TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

A Critical Theory of Hezbollah

In the immediate aftermath of the fighting in Lebanon, the nearly uniform message broadcast by the western media involved the heroization of Hezbollah. Not least of all the New York Times published puff pieces, hyping the Lebanese population’s affection of Hezbollah and its adoration of Nasrallah, not to mention the terrorist organization’s success as a welfare agency and construction company. Critical voices were nowhere to be found—especially if journalists chose not to look for them.

But inquiring minds want to know, and questions were raised in the world of blogs, including this one. Were there no critics of Hezbollah in Lebanon? Could reporters do nothing more than republish Hezbollah press releases? Did the much touted social welfare benefits extend to non-Shi’a, or even to Christians?

Finally, there seems to be a crack in the monolithic story heretofore purveyed by the NYT. Buried on page 10, with no leader on the front page (taken up by urgent matters like the fate of Pluto and Duke Lacrosse), a powerful story by Hassan M. Fattah provides some sorely missed complexity to the account of post-war Lebanon. Reporting from the largely Sunni village of Marwaheen just north of the Israeli border, Fattah breaks the ban on criticizing Hezbollah, as he describes a mass burial of war dead, where however the anger was directed more at Hezbollah than at Israel.

It is a sad story of infiltration by Hezbollah, despite protests by the villagers. In response to villagers’ opposition, the Hezbollah fighters reportedly insisted that they “were all in the same boat.” But as a bereaved village orphan commented, “Why should our children die for their cause.” Their cause: in other words, the local Sunnis do not at all identify with the cause of that same Hezbollah, which the press, including the NYT, had led us to believe was cherished uniformly by all Lebanese.

The article moreover confirms the suspicion that Hezbollah’s generosity may not be limited by any equal-opportunity regulations (despite the “we’re in the same boat” rhetoric: Hezbollah apparently is willing to include the Sunnis of Marwaheen only on the risk side, but not for the rewards.). As Fattah put it: “Villages like Marwaheen—which largely supports the Future Movement of Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri—often miss out on Hezbollah’s largess but pay the price for its politics.” With evidence like this, one is tempted to wonder whether the anti-imperialist left in the West that has expressed its deep solidarity with Hezbollah is similarly hostile to the Lebanese Sunni: and on the basis of what left principles have they chosen sides in a religious divide? Still the more urgent question might be to ask how this dynamic plays out in Christian Lebanon.

But there is more to Fattah’s story. Apparently a village local who converted to Shiism became an agent for Hezbollah, initiating clandestine shipments of arms into and around Marwaheen: “Soon strange things began to occur: strangers came through for late-night meetings; trucks would come and go in the middle of the night; and a suspicious-looking white van was parked at each end of the village.” Far from a popular, public movement, this was a matter of cloak and dagger, conspiracy and subterfuge, since it put the village at risk, without its support. Film Noir instead of Fanshen. Yet for anyone who might surmise that Hezbollah had simply made the cold-hearted strategic decision that it needed the village as an artillery outpost, there is an even more bitter twist. “Residents said Hezbollah was using them as human shields. . . . When the villagers left [as one of them reported] the fighters did too, as evidenced by the limited damage down to the town.”

In other words, the arms had been smuggled in intentionally to attract Israeli fire precisely in order to generate civilian casualties. Once the civilians had fled, Hezbollah lost interest in the location. “Party of God,” indeed. It was not interested in the village of Marwaheen as a strategic location: it wanted the villagers of Marwaheen as corpses. When they left, Hezbollah presumably moved on to set up other killing fields.

Another United Nations Success

The real scandal is yet to come. “On July 15, Israeli loudspeakers across the border warned villagers to evacuate after Hezbollah began firing rockets into northern Israel from near the town. The families gathered at the center of the village and then went to a nearby United Nations base for shelter, but, they said, they were turned away.” Turned way by UNIFIL. How come? Will this crime ever be investigated? Did the UN turn the refugees away because they “just follow their orders” and cannot intervene (what a fine legacy for an organization born in the aftermath of WWII)? Or—more nefariously—has UNIFIL simply been in bed with Hezbollah forever? Reports have circulated about the proximity of UNIFIL and Hezbollah locations. It seems only likely that the two organizations, cohabitating, learned to get along, which might explain that the UN turned back the refugees precisely in order to accommodate Hezbollah’s program of maximizing civilian deaths. Only a full investigation will tell. Human Rights Watch? Mr. Annan?

Or perhaps Mr. Fattah will follow up on this question. At least he has burst the Hezbollah bubble with this welcome article. To be sure, all this reporting rarely gets beyond a battle of opinions: what which group is saying about Hezbollah rather than a hardcore pursuit of facts: postmodern journalism. Now however we are at least beginning to hear the critical voices that were muffled in the initial hurrah-journalism for Hezbollah. Fattah cites a villager: “Israel is our enemy, but the problem is that Hezbollah gave them an excuse to come in and kill our children.” So who, exactly, is going to disarm Hezbollah?

