Evaluating the ‘Party of God’: Hezbollah, Conflict & Justice


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To determine Hezbollah’s overall success, the rather limited literature on the subject focuses on the organizations political achievements as well as their military achievements in the region (Norton 2007).

This is primarily because Hezbollah functions both as a political party in the Lebanese government, as well as an armed militia, a status that has not only complicated its position in Lebanese society, but has likely ostracized them from full representation in Lebanese politics (Norton 2007). Nevertheless, Hezbollah has utilized both tactics, political participation and competitiveness, as well as militaristic strategies, which have historically included terrorist attacks, particularly against Israeli society.

The premise for much of Hezbollah’s motives rests on political disenfranchisement, which they see as an extension of Western imperialism as well as a violation of popular consent (Norton 2007). Sectarianism, in this perspective, is a product of foreign interventionism. But over the years, Hezbollah has shifted from utilizing violent tactics, to political mobilization, particularly since the 80s, but especially in the last decade. This is a result of the aftermath of the civil war, which finally gave Hezbollah seats in parliament (Zein & Abusalem 2016).

Hezbollah has positioned itself as an authentic political force in Lebanese society, fighting against foreign aggression. For this reason, in times of conflict such as the war with Israel in 2006, disproportionate reprisals by Israeli governments enabled Hezbollah to not only garner support from the Shia community, but also from Palestinians, pro-Syrians and Christian-Lebanese (Kattan 2006). It has managed to increase its influence, despite its limited integration into Lebanese society. An established economic and public sector as well as a sophisticated media presence is a sign of the organization’s successes overtime in achieving its objectives (Zein & Abusalem 2016). The organization’s primary objectives are political in orientation, emphasizing the need for sovereignty, social justice and representation, which contrasts other groups like al Qaeda, whose motives are more ideological, and religiously driven (Zein & Abusalem 2016). Hezbollah’s leader has suggested himself that an Islamic Lebanon is likely impossible due to popular consent, which is against this (Norton 2007).

Hezbollah’s emphasis on unity and solidarity with all Lebanese challenges the conventional grouping, usually by western scholars, of this organization with other terrorist organizations (Norton 2007). The political dynamics of Lebanon complicate the matter, making it difficult to discern Hezbollah as a state or non-state actor. The complications surrounding the definition of terrorism also does not make it easy to analyze these groups and their successes (Sirriyeh 2012). Furthermore, its activity in electoral politics distinguishes it from terror groups that reject all pluralistic, un-Islamic forms of government, such as Fatah-al-Islam, al Qaeda & Daesh.

From a political angle, the literature reveals that Hezbollah has made steady gains, though it faces a steep, upward climb. This is due both to its military, social and electoral initiatives. In 1983, Hezbollah’s “alleged” attack against a US marine barracks, prompting an immediate US withdrawal from Lebanon (Sirriyeh 2012). Till today, Hezbollah denies involvement in the attack that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hairiri. Nonetheless, a history of involvement in terror attacks & hostage crises has tarnished the organization’s image and credibility as a viable political party. This however has not halted its increased integration into the Lebanese political atmosphere. Its resilience against Israeli forces in 2006 as well as its continued activity in the Lebanese government are reasons to believe that, while controversial, its determination and diligence has proved to be politically rewarding. While proportional representation, sovereignty and the cause of the Palestinians are three objectives, which are far from achieved, Hezbollah’s political position over the past few decades has undoubtedly improved (Norton 2007).

Since the 80s, Hezbollah has distanced itself from suicide attacks and international bombing campaigns, which underscores its focus on national politics and its armed conflict with Israel. Perhaps it might be argued that Hezbollah’s deeper integration into Lebanese politics has reduced the incentive for terrorism, particularly within Lebanon. Now more than ever, the focus seems to be on reducing foreign influence and occupation. In this regard, they have proven to be successful, by defending Lebanon against Israeli forces in 2006 (Erlanger et al 2006). It is still to early to deem their overall objectives successful, but they surely have improved their position ultimately in the Middle East.

Hezbollah would not be a militant organization and Lebanon would not be politically sectarian or unstable if the conditions of the Middle East was sovereign.

Let us say that Hezbollah is in fact guilty of terrorism. Still, it cannot be compared to other groups like al Qaeda because it is nationalist in ideology, and respects Lebanese pluralism and diversity. If the West was not directly involved in the political structure of Lebanese society, by engraining a system of confessionalism along sectarian lines and disenfranchising a majority of Lebanese society, there would be no incentive for instability or radicalism. Sovereignty and pluralism are necessary – but neither is possible with foreign meddling. Foreign nations cannot dictate the sovereign and domestic affairs of another country. Political development and social justice are impossible therein.

