Weekly in New York chose his study of Islamist terrorism, "Holy Terror", as one of The Best Books of The Year. He has been a columnist Asharq Alawsat since 1987

No comments: