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Hanin Ghaddar

A Sunni Hezbollah

Both ISIS and Hezbollah feed on the idea of injustice

Lebanese Hezbollah militants carry the coffins of their two comrades killed the day before in a firefight with Sunni gunmen in the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek, on September 29, 2013

A new wave of suicide bombings is hitting Lebanon, but this time around, the regional context and the rapid developments in Iraq cannot be ignored. Today, everyone in Lebanon is asking the same question: Is ISIS coming here after conquering so much of Iraq? Are we going to see militants waving black flags coming through the borders to take over Lebanon?

 

The answers to these questions are not a simple yes or no. “ISIS” today is a vague enough term that it could be applied to any Sunni militant entity choosing extremism and violence to fight their enemies, i.e. Maliki, Assad, Iran, or Hezbollah. The phenomenon of “ISIS” has gradually developed in the region as the influence of moderate Islam has declined. In this sense, ISIS will not “come to Lebanon:” ISIS is already here, and it has emerged slowly but surely since the events of May 7, 2008, continuing through the Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir movement in Sidon, and escalating to today’s suicide bombers.

 

The promise of power

 

ISIS’ increased regional strength did not come from nowhere. In the 1980s, Hezbollah was empowered through a feeling of injustice within the Shiite community. After Lebanon gained independence in 1943, Shiites found themselves politically underrepresented and economically very poor compared to other sects in Lebanon. Decades of marginalization and poverty gave Lebanese Shiites less cause to trust the state and more reason to bank on groups like Hezbollah, which at least came with the promise of resistance and political power.

 

As years of civil war, Syrian hegemony, Israeli occupation, rampant corruption, and illegitimate weapons bled authority from the Lebanese state, Hezbollah came to look like the only protector of Lebanese Shiites, despite increasing criticism – by the Shiites themselves – of its corruption and its involvement in Syria. But that wasn’t enough for Hezbollah. It ignored Sunni resentment and consistently acted as if its power were eternally sacred.

 

Today, ISIS has become empowered by a similar feeling of injustice within the Sunni community, and what we are seeing is the emergence of what can be described as a Sunni Hezbollah.

 

This feeling of injustice has grown within the Sunni majority as Shiites and Alawites – Iran’s proxies – rose to power in Syria after 1970, Iraq after 2005, and Lebanon also after 2005, all with the international community’s blessing. So we shouldn’t be surprised that “ISIS” happened: injustice creates extremism and an inclination toward violent revenge.

 

The majority of Sunnis in the region are neither part nor fans of ISIS, but the group is extending the same promise as the one Hezbollah offered in the 80s: resistance and political power. Resistance to the Iranian hegemony in the region, and the reclamation of power for the Sunnis in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. These promises, if not necessarily the accompanying ideology, will appeal to the people.

 

Shiite extremism vs. Sunni extremism

 

Extremism is not limited to an ethnic or religious group in the Arab and Muslim world. These ideas and beliefs exist everywhere, in each dictatorship and autocratic regime. Any group or leadership that refuses to acknowledge state authority, practices violence to impose its own rules, and denies the freedom of the individual and their basic right to freedom, equality, and citizenship, is not that different from ISIS. Hezbollah is no exception: all Parties of God that use religion and ideology to force themselves on other citizens are “ISIS.”

 

Hezbollah refuses to acknowledge the Lebanese state’s authority and refuses to surrender its arms, which have killed innocent Lebanese civilians, to the Lebanese State. Hezbollah committed violence on May 7, 2008 against fellow Lebanese, killed Hashem al-Salman in 2013, and is still murdering – or at least is complicit in murdering – thousands of innocent Syrian civilians across the border. Hezbollah denies individual freedom in its own areas: good luck buying or drinking alcohol in the South or the Beqaa. Hezbollah does not accept democracy: they have toppled two governments since 2005 (Siniora and Hariri’s), the only two governments that resulted from the March 14 victory in the parliamentary elections.

 

Hezbollah, like ISIS, are foreign fighters participating in the Syrian war; indeed, they came to Syria even before ISIS was formed. And the Party further promises its martyrs the same heaven ISIS guarantees to theirs.

 

So how is Hezbollah really different from ISIS? Is it because they do not film their crimes and broadcast them on YouTube? Or is because they prefer to kill from a distance instead of beheading people?

 

Extremist groups feed on each other in order to grow and justify their existence. Today, ISIS is not as organized as Hezbollah, and it certainly does not have a recognizable sponsoring state like Iran. But this could be just the beginning. ISIS now has land, money, and revenues, and eventually could become more regimented.

 

A Sunni Hezbollah in conflict with a Shiite Hezbollah is bad news. A regional sectarian war between Sunnis and the Shiites, spearheaded by ISIS and Hezbollah, will only lead to more bloodshed and extremism that will spread to other states in the region. Moderate Islam will become history and no one will be safe from the consequences, not even western states.

 

As Iraqi Shiite groups return to Iraq to fight against ISIS, Hezbollah will have to fill the vacuum in Syria. This means more involvement in the war, but it also means spreading itself increasingly thin in terms of its military and logistical capabilities. The crisis in Iraq moreover makes it harder for Maliki to continue funding Iranian and Hezbollah operations in Syria, meaning even more hardship for the Party.

 

At the same time, ISIS appears to be bringing in arsenals seized in Mosul into Syria, mainly to Deir el-Zor and Hasaka. The