History of Hezbollah, Part 3
This is the last of the three-part historical overview of Hezbollah by Georgiou and Touma of the University of Saint Joseph (Beirut), published online by L'Orient-Le Jour [Original available in the archives of the paper]. Orginally published in Travaux et Jours
Georgiou and Touma ask whether Hezbollah, as pan-Shi'a movement, is about to engage in a power struggle with Sunni Islam or whether it simply falls into the historial category of a local communitarian mobilization against injustice as described by Ibn Khaldūn. Could it plan to partner with Islamic Jihad and Hamas to preserve Jerusalem from being swallowed up by Israel? Read and judge.
"The recognition of the absolute and supranational political and religious authority of the Supreme Guide, the wali el-fakih (now Khamenei, and before him, Khomeini), constitutes one of the main characteristics (if not the central characteristic) of Hezbollah. A deep understanding of the wilayat el-fakih system is indispensable in understanding Hezbollah’s behavior in matters pertaining to issues of strategic importance.
In Shi’a Muslim belief, the successor to the Prophet in managing of the affairs of the Islamic nation must be a direct descendant of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet. Jaˤfarī Shi’a –those living in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan (and thus the vast majority of Shi’a Muslims)– believe that the Twelve Imams existed in history. But the Twelfth Imam is hidden and is awaited to save all Shi'a Muslims from oppression and misery. Shi’a Muslims in Yemen believe that there were but seven imams in history [The Seveners]. [BTW, the highest Shi’a population concentrated in one country is in Azerbaijan: 95% -Nur]
Jaˤfarī Shi’a believe that while awaiting the return of the Twelfth Vanished Imam (al-Mahdī), authority for the management of the affairs of the Muslim nation and the defense of its political and economic interests rests upon the Supreme Guide, the wali el-fakih.
Before the arrival of Khomeini, the notion of wali el-fakih never acquired the extent and importance that it has taken on after the Islamic revolution in Iran because, historically, regional Shi’a religious authorities never held power as a religious community. Since the suppression in the times of the Umayyads in the 8th century, most religious leaders, established in Najaf (Iraq), have preached non-involvement of the Ulema in politics. But at the start of the 20th century, certain religious leaders in Najaf declared themselves in favor of the active participation of the Ulema in political life. The former school is represented today by authorities such as Ayatollahs Sistani and Khoï, while the latter is represented by the Ulema of the Sadr and Hakim families.
Before the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini, no religious leader was recognized by the majority of Shi’a Muslims as Supreme Guide, the wali el-fakih. The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a turning point in the full sense of the word. In laying down the Constitutional basis of the Islamic Republic in his work, The Orientations of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini established the assimilation of religion into politics as a cornerstone of power:
In understanding the concept of religion in our Islamic culture, it is clear that no contradiction exists between religious and political authority. Political struggle is an integral part of the mission and duties of a cleric. The command and orientation of political struggle are part of the responsibilities of the mission conferred upon religious authority.1The Constitution of the Islamic Republic is based on allegiance to the wali el-fakih. This confluence of clerics and politics is a cornerstone of power. The installation of the Islamic Republic of Iran has had the effect of completing, for the first time in history and under the impulse of Khomeini, the full extent of meaning of wali el-fakih.
Because of this, a number of ulema and religious dignitaries in the region began preaching the recognition of the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution as the wali el-fakih after the victory of Islamic revolution in Iran and its espousal of the export of revolution. Rare were the ulema who contested this allegiance. It was only upon the death of Khomeini that this contestation surfaced as certain high-ranking dignitaries refused to recognize the successor to Khomeini, Khamenei, as wali el-fakih. Dissent was spearheaded by Ayatollahs Mountaziri in Iran, Sistani in Iraq and Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in Lebanon. Lebanese Hezbollah, on the other hand, recognized Khamenei as Supreme Guide. The choice of Hezbollah was influenced by ancestral religious relations that have always existed among Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian Shi’s Muslims, as well as family ties woven over time between the Sadr and Hakim families.2
The wali el-fakih is elected by 72-member Iranian college whose members are elected by the Iranian people. In principle, the wali el-fakih is not required to be Iranian but in practice, the majority of Iranians recognize the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic as wali since the February 1979 revolution.
The decisions of the wali el-fakih are binding. His arbitration and consent are required, not only in religious and doctrinal matters, but also in political matters with a strategic implication. In his book on Hezbollah, Sheikh Naïm Kassem underscores that
the "wali el-fakih" has the prerogative to monitor the proper construal of Islamic law, to make important political decisions affecting the nation (umma), to decide on war or peace, to safeguard the security of the nation and its financial interests, to ensure the redistribution of money collected by the religious authorities and to define the contours of the Islamic State.3In his book on Islamic government, Ayatollah Khomeini underscores that it is mistaken to think that the prerogatives of the Prophet supercede those of the wali el-fakih:
The powers which the Almighty has upon the Prophet and imams with the authority to raise his armies are the appointment of governors, the collection of taxes and the redistribution of this revenue in the service of Muslims. The Almighty has also granted such powers to [Islamic] Government.4.This implies that the wali el-fakih enjoys practically the same powers as the Prophet in terms of the management and direction of the affairs of the nation. In this regard, his authority extends beyond frontiers to all Shi’a Muslims. Sheikh Naïm Kassem also affirms that within the scope of exercising his power, the wali el-fakih must constantly bear in mind the realities and the specific situation of each country or community dependent on his decisions.
As to the specific case of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naïm Kassem underscores in his book that Hezbollah is a “Lebanese political party in which all leaders, officers and members are Lebanese.” Hezbollah recognizes the authority of the wali for its major political and doctrinal matters but the “detailed follow-up, resolution of disputes, and the daily disposition of political, societal and cultural matters, including resistance to the Israeli occupation, defaults to the party’s command structure, which is elected by the party base in accordance with internal statues, which are based on the Shura Council presided by the Secretary-General, who draws his legitimacy from the fakih.5.
As a concrete example, in the decision by Hezbollah to participate in the 1992 national elections, a 12-member committee was formed which deliberated for quite some time. The question was to determine if the participation of Hezbollah in government was in compliance with Shi’ite religious doctrine. The current Hezbollah Foreign Affairs Minister, Nawwaf Mussawi, developed a line of argument in reasoning that if Hezbollah were to present candidates to the elections, it would not mean participating in a well-defined “government” exercising authority to which all Shi’a were to submit but rather, in an association with a consensual structure in which it would contribute together with the other national factions and entities.6.
By a majority of 10 to 2, the committee finally adopted a “resolution” recommending participation in the vote. But this resolution had to be submitted for approval by the wali el-fakih, Imam Kahmenei, who gave his consent. In this regard, Nawwaf Mussawi declared that this démarche vis-à-vis the wali was not of a political character but was rather to ensure that the political decision was compliant with the doctrine of the faith. It remains that the boundary between the essentially political character of the decision taken by the wali el fakih relating to the Lebanese problem and his imprimatur on the conformity of the doctrine of the faith adopted in Beirut by Hezbollah is rather fluid. In any case, writings on Hezbollah and, in particular, that of Sheikh Kassem, unmistakably declare that major political decisions, especially on war and peace, defaut to the sole authority of the wali el-fakih.
Space or Territory?
If there is one problem that stands out on own merits in the political direction adopted by Hezbollah, at least as we have attempted to trace it, is its attachment to a determined entity and whether this entity is national and territorial or is vaster and relies on relationships extending beyond mere territory and therefore spatial in essence. This is commonplace in the Islamic world inasmuch as the absolute reference of the faithful, the “umma”, extends far beyond national borders. It is therefore legitimate to ask this eminently political question, bearing in mind the impact that it currently has on the national political debate pertaining to the opportuneness on the part of Hezbollah to surrender its weapons to the State (in yielding to the principle of monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force) and to renounce the continuation of the Resistance as a “extrapolitical” or “anti-state” movement outside the Army.
Hebollah is, at its origin, and, as we have seen, an Islamist party. Iranian support –that of the Pasdaran– was integral to its existence. Its appearance upon the Lebanese political stage is directly linked to a factor that extends beyond the context of Lebanese territoriality –that of the Iranian Revolution. At its founding, the party recruited –and continues to recruit– exclusively from Shi’a milieus, preferably Islamist, which in itself is nothing out of the ordinary because all party militias during the Lebanese Civil War were founded on communitarian açabiyya("esprit de corps", as defined by the 14th century Maghrebi sociologist, Ibn Khaldūn), and were mobilized by da’wa (preaching) of a more or less religious nature.
All this tends to demonstrate, at least at first glance, that Hezbollah has evolved from a political community that developed within a "culture of space" and was therefore insensitive to the "culture of territory". The basis of this non-territorial culture is owing to the historical marginalization of the Shi’a compared to other communities in the building of the State. The Bekka Valley and South Lebanon as well were developmentally excluded from the construction of the State compared to the center of the country. It ensues that there as a natural tendency on the part of Shi’a Muslims to organize as a açabiyya (community) such as Hezbollah, in revolt against the politial and economic center of the country (as well as against its own feudal leaders) and to reject any and all assimilation into a territorial and national culture that has, until now, ignored it.
Because of its creation in a space politically abandoned by the State, Hezbollah may be viewed as a parallel State, if not anti-State. One can therefore immediately attribute to it an ingrained desire for emancipation from territoriality imposed by others. This is hardly surprising in an era in which the State has ceased to exist owing to the Lebanese Civil War.
