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Hanin Ghaddar

A new enemy for the Shia

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.

  • ED

    The main problem in Libanon is its constitution. As long as Governmental posts are give to parties, and not given by outcome of elections, the deviding of groups will stay till the end of time. Another major problem is that Libanon is not a Democratie. The base and root of a Democratie is a collective care from all,for all. In Lebanon there is only care for the group one belongs to. You are far and far away from calling yourself a democratie. With this status quo, it is easy to put fear in any group at any time.

    January 24, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Hassan, slogans never gets us anywhere. you can`t demand disarming HA when our Lebanese Army has no ability to control few streets in Beirut, how would one patriotic Lebanese dare to demand disarming the Resistance that is our only hope and weapon against israel?!!! logic and brains are good but not enough to deter israel and defend Lebanon, in this ugly unfair world one needs power in order to live in dignity, just look at the Arabs and their shame and puppetism only because they are weak with no will, i prefer to die than living such a life without dignity, and Hizbullah os our pride and honor which we will preserve for the sake of our children and our country.

    January 8, 2012

  • Hassan

    You really want to tell me now that the Salafis, Al-Qaeda or any other extremist Sunni are the only enemies for Hezbollah’s. It is not true; if the Salafis or any extremist gave up, surrender weapons, or even joined Hezboallah, they will still have an enemy. The enemy is US (please don't mistakenly read this as USA). Us are the Lebanese of all sects who believe and been asking for unarmed groups in Lebanon except the Lebanese army. Us who don’t apply the saying: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. No one should be armed; Armenians, Sunni, Shia. Palestinians.. Etc. I am sure many reading this are saying: HA kicked Israel out and own a war in 2006. If we have a real respected genuine government, we don’t need wars; we can achieve the impossible with logic, determination, will, and brains.

    January 6, 2012

  • Mariama Abdalla

    2.Had to continue separately: Yes the Salafis are dangerous. Even moderate Sunnis say that. Yes the Muslim brotherhood are dangerous if they take over the country (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and maybe tomorrow Jordan). Yes they are more dangerous than the Shias. As for the situation in Syria. YES I AM FOR THE DOWNFALL OF THE ASSAD REGIME; BUT I AM AGAINST THE TAKING OVER BY THE SUNNI FANATICS OR ANY OTHER FANATIC. And whether you like it or not, they will take over.

    January 5, 2012

  • Mariama Abdalla

    Hear ye, hear ye! You guys have, all of a sudden, become lay people. LOL. I, dear readers, am not a pro one or anti the other. I am just stating what is seen on the ground. I have always written for the Palestinian cause, but I have always criticized what the PLO has done to their hosts. I have as many Sunni friends as I have Shia friends. And guess what, I have only one Maronite friend. Yes only one. Because I have undergone the brain-washing of the Lebanese Forces during the “civil” war of 1975-1989 and don’t want to be under their mercy again. But I will always say what I feel and what I see. Because this is the truth. Like it or not. Yes the Salafis are dangerous. Even moderate Sunnis say that. Yes the Muslim brotherhood are dangerous if they take over the country (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and maybe tomorrow Jordan). Yes they are more dangerous than the Shias. As for the situation in Syria. YES I AM FOR THE DOWNFALL OF THE ASSAD REGIME; BUT I AM AGAINST THE TAKING OVER BY THE SUNNI

    January 5, 2012

  • Hassan

    What a shame; It is like my only option is to choose between either Hezboallah or Salafis. How sad it is to still remembers and dwell on 1975 and forget the recent deeds and achievements of Rafiq. How brutal it is to side with a party that accepts killing innocent Lebanese or Syrians and not a fair government. How immoral to be unconcerned with a trial and let others go free for murder. How terrifying and unpatriotic to know that there are people out there who still believe in sects and not a country. Hezboallah or Salafis is not my only option. I don’t want to belong to any party. I want to belong to a sovereign Lebanon, arm-free, with its army spread all over Lebanese land. And when we have that, there is no need to worry about any party.

