People in the south of Lebanon must be confused. Israel has been the main, solid enemy for almost half a century. They have sacrificed lives, blood, and property for the sake of the “sacred” fight they’ve been told they must - at all costs - win, in order to live with dignity. Today, another enemy is becoming more apparent in Hezbollah’s rhetoric.
After the “divine victory” of 2006, Hezbollah seemed to have reached its apex, creating what it called a balance of fear with Israel. However, since then, the Party of God has been on the back foot, consumed with corruption, siding with dictators and slowly losing the ability to ease the fear felt by many within the Shia community: the fear that there is, in fact, no decent future in sight and no dignity left to achieve.
They are not only afraid; the people living in the South are feeling uncertain: is it true that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not a criminal? Is it true that he and his regime are not killing thousands of innocent people? Truth has a way of reaching people’s minds and hearts, no matter what Hezbollah’s media and political rhetoric seeks to convey.
Combined with serious talk of corruption and spending among Hezbollah’s elites, people are not only scared, but they’re beginning to ask questions. And this constitutes a real risk for Hezbollah. Without their support base, weapons cannot protect them. Without the Shia community, all of Hezbollah’s allies mean nothing.
To divert people’s attention away from the party’s shortcomings, Hezbollah needed a new bad guy, someone who could again reinforce fear among the people. Fear is necessary for the party’s survival; supporters willfully turn to Hezbollah’s firm grip for protection.
At the same time, it must look after its Syrian ally. Thus a new enemy is born: the Muslim Brothers, the Salafis and the Sunni extremists.
Of course, recent examples of Islamists taking power in Egypt and, to a certain extent, in other Arab countries, boosted the theory that the Islamists are planning to take over the region and in the process, humiliate whoever is not Sunni. In light of recent tensions between the Sunnis and Shia in Lebanon, starting with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and most recently expressed in Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s overtly sectarian speech, a Sunni takeover, this premise would argue, would spell bad news for the typical Shia.
So the next step is to blame everything on these Sunni extremists. The recent explosions in Tyre that targeted restaurants selling alcohol and the killing of Syrian people and security forces along the border is part of a concerted effort to put the state’s security and the country’s stability in disarray. This was topped off by Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn’s warning last week that Al-Qaeda cells had infiltrated into the northern Lebanese village of Arsal, followed by statements blaming the militant Islamic organization for the recent bombings in Damascus.
Now the Shia are seriously afraid. On the one hand, they are worried about their involvement as a community with Hezbollah, which is looking less sacred every day. And at the same time, they know they will take the blame as a community when Hezbollah is gone.
With this new fear, and the ever-present threat from Israel, the only choice is, once again, to hide behind Hezbollah. It is the only force they believe can protect them. Again, the Shia will surrender their lives and future to the Party of God.
“These are religious fanatics that would do anything to gain control,” you repeatedly hear people in the South say among one another. They say it over and over again, as if to reassure themselves that this invented account is actually true. “The Salafis are worse than any dictator. They want the region to go backwards and cut off all links to the outside world. These extremists have ties to regional powers and are aided with arms and money to stop whoever gets in their way,” the people say.
The great irony in all this is that they don’t see that Hezbollah itself is a religious party that has links to a regional power, and that it is also provided with weapons and money to do what it has to do to stop whoever gets in its way. They fail to see that Hezbollah is also trying to cut off the Shia community from the world and isolate them in a small box bound by the fear of a constant and all-consuming threat.
But who will save the Shia if they cannot save themselves? Should they be left there in that little box just because their lives were hijacked by Hezbollah? In any case, that’s how the sectarian system works in Lebanon: your community leader takes care of you, not the state, and you have to be loyal to him and him alone. In this case, Hezbollah was their leader, and all the other communities' leaders agreed. They were loyal, but certainly not lucky, as everyone detests them now. If Salafist groups were pushed into Lebanon to boost the Sunni street, the Shia would be the first victims.
The Lebanese can either let that happen and risk years of tension and possible clashes, or they can reach out and tell the Shia that they are part of this country, despite political differences, and that only the state’s institutions can protect them.
Will the desire for vengeance consume sanity? Let’s hope not.
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon.