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NOW

Hezbollah’s vision thing

Whenever you entertain the thought that Hezbollah is prepared to integrate into the Lebanese state, be sure, first, to listen to the party’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem. 

Speaking at a Hezbollah gathering earlier this week, Qassem criticized those who, he said, believed that “if there are solutions in the region and Israel withdrew and the Zionist problem were ended, that would end the presence of [the Resistance].” Such thinking was “naïve”, Qassem added, since “the Resistance was not present because of a situation, but because of principle, and principle does not end because a situation changes.”

The statement echoed a very similar one that Qassem made in June 2008, to which he had affixed the intriguing thought that “[t]he Resistance is a vision and a methodology, not just a military reaction.” Methodology, vision, principle? So many words so difficult to pin down, yet also so indicative of the totalistic nature of Hezbollah, which brooks no effective independent political action outside the confines imposed by the party, which will survive as it is simply because the Truth must prevail.

Qassem was justified in mocking those trusting souls who imagine that Hezbollah perceives itself as a transitory phenomenon. And yet for a long time Lebanese and foreign analysts or social scientists have asked, with undue sincerity, “What does it take to turn Hezbollah into a political party?” The question has been interesting for two reasons: it presumes that Hezbollah might accept such an outcome, and it has usually steered away from drawing attention to the fact that the party apparatus is basically an extension of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Qassem’s remarks explode the argument that Hezbollah will voluntarily pack up its guns once Israel ceases to threaten Lebanon. By its nature Israel is a threat, party officials believe, and that says nothing about other ambient threats, for example that represented by the United States. And yet those who want to believe that Hezbollah can fundamentally change have often bravely tried to adjust to the party’s moving goal posts, suggesting ways it can be reassured and given less latitude to see open-ended menaces everywhere. They’re the ones Qassem calls naïve.

The effort to ignore Hezbollah’s relations with Iran is a second characteristic of those who believe the party can be recycled into a non-military organization. The reason for this is easy to understand: If Hezbollah is characterized as an appendage of Iran, then considerable doubt would be cast on its authenticity as a Lebanese party, making less likely its willingness to recycle itself into something peaceful and well integrated into Lebanon’s political life. Yet if there is any prospect of seeing Hezbollah turned into a political party, and mind you this remains slim, it would require an end to Iranian funding.

The positivists increasingly grasp today that their assumptions about Hezbollah are off the mark. But that doesn’t mean that they have given up on a functional reading of the party; on analyzing it mainly in a pragmatic framework, that of costs and benefits, without considering enough that Hezbollah regards itself as a collection of true believers.

That is the value of Qassem’s statements. A party that talks about principle, a methodology, vision is one that tends to see its actions in a transcendental light, as being beyond experience and costs and benefits, even if an astute estimation of costs and benefits may very well be a part of the party’s transcendental strategy. Being on the side of God does that to you. But then what of Lebanon in that exclusive relationship? 

In his comments to the party faithful, Qassem also noted that Hezbollah was “comfortable” with where it was, by which he meant the endorsement it secured from the state for its weapons. However, the shift in the balance in Lebanon, Syria’s relative regaining of power when compared to that of its ally Iran, which, through Hezbollah, was the most powerful outside force on the ground in the period 2005-2009, appears to be at the back of the minds of Hezbollah officials whenever they utter something.

Hezbollah will not enter into a confrontation with Syria. However, the party is not keen, either, to be turned into a Syrian bargaining chip, especially when it has just spent four and a half years defending Syria’s stakes in Lebanon. That is perhaps why its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, has been so busy stressing that Hezbollah is anchored in the country. That message is a warning shot directed at his domestic rivals, certainly, but it is also an implicit signal to Syria that, ultimately, the party’s fate cannot be negotiated between Syria, the United States, Israel, or anyone else in the international community.

Yet there is one lingering problem. For all of Qassem’s talk of the transcendental choice of adopting the Resistance as a vision, Hezbollah’s only way of defending that choice is through its weapons. But transcendental principles and visions usually imply something different. In the jargon of political science, they are examples of what we might call soft power – values that shape action through persuasion, not force, or hard power. What Qassem will not tell us is that Hezbollah’s vision is all about hard power, which made May 2008 possible and which Hezbollah will not live down, despite the reconciliations taking place today.

Hezbollah, as a political organization (though not necessarily as a manifestation of Shia communal expression), will never truly be a part of Lebanon. The guns are its reason to exist, without which its methodology would collapse and its vision evaporate. We should thank Naim Qassem for making that clear, then draw the obvious conclusions. 

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.

  • Sami

    Fadi, I am serious and proud but not brain washed(no one is using this terminology since the cold war) but HA provided social services and protected the Shiaa in place of the government,then you blame HA for doing so.Your "cosy" call for HA to stop displacing this government is directed towards the wrong side. HA is now giving this government a chance to liberate and protect Lebanon politically(since it is incapable of doing it militarily),but unwilling to stop its social services.The government should that HA for undertaking this feat which saves the government money it does not have.Thanking Iran for providing financial as well as military support should be in order too.

    January 21, 2010

  • Fadi

    Sami, sorry to interupt your cosy discussion, but are you infering in your last post to Estiphan that the Shia are a monolythic bloc brainwashed by HA? That hey would still prefer HA to the government even if the government were able to implement a "good" project? Are you serious? are you proud?