    January 5, 2012

  • Ramsey

    And my previous comment about big brother KSA r not to be taken as coming from the same logic as Mariama, never can an unbigoted person say that a sect''s people is more extremist than another sect''s people, again Hassan ur reply fits well for Mariama....Mariama ur mentality is the problem of Lebanese society's paralysis, can't blame u it's all around

    January 5, 2012

  • Ramsey

    True Hassan, true but all I'm saying is zoom out and look at the greater picture and ull c it's a vicious cycle....as for Mariama I would like to say that I also come for a marionette background but the way u approach an start ur comment is so misfired oldfashioned and war mongerimg, to equate Sunnis siding with PLO during the civil war and alqaeda is like utt ignorance, the problem is with this common reason gin amongst lebs is that it rationalises bigotry, pls for the sake of humanity start changing the way you look at things....on this note I realise it will be my last comment on this post, too much energy wasted n won't wast more on bigots...I as a Maronite?! Ya lateef....

    January 5, 2012

  • Marco Antonio

    Reading Miriam's comment explaining the difference between two dangerous extremist groups and thanking the almighty God for having "blessed" us with one of them being less "fanatical" than the other is interesting. Is she trying to tell us that the violence committed by the syrian regime against people, mind you, as long as they are sunnis, is justified? Just because they are, ehheemmm, sunnis. And just because they might turn out to be more fanatical than the fanatical shiites . Hmmm???? Was that logical? How do you tell two crazy persons apart? Well, Miriam explains it away with just looking at your ID on your birth certificate, if you are sunni, then you are inclined to be a bad nutcase, but if you are a shiite extremist, in all likelihood you are "great" basket case. Apart from her comment being the most foolish and heartless one I have ever read on this illustrious site, may I suggest that Miriam visit the same sanitarium that our great general-of-defeats should have visited ..

    January 5, 2012

  • كاتلين سعد

    that which we praise - diversity - is become our worst nightmare

    January 4, 2012

  • ali daoud

    Ms Ghaddar, you are confused about the Shia, the Shia are not confused at all, and again, you claim you are a liberal pro-democracy at time you give yourself the right to talk on behalf of the Shia, and i bet you perfectly know the realities among the Shia which are evident in all elections we had and in all polls done by independent researchers. Please stop talking on our behalf, we know our best interests, and it is so easy for us to send HA any negative message whenever we deem it necessary. HA and his followers sure don`t claim they are saints, they are a sacrificing clean patriotic party, yes, but they make mistakes even if rarely, however, they have the needed courage to admit their mistakes and correct them such as happened in the Moussawi/ Gemayel case, please show me in your turn how your beloved M14 admit their mistakes and apologize for them. Last, HA are our heroes, our Liberators, and our defenders against israel and its allies, rest assured dear,we wil never give them up

    January 4, 2012

  • `saadeldine almekari

    TO MARIAMA ABDALLA you said Maronite has suffered a lot from the Sunni's during the civil war.if your memory is right or you could ask someone in the kataeb about slaughtering the Sunni's.first your siding with the kataeb party let me tell you the fact.when the kataeb didn't let anybody without been affected in the war even the MARONITE. AL AHRAR party were finished off by your party.then become DR S.JEAJEA+ELIE HBAYQA.WHEN the slaughter machine finish off the woman+children+elderly.the crime of humanity comes from the Maronite them self not the Sunni's.so please don't put crimes on us look at those fact first specially in CARANTINA+BEIRUT=we berried the past when our weapons was delivered to Lebanese army it was our mistake.let AMAL PARTY.take over Beirut then Hezbollah never let any Sunni's without been humiliated or even killed up to this present day they took over Lebanon.even the druze under threat.MR W JUMBLAT AT GUN POINTWAS HELD IN HIS HOME

    January 4, 2012

  • Mariama Abdalla

    Ms. Ghaddar, I, as a Maronite, tell you that we are all afraid from the Salafis and other Sunni extremists. I must say, thank God that we, in Lebanon, have the Shias, because we have suffered more from the Sunnis who stood by the Palestinian PLO against their Christian brothers, during the years of war 1975 - 1989. No mam, the Shias might have some fanatical groups, but not as extremists as are the Sunnis. The Shias in Lebanon are the people of the land... farmers, agriculturists, etc. therefore they are attached to the land of Lebanon. This is not really the case with the Sunnis. Sorry to say that; but we should be made aware of that. Also don't forget that big brother of Sunnis, KSA, is there funding the Sunni extremists all over the Arab and Islamic world. So, long life to the Shias, especially in Lebanon. And a big thank you to them for having faced our biggest enemy in such a courageous way.