 

El Zein, H, & Abusalem, A. 2016. “Mobilization in Hezbollah’s Military Arm Media Discourse: Creating and maintaining a Public Sphere in Lebanon.” Professional Communication & Transition Studies. 997-104.

Erlanger, S., & Oppel, R. 2006. “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel with its Training, Tactics and Weapons”. The New York Times.

Kattan, V. 2006. “Israel, Hezbollah and the Conflict in Lebanon: An Act of Aggression or Self-Defense?” Human Rights Brief.

Norton, Augustus Richard. 2007. “The Role of Hezbollah in Lebanese Domestic Politics.” The International Spectator. 42. 475-491.

Sirriyeh, H. (2012). The US, Hezbollah and the Idea of Sub-state Terrorism. Israel Affairs. 18. 652-662.

How Should America Respond to Terror?


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The invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003 produced a new dilemma for Iraq – a vacuum of power. For almost 4 decades, the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein centralized power, and despite its brutality, stabilized the country politically. But many critics of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East blamed the vacuum of power on the brutality of the dictator himself. The rise of ISIS, and other terrorist organizations, are the products of the stubborn grasp on power held by dictators like Saddam. In Syria, the situation proved to be more difficult. What was initially a similar plan as Iraq broke down into an international competition for spheres of influence, particularly between Russia and America. The crises in the Arab world, spread like a domino effect. It seems that, since the 2003 invasion, toppling leaders was the agenda, but instead of resulting in progressive governance, it has produced a security disaster with an unprecedented rise in terrorism. Libya looks a lot like Iraq, but perhaps worse. It is in shambles – which is a hotbed for terrorists. Since Islamic radicalism appears to be the global menace to security, figuring out how to address these crises are crucial to America’s interests. How should the US respond? Well, the US has already chosen a trajectory of intervention. Based on the literature, I will argue that a reversal of US tradition of interventionism will reduce terror and the threat of insecurity caused by it (Kleveman 2006).

Terrorism rose sharply after 2003. This is supported by the global terrorism database. I argue this directly correlates with the highest period of foreign interventionism in the Middle East, from which terrorism is exported. Central Asia too is equally important as it exports much of the Islamic radicalism we see today (Rashid 2006). In Central Asia, terrorism rose sharply after 2004 – around the same time that the US administration began coordinating cooperative efforts with Central Asia’s most authoritarian dictator, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, in efforts to suppress Islamic movements, radical and non (Olcott 2007).

Complete disengagement from the internal political affairs of sovereign states both in the Middle East and Central Asia will allow the natural course of events to unfold – whether that means conflict or not is uncertain. Citizens may choose to overthrow or support their leaders. But involvement by the US has complicated and enflamed tensions. It has blindsided progression in many of these underdeveloped parts of the world, resulting in higher terror recruitment, which ultimately affects the US.

Contrarily, it could be argued that the US ought to engage with rebel groups fighting against both extremists and authoritarians who together, are thwarting any progress and thus further inciting terrorism. In the case of Syria, it appears to be more complex, with the government cooperating against terrorism, unlike for example, the Mubarak, Gaddafi or Hussein regimes. Perhaps, a transitional process in phases could emerge here in which disenfranchised Sunnis can be reintegrated into the political process. But the intransigence of the leadership could prove to be detrimental to this cause. Perhaps this is precisely why the US has been unresolved in its Syrian-policy.

How Arab Unity Became An Oxymoron – Another Tale of Orientalism


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A more liberal strand of Islam might argue that cultural identity is tied to Islamic heritage. Furthermore, it encompasses all philosophy and knowledge into Islam, as opposed to radical Islam which excludes philosophies from the Enlightenment, Renaissance, and the mystical indigenous religions of various regions in the world, like Central Asia and Latin America.

What if identity, whether it is Chinese, or Syrian, is also tied to an Islamic consciousness?

Let us say for example that Confucius was a Muslim. But only in the philosophical sense.

Let us say that Islam, is a philosophy too, a form of consciousness that becomes intertwined with language and custom.

If that is the case, instead of isolating extremism in Islam – what if we look at national struggles for national representation as well as national struggles for independence through the lens of a struggle for a higher level of consciousness?