    January 21, 2010

  • Sami

    Estiphan,our esteemed government are incapable,unwilling to implement any social reforms in the south and the east as you are wishing it would erode the Shiaa support to HA.It is a day late and a dollar short.There is one project that jumps in front of my eyes every time one mentions reforms in the south.This project is still called "the Litani project".Politicians fought over at what level its waters should reach;800 meters or more,and thus buried it forever.Kuwait provided the funds,all is needed is a decision to start but till now they still bicker at the ways to implement it while the southern people go thirsty and their land laid to waste.HA is intertwined in the Shiaa's social fabric and no governmental projects can erase it from their consciousness.Too late,why fix the unbroken?

    January 20, 2010

  • essam

    John..please man, get it right...he is Not the spin master,more like the spinning master !!...never mind, there is always one, bless !!!

    January 18, 2010

  • Sami

    HA tactics are being taught in the USA military academy NOW,look it up.Ignorance is bliss.

    January 18, 2010

  • John

    taught around the world,...... to fight wars for others like syria and iran, ha haa haaa, you are real funny DR Sami the spin master

    January 18, 2010

  • Hovig

    Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear... but the problem is: What is our fear?

    January 18, 2010

  • Georges Butros Estaphan

    But it doesn't matter what Hizbuallah wants or thinks - the issue remains, how concrete steps can the Lebanese government take that will over time in fact set the conditions in which Hizbullah's support base in the south and east is transferred to the central government. Of course a party of God thinks it will exist for ever and on its own terms. The issue for the State is to intelligently devise ways to undermine that future so we don't go on forever paying the price of mistakes made in 1975 and 1976 by the ...named "Lebanese Forces".

    January 18, 2010

  • Miumiu

    Hahahahah@ Sami....HA statgey taught around the World'...!!!...what World are you referring to ?...your imaginary World, you can't be that naive to continue such ... you want the next war to wipe the whole of Lebanon to the ground ...., having people like you is like having a never ending nightmare, in which one day will be your last. I don't believe that you are for real..

    January 18, 2010

  • John

    keep up the spin, sami you are so funny

    January 18, 2010

  • Sami

    Paul,the world ,including Israel via its various commissions admitted that they lost the war and are trying to rebuild their power.The HA's strategy is being taught now in the various military schools as the most modern and effective resistance against regular army.Yet you claim that they lost.No matter,you may stay with your dreams and wishes.Habib,our Lebanese army never ever stood face to face against your heroic IDF,never won a battle against it and now is not "allowed" to arm itself effectively.Our army was denied the permission to buy(yes BUY) night vision under the pretext that these night visions may fall in HA hands.HA itself is not "allowed" to have air defense systems and Israel says it is a red line.Think again,who is bullshitting?As for Essam,he can not stop using his favorite word "pathetic."He must lead a pathetic life.

    January 17, 2010

  • essam

    Some brain-washed creatures are so up their dark ideology A*** that they can't see the contradictions in their pathetic comment..."Army should defend the Country" , but the capabilities isn't up to the job, so Hizbo will keep it weak to justify their claim to their weapons...2nd.."All Arab Armies are no match to the Israeli Army"..so no matter how strong our lebanese Army, it won't really & LOGICALLY be a deterrent to the Israeli..3rd Moukawameh ya Baba is & should be made of ALL section of the Lebanese Society with its command under the Army not religious zealous , and called the People Army..4th, next war,God forbid, will be a wipe out, and the reaction within will be the destructive one..come out of your dark A*** and face reality..

    January 17, 2010

  • Paul matuk

    Sami: You sound like a smart guy but wake up and and stop spewing HA's bullshit. are you implying HA can defend Lebanon against Israel? They can't, the army can't all of the arab armies can't as you so aptly pointed it out. And hiding behind civilians doesn't count as a victory v/s the IDF. So whether they are armed or not doesn't matter v/s Israel but it sure does internally to impose their and their masters agendas.

    January 17, 2010

  • Sami

    Furthermore,Mr. Young knows that all the Arabic armies combined are no match to Israel's war machine.The Lebanese army proved itself less than capable in defending Lebanon.Al Mukawameh is an effective deterrent to Israeli aggression,why does Mr. Young want to disband it?Whose interest does this disbanding serve if not Israel's?HA proved its effectiveness in the past and should continue till such time we can have guarantees that there will be no more Israeli threat,but who can provide us with such guaranties?

    January 16, 2010

  • Sami

    Mr. Young's theory suggests that there is no need for resistance once the Israeli threat,or any threat, disappears.Who all know that there is no country anywhere that does not have a threat,real,imaginary or potential.Even Neutralcountries such as Switzerland has a standing army fully armed and ready to defend it against any threat,real,imaginary or potential.Mr. young may say,and he does, that the resistance is not needed and the Lebanese army is the only one qualified to defend Lebanon against any threat.While I agree that this army is ,and should be ,the only power to defend Lebanon.But one may want to look at this army's capabilities prior to HA's existence.Was this army ever capable of defending Lebanon,liberating any occupied land,or even detering any threat from recurring?The answer is: NEVER.Can this army NOW defend Lebanon against any threat,real,imaginary or potential?The answer is NO.Will it be armed fully to the point where it may have capabilities to defend Lebanon?

    January 15, 2010

  • Ali K

    As usual Mr Young zeros in on the problem in his precise scientific way... and to those sami who always jump to defend the indefensible he ought to have a chat with the likes of Qasem, Mousawi and Qawook who with every utterance expose the true nature of Hizballah that they sees the world in term of us, the disciples of the omniscient faquih, and the rest, subservient dependencies or enemies in varying degrees, dispelling the myth that some goody two-shoes want us to believe of an open minded progressive Lebanese party.

    January 15, 2010