    January 4, 2012

  • Hassan

    Ramsey, the problem is religion and trust. Actually you just admitted it. Although both HA and the Extremist are harming the communities, you said “If I was Shia…. I will pick Hezboallah.” Hanin demonstrated that whatever we say or however we react, there is always a way to blame and point finger at country, name or party. I always thought it is only Israel or the US, but she proved that it could be anybody. I don’t let the name Al-Qaeda and what they done in the past or will do the issue; in an hour, a new group can be formed and can call themselves “Kittens & Fluffy” and have same intentions as Al-Qaeda or others. It is an honor to reach for the Shia and tell them they are part of this country; however, would they believe us? Or would they think it is a conspiracy and plotting to take them over ..

    January 4, 2012

  • Ramsey

    Toufic I agree with you, but you haven't read into what i have said properly...personally I don't belong to any religion but i understand hizbullahs growing seclusion and why shias follow them and here it goes to you and other fellow readers:wherever u go in the islamic world (even in pakistan) bahrain, afghanistan etc, saudi has been funding and supporting to the max sunni fanaticism to undermine the shia. hizbullah is a religious party and this goes against my principles (and i don't even trust them as i don't trust religious parties) but hizbullah is just reactionary and seeing saudis growing influence, it would be illogical to think they wont feel threatened...its a mistake but they're not to blame, its the system which permits that, and that system is in part ironically sustained by hizbullah and in part by the other factions. to understand leb communities one has to grasp geopolitics, damn if i was shia and looking at how saudis try to harm their communities i would def be with h

    January 3, 2012

  • Toufic

    It's mystifying that parts of this article would upset Ahmad Hamed or Ramsey. It seems that Lebanon's newest enemies are extremist Islamists bent on turning the country into an Islamist state. Strange coincidence that these latest enemies, real or imagined, happen to all be Sunni extremists. Wait just a second: Hezbollah is also an extremist Islamist organization bent on turning the country into an Islamist state, bit it's Shiite. So, if my understanding is correct, it's acceptable for an extremist Islamic organization to turn the country into an Islamic State as long as it's Shiite but it's not if it's Sunni? The fears of the Lebanese should not carry double standards. Extremism is to be feared no matter "its religious affiliation".

    January 3, 2012

  • Ramsey

    I agree that hizbullah is quite hypocritical when it comes to people's freedom and dignity looking at the fact that they sided with bashar...I agree that Hezbollah is itself an organisation that is controlled by foreign powers n dictators, n I agree that the Lebanese state is the sole protector of all Lebanese...however when u hav a political force which is backed and funded by Saudi and we all know the Saudi monarchy's racism towards Shias, wat can u expect? Can u expect the Shia feeling safe with a grip staunchly sponsored by Saudi? Naive to answer that in the positive.

    January 2, 2012

  • jacques tabet

    on the dot !

    January 2, 2012

  • ahamed63

    The lives of Shia were not hijacked by Hezbollah. The majority of Shia voted for Hezbollah. The threat of Islamic Salafis is a real one. All the Lebanese should be worried and not just the Shia or Hezbollah. I am really shocked by some Lebanese who insiist on denying any presence of Al Qaeda in Lebanon. As if Shaker Absi never existed, and Fateh Al Islam did not clash with the Lebanese Army. As if nothing happened in Majdel Anjar and Sir el Dinniyeh. As if no Lebanese were sent to fight in Iraq. As if Ziad Jarrah is not Lebanese! (...)

    January 2, 2012

  • LEBINLON

    Killed Hariri father have you ? Sent his son to the opposition did you ? great achievements made you ! now deal with the ilk of baassiri & Shahal & other boxed devils. Well bloody done !

    January 2, 2012