In communist China, Islam is systemically suppressed. In the West, Islam is discriminated against. In the Middle East, from where it originates, it is disenfranchised from the political process. Palestine, the crux of Islamic scripture, remains occupied. Mecca, resides in a politically corrupt nation-state. The vast majority of Muslims, shiite or sunni, are living in poverty due both to foreign occupation and arbitrary authoritarian government. Russia is united with many forces, some its enemies, like the US in the fight against radicalism, of course, without looking at the initial cause.

In today’s world we see North Korea and Russia and Iran and China as US arch-rivals. But how can we be so sure? It appears premature to assume that enemies on the media aren’t cooperating behind closed doors. Does the US not benefit from the existence of a constant menace? Fanatical ideology or religion, whether it is coming from ISIS or North Korea, isn’t the concern of the great powers.

The world powers are still playing their great game, and they are doing their utmost to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Middle East (or Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia) that can balance their power, out of arrogance as well as out of the desire to exploit resources and prevent any fair competition in the Middle East.

And fanaticism is working in their favor too, because it does nothing to promote national sovereignty – in fact, it is almost carrying out the neoconservative deed under the guise of a Salafi strain of Islam.

A united, moderate and tolerant Middle East would counter all of these forces – but the greatest obstacle to this includes all the puppet regimes in the Middle East which have resisted challenging Israel militarily – the crucible of Middle Eastern conflict and instability. Once the leadership in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is overthrown, the Arab front against imperialism can actually hold its ground.

The so-called Arab Spring was a delusional, western manufactured initiative distracting everyone from the real cause of conflict in the Middle East – Occupation.

Democracy is a concept meant for parts of the world where religious sensitivity and culture does not overwhelm the philosophical expectations of the individual. Ideologies like neoconservatism and communism all have threatened the peace and sovereignty of the Middle East. The Arab Spring was a farce attempt in this regard, as much as communism was to liberate Afghanistan, America to liberate Afghanistan afterwards, or Iraq, Libya, Yemen and so forth.

Whether political immorality is exercised by the Chinese, Russians or the Americans, does not matter – the point is that a brainwashing game is being played on the media to blur the lines between good and bad.

But all you need to do to understand who the bad guy is have a basic understanding of boundaries – and that when boundaries are crossed, war ensues.

That boundary has been, since 1948, Palestine.

Until sovereignty is respected, the brainwash will continue, and so too shall conflict.

Democracy will save nothing – unity will.

Who Partakes in Political Violence?


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Terrorism is a tactic adopted by particular groups for a political objective. The individuals that partake in this violence often exhibit common characteristics. One of these characteristics is impoverishment (Lee 2011). In parts of the world where state capacity to serve the public is low, terrorist group participation is more likely. In other words, these individuals come from poor backgrounds. But contrarily, individuals from higher economic classes, also tend to be involved. This suggests that the middle class is least likely to join in, while the lower middle and upper class are more vulnerable (Kavanagh 2011).

On the other hand, terrorism has a different motive. In this case, terrorism is analyzed from the individual perspective, versus the structural perspective. Concepts like emotion and humiliation are considered here to be powerful motivators towards violence. The underlying belief is that, particularly in the Islamic world, a sense of humiliation drives individuals to terror. This humiliation stems from cultural factors such as shame-based traditions as much as it does from a history of subordination to outsiders such as Europe and America, through arrangements like Sykes-Picot. Humiliation can be exacerbated by internal inequalities within nation-states (Fattah & Fierke 2009). Perhaps a less romanticized perspective argues that existential factors like desire and glory motivate individuals among other factors that are political to engage in terrorism (Cottee et al 2011).

The most compelling argument seems to focus on the political orientation of terrorism through the individual lens. This is because it considers the cultural dimension of politics which drives individuals to retaliation or aggression. Social factors like poverty and authoritarianism cannot be separated from the external powers at play, and their influence historically and in today’s world on regions where terrorism is most prevalent. Equally, we cannot ignore the complicity of national governments in worsening conditions and enabling terrorism.

 

Cottee, Simon and Keith Hayward. 2011. “Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 34: 963-986

Fattah, Khaled and Fierke, K.M. 2009. “A Clash of Emotions: The Politics of Humiliation and Political Violence in The Middle East.” European Journal of International Relations 15(1): 67-93

Kavanagh, J. (2011). Selection, Availability, and Opportunity: The Conditional Effect of Poverty on Terrorist Group Participation. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 55(1), 106-132.

Lee, A. (2011). Who Becomes a Terrorist? Poverty, Education, and the Origins of Political Violence . World Politics , 203-245.

The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Middle East


 

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There are numbers floating around regarding the relatively low amount of terrorist incidents committed by Islamic radicals.

Still, two points can be brought up.

Instability is uniquely inherent to the Middle East; and anti-Americanism is common in the Islamic World.

Perhaps these two characteristics of the Islamic World coupled with the increase in radicalized Islamic terrorist incidents (after 2003) could be explained as the products of humiliation .

Fanaticism is denounced by most Muslims.

But even ordinary Muslims, like for example in Iran, feel a sense of betrayal from the US with regards to sovereignty that is seen as the cause of extremism in the first place.

Since Islamic terrorism didn’t surge until after the War in Iraq, their claims seem to exhibit some validity .

The implication here is that, more respect for sovereignty might reduce the impetus for radicalization, and thus terror.

Is Saudi Arabia Next?


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The Gulf countries, to some extent, initiated quick reforms to avoid the domino effect of the Arab Spring.

Reminiscent of the Age of Metternich in Europe, when serious efforts to revolutionize the continent were being suppressed.

Revolution often has little idea of the future, but this weakness is exploited by existing orders to maintain the “status quo”. The divisions between revolutionaries, usually ideologically, lead to fragmentation. Sometimes, revolutions become themselves suppressive, as with far left or far right ideologies in Europe, the Far East and Latin America.

Ironically, the Arab Spring affected only the nations with little economic influence in the region. If the Arab World has a list of grievances, it would be safe to assume that economic misery is atop the list, along with cultural and political factors. Involvement by foreign countries further complicates the dynamic.

How could the Arab Spring miss the Gulf countries? Why did it not sweep Lebanon? Why were the results overturned quickly in Egypt?

All of these are important questions. Many of the leaders that were overthrown in the Arab World over the last two decades, including Saddam, Gaddafi, Mubarak and Morsi deserved their fate, perhaps. But two forces plague the Middle East – robust capitalism in the Gulf and authoritarianism and sectarianism in the Levant and North Africa. This dynamic of persistent monarchism and militarized statism have together, produced disaster. But how can such polarized forces, like the two aforementioned, which are ideologically diametrically opposed, share the feature of tyranny? This forces analysis to focus on external factors.

The most crucial piece of the Arab political puzzle is the Gulf region, because economically, it preserves the economic capacity necessary for sustaining and developing the entire Middle East. Patronage and nepotism have disenfranchised the average person from the political and thus, economic processes. Religious and family bonds infiltrate policy, and result in corruption and economic misery.

The Gulf is aptly supported by America. Israel too.

Is it possible that both economic, social and political development are lagging then not only as a result of Arab tyranny, but the American involvement which secures it?

Placing the blame on external forces is an easy and common trend, particularly in the Middle East where a factual history of foreign conspiracies confirmed societal paranoias towards the US and Europe.

Both the conflicts in Iraq and Syria were US-led initiatives, really. But genuine reform in the Middle East cannot take place without reform in the crux of the puzzle – the Gulf. If violent insurgencies persist, will they eventually realize their greatest obstacle is not the enemy of the US, Assad and Iran, but rather, the enemy of the Arab World, which is the greediness which permeates the Gulf?

An Interview with Adonis


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This is an excerpt of a recent interview with Syrian-exiled poet Adonis taken from the New York Review of Books.

The renaissance needs time. Our society, during the fifteen centuries since the foundation of the first Islamic state, has not been able to establish a society of citizens. With a citizen’s duties come rights. Until now, Arab societies are formed of individuals who carry out the same duties but have different rights: the Christian does not have the same rights as the Muslim, for instance. Fifteen centuries. How can we solve fifteen centuries in a week or two, a month or two? But I trust that the time will come, but outside this context.

The problems that Europe experienced were overcome by the establishment of new societies, completely separate from religion and the church. In the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical courts were just like the jihadists today. They killed people and burned them. But the West succeeded in separating church from state, and created modern societies. We are still in this stage. And if the West was successful in this separation then there is no reason to prevent the Arabs from separating [the two] as well. We are struggling for this separation. We will do it despite everything and despite Western politicians as well, because Western politicians unfortunately despise Arabs, and despise Arab regimes. Despise. [The West] uses these regimes as tools to execute its plans.

(Interviewer) What then is the future of Arab culture in—

I told you, as long as death and love are there, art will remain. Don’t worry. The readers are fewer, but that’s okay. Nietzsche, the agitator of modern thought, was not published [in his time]. No one knew him. This is the destiny of art, always. Many get published and sell millions, but their books belong in the trash.

— Adonis [April 16, 2016, 10:00 am]