Resistance

The protest against Hezbollah’s instrumentalization of Marwaheen corresponds to the criticism that the Libyan author Muhammed Al-Huni has articulated in “The Lexicon of Resistance” posted on Elaph.com. His point is the ideological character of the semantics of the term: invoking emancipation, the proponents of resistance celebrate death and engage in a mass production of corpses.

Resistance “Has Brought Nothing but Destruction Upon the Region”

“The word ‘resistance’ has come to be constantly used in the killing fields known as the Middle East. The old ways resist modernity; barbarity resists civilization; the ideology of suicide resists the desire to live; hatred resists tolerance; totalitarianism and dictatorship resist democracy; poverty and disease resist continuous development. All these [types of] resistance prevail in this paralyzed part of the world.

“However, the most noisy [type of] resistance is the suicidal resistance which wraps itself in the cloak of jihad, [but in fact] distorts the justness of the causes [it purports to promote], and corrupts their noble demands by adopting this barbaric style of struggle. This behavior has brought nothing but destruction upon the region. It has caused the whole world to unite against those who act in this manner, and consequently, to oppose the causes that [these people] aim to promote.”

The Types of Resistance “Rampant in the Killing Fields [of the Middle East]”

“Let us now closely examine the [types of] resistance so rampant in the killing fields [of the Middle East].

“1. When Shi’ites kill Sunnis and Sunnis kill Shi’ites in Iraq merely for their [sectarian] identity, it is called ‘resistance.’

“2. When Janjaweed gangs murder unarmed civilians in Darfour, it is called ‘resistance.’

“3. When year after year, Hamas and Islamic Jihad extinguish any spark of peace which can end the suffering of the Palestinian people, it is called ‘resistance.’

“4. When Hizbullah takes an entire people hostage and refuses to obey the elected [authorities], dragging Lebanon into destruction, it is called ‘resistance.’

“5. The war which is being waged by the new global terrorism under the command of bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and Al-Zarqawi is called ‘resistance.’

“6. The alliance between the defeated remnants of the pan-Arab nationalist chauvinists and [the defeated remnants] of the Islamists – who are both [willing to] ally themselves with any murderer – is called ‘resistance.’

“7. Establishing television channels like Al-Jazeera, which misleads the Arab public and causes [the Arabs] to wager repeatedly on the victory of the losing side – is called ‘resistance.’

“8. When distinguished Arab lawyers rally by the thousands to the defense of Saddam Hussein while neglecting his victims and disregarding their cases, it is called ‘resistance.’

“9. When people eulogize and mourn terrorists who have murdered thousands of Iraqis in the streets of [Iraqi] cities and villages, presenting them as heroes of the Arab nation, it is called ‘resistance.’

“10. When Muslim religious scholars issue fatwas permitting murder, suicide, and slaughtering of brothers and compatriots, and when [these scholars] condemn every rationalist idea as ‘stupid’… and show contempt for modernity, it is called ‘resistance.’

“11. The murder of more than 130,000 innocent Algerian citizens, and the annihilation of a whole generation of journalists, writers and thinkers in Algeria, is called ‘resistance.’

“12. Murdering tourists and bombing hotels in Egypt is called ‘resistance.’

“13. Bombing hotels in Amman and killing the bride and groom, and anyone [else] who tries to celebrate in these sad killing fields, is called ‘resistance.'”

“These Resistance [Groups]… Have No Future”

“What is common to [those who carry out] these types of resistance is that they all present themselves as ‘Islamic,’ and as the only force that still fights against imperialism in the Arab theater which has been destroyed by political autocracy. They all call for political programs that can be summed up in the slogan ‘Islam is the Solution to All Problems.’

“The project of these resistance [groups] has had its day in the Arab world. It made the most noise and [caused] the most bloodshed, and therefore its dreadful collapse is highly imminent. [This program] betted on a wild horse, and has left not a single seed that can sprout, nor a single bud that can open. They are the murderers of the future, and therefore they have no future.”

(Source: The Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series – No. 1253, August 17, 2006.)

Al-Huni ends with optimism: “The project of these resistance [groups] has had its day in the Arab world.” Would that it were so. The multiplicity of examples he cites, however, seems to testify to an obsessive attraction to killing, a fascination with death. It is not however the sort of heroic death associated with civic patriotism: New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” or the French revolutionary “Liberté ou Mort“—in those cases, there is no doubt that freedom and liberty are preferable to death. Free life is such a high good that it is worth a fight. The telos is a good life, not merely zoological life. This is akin to Horace’s dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Wilfred Owens’ poem that debunks that Horatian complacency leaves no doubt that death is far from sweet; still the poem does not answer the question of whether there is ever any value in defending patria or liberté. This then is our modernity: we value our liberty, but we shy away from any heroism to defend it. Hence the chilling jihadist response: the West loves life, but the suicide bombers love death. The terrorists do not pursue resistance in the name of a good life, but rather: they pursue a resistance against life itself.

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