It is within the guerrilla movement that the party established an infrastructure of confrontation in South Lebanon modeled after the Guevarist principle of foco guerillero: revolutionary hotbed. Its aim is to favor the conditions for confrontation by transforming the countryside in which the guerrilla movement will gradually take root and take on substance. This theory was elaborated by Ernesto Guevara in his book, Guerrilla Warfare.7
Hezbollah recognizes that it is inspired by Guervarist thinking and by the Cuban experience in particular (but also by the Vietnamese experience) in constructing its own revolutionary experience. In this context, Hezbollah’s foco guerillero, extending from the southern suburbs of Beirut (its ideological headquarters) to the frontiers of occupied zones, is an organizational model that includes charitable and social endeavors oriented toward revolutionary aims –to maintain a climate favorable to permanent mobilization with perpetual interplay between the Shi’a Muslim community and the Resistance. And it is also in this framework of social organization that the notion of martyrdom plays an essential role. Owing to this fact, the environment is endoctrinated and “ideologicalized” on a socio-religious basis to create the most ideal conditions for the rout of the enemy.
The pullout of the Israeli Army and the liberation of the territories that it had occupied in South Lebanon in May 2000 was the crowning success of Hezbollah's war of attrition against Israel. It was at this moment that the party realized its goal of liberating a parcel of national territory and thus found itself integrally linked to the territorial sovereignty of the country. If the “culture of territory”, that is, the nationalist culture of the state, in Lebanon is indeed based on the cumulative contribution of each community, then at that moment Hezbollah supplied its stone for the ediface. This is when Hezbollah should have become permanently territorial, putting a end to the tensions between “culture of space” (which had linked it to to Iran and Syria for communitarian, religious and political reasons) and the “culture of territory”.8.
However, the “territorial” trajectory of Hezbollah in the aftermath of the liberation of South Lebanon is not sufficiently transparent to definitively answer the question. One has, on the contrary, as events continue to unfold, the impression that there is a certain duplicity, which has allowed Hezbollah to play, as the occasion allows, upon the nation-state "territory of culture" and the communitarian and religious "territory of space". Sometimes the two cultures are woven into political discourse and logic to the extent that it is difficult to avoid confusion. This confusion opens the door to political attacks, especially from Walid Jumblatt, Chairman of the Progressive Socialist Party, concerning the “true allegiances” of Hezbollah.
Can "culture of territory" and political support for Syrian policies for Lebanon cohabitate in harmony? How can Lebanese realities be reconciled with allegiance (especially in internal political matters, which directly depend on sovereignty) to a foreign religious authority, namely the fakih, the Iranian Supreme Guide? What are the limits of the Resistance? Is it confined to the hamlets of the Shebaa Farms, the hillsides of Kfarshuba and the village of Nkhaïlé or does it rely on a different criteria that will lead to the liberation of “The Seven Villages”, the Golan Heights or even Jerusalem itself with the eminently “spatial” support (political and logistical) of other Islamist resistance movements that are, in the Occupied Territories, Hamas and Islamic Jihad?
What should one make of Hezbollah’s insistence of keeping its arsenal intact beyond all internal Lebanese consensus and at all costs and its refusal to submit to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force of the State? Isn't it impossible to reconcile a guerrilla movement with a regular army? How should one interpret Hezbollah’s desire to avoid complete integration within the State while it maintains a military wing –or going so far as to remove the sovereignty of the State over South Lebanon or what was once the mourabbaa el-amni –the Security Quadrilateral– of the southern suburbs of Beirut? Is somewhat demonstrative of a notion of space that remains fundamentally communitarian and rebels against the enterprise of building a political entity capable of transcending sectarian identity? Is this a communitarian açabiyya that, having integrated itself into institutions of the State, still refuses to sever itself from its means of defense? In this context, could the da’wa of Hezbollah, the Resistance, be considered today, using the lens of Ibn Khaldūn, nothing more than a means for the community to preserve its açabiyya, enabling it to maintain its dominant position and to prevent its decline to the benefit of the the State?
What if the lens of interpretation of Ibn Khaldūn is maladapted and the problem, if it does not exclusively concern a communitarian açabiyya, is then that of a potential power struggle between opposing communitarian açabiyyas to be fought on Lebanese territory? A Sunni-Shi’ite contest that, despite its existence throughout the entire region, luckily, owing the awareness and concern of everyone, dares not speak its name in Lebanon.
Michel HAJJI GEORGIOU
1. Ayatollah Khomeini, The orientation of Islamic Revolution, in Naïm KASSEM, Hezbollah, Orientation, Experience and Future, op.cit. page 70.
2. Nawwaf MOUSSAOUI, interview with the authors.
3. Naïm KASSEM, Hezbollah, Orientation, Experience and Future, op.cit. page 72.
4. Ayatollah Khomeini, Islamic Government, page 86, in Naïm KASSEM, Hezbollah, Orientation, Experience and Future, op.cit. page 72.
5. Naïm Kassem, Hezbollah, Orientation, Experience and Future, op.cit. page 77.
6. Interview with the authors
7. See Ernesto Guevara, Guerilla Warfare, published by Maspero, Paris.
8. See Bertrand Badie, The End of Territory, Fayard, Paris, 1995.