History of Hezbollah, Part 2
The arrival of Hezbollah on the Lebanese stage at the beginning of the 1980s is undeniably the result of the installation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The 1982 Israeli offensive, Peace in Galilee, was a catalyst for the creation of the radical Islamist party. In this second article, Michel Hajji Georgiou and Michel Touma examine the context and the spread of Hezbollah in Lebanon. This series of three articles is drawn from a study published in issue 77 of the journal, Travaux et jours (University of St. Joseph).
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. The was the Committee of Bekaa Ulema, “Islamic Committees” and the Lebanese branch of the Iraqi Shi’ite al-Dawa (for which sayyed Muhammad Hessein Fadlallah was the standard-bearer in Lebanon).
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.
Given the scale of the Israeli offensive, the leaders of the different groups became aware of the necessity of putting together a well-organized partisan structure, with the following guiding principles and strategy:
- Islam constitutes an overall plan of action striving for a better life. It represents a foundation that is ideological, practical, thoughtful and religious upon which a new political party would be built.
- The resistance against the Israeli occupation would be a priority. It was consequently necessary to create an adequate structure for Jihad and to coopt every available option in this sense.
- Command would default to the Supreme Guide (who was at that time Ayatollah Khomeini) as the inheritor of the Prophet and his imams. It is his duty to set out the plan of action within the (Islamic) nation and his decisions are binding.1.
The new movement will very quickly acquire political, logistical and military support from Iran through the dispatch via Syria of organizers and experts from the Guardians of the Revolution, who will set up training military camps in the Bekaa Valley in order to prepare Hezbollah militants.
The cult of martyrdom
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:
If people receive an education based solely on the pursuit of victory, which then becomes the grounds for their actions, then their struggle with the enemy will stumble when they realize that victory is remote or uncertain. But, if people receive an education founded on martyrdom, the gift of self results in maximum effectiveness of their action. If they fall as martyrs, they will have realized their desires. Education based on the notion of victory does not guarantee victory and restrains the potential of the nation. However, inculcating the notion of martyrdom allows all potential to be released either through martyrdom or victory and perhaps both at the same time. This opens the way to all possibilities. Inculcating the notion of victory implies reliance on material means. But inculcating the notion of martyrdom has a mobilizing effect on the level of morale (of the population) with the implication that only limited means are necessary to pursue the struggle.3Dying as a martyr in the service of the God’s teachings is a supreme honor for all young Shi’a. And the objective on this plane is not so much to score a direct and immediate military victory, but rather, to have had the privilege of martyrdom, to have sacrificed oneself to God Almighty and a reward of happiness in eternal life in heaven. To remain attached to life on earth, motivated by material contingencies, is therefore insignificant before the honor represented by martyrdom in the service of God. It is this profound divergence in the significance of earthly life which distinguishes us from the West, both at the level of the understanding of the meaning of life and of that of the management of public life. The West has adopted reason as its fundament and has sanctified a material way of life to which it adhere at all costs, underscores Sheikh Kassem. It is therefore unable to assimilate the notion of martyrdom. It is normal that Westerners do not understand the spiritual direction in which Islam is oriented because such understanding cannot be limited to solely rational perceptions. The West would do well to approach and observe the stages of life of a Muhajedeen, as well as the realities of Islamic society in general.4
The resistance carried out by young members of the Shiite radical movement has for its driving force a socio-cultural engine that corresponds to popular Shiite consciousness and which explains the success as well as the Resistance pursued by Hezbollah. The precedent of Vietnam as a popular uprising against the occupier constitutes an exemplar on this plane.5
It is therefore on the basis of the sanctification of martyrdom that radical Islamic fighters have centered their operations beginning in 1982 against Israeli forces. Priority having being given to the Resistance, the drafting of a political program in the context of Lebanon would be relegated to the background; moreover, against the threat of Israeli occupation over a large part of Lebanese territory, Hezbollah would adopta low profile until the middle 1980’s. It will not emerge from the underground until the uprising of 6 February 1984 in West Beirut led by Amal and Walid Jumblatt’s Socialist Progressive Party against the regime of President Amin Jemayel. This uprising will allow Hezbollah to install all its institutions and headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut 6.
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 current leaders of Hezbollah emphasize that this text is out-of-date and obsolete due to the fact that it was drafted to correspond to different times. It is doubtlessly certain that both the doctrinal and ideological nature of the 1985 document includes discussion of the question of the establishment of an Islamic state. But the text clearly distinguishes between doctrinal position and practical aims. In principle, Hezbollah is in favor of the establishment of an Islamic state but is swift to underscores that in practice such a project can be implemented solely on the basis of freedom of choice by the people and cannot be imposed as the political agenda of any party.
This option is taken up again in a far more determined manner by the current party leadership, which affirms that it is in no way the intention of Hezbollah to establish an Islamic Republic in Lebanon, even if remains attached to Islam as a fundament of its inspiration and action. The document maintains that, taking into account Lebanese reality, its goal is to arrive at a multi-confessional leadership that would guarantee equal participation of all communities in managing the state.
Concretely, party leaders wish to keep the political system such as it is with all communities having a share of power.7 This is why Hezbollah agreed to take part in legislative elections and to accept to be a permanent fixture as part of the Lebanese multi-confessional landscape despite the fact that on a dogmatic plane, their participation causes some officials to have serious reservations. Hezbollah officials specify that their support in principle for a pluralistic power structure, to the detriment of an Islamic Republic, is due to their desire to present the Lebanese model as an example of successful cohabitation of disparate communities which is the antithesis of the Zionist formula to build a state in the service of a single community. Hezbollah therefore offers a Lebanese model, founded on community pluralism, respect for diversity and the protection of freedoms, in opposition to the Zionist formula. The party’s leadership, having shown itself to be pragmatic, insists on the strict application of the Taëf Accords to follow the drafting of a new electoral law maintaining the current communitarian balance.8
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.
Michel HAJJI GEORGIOU
Next article: Wilayat el-fakih: Culture of space or culture of territory?
1. Naïm KASSEM, Hezbollah: Orientation, Experience and the Future, op.cit.
3. Naïm KASSEM, Hezbollah: Orientation, Experience and the Future, op.cit., pages 58-59.
4. Ibid. Page 58.
5. Nawaf MOUSSAOUI, interview with the authors, May 2006.
6. Walid CHERARA and Frédéric Domont, Hezbollah, an Islamo-nationalist movement, op.cit.
7. Nawaf MOUSSAOUI, interview with the authors.
8. Nawaf MOUSSAOUI, interview with the authors.
9. Nawaf MOUSSAOUI, interview with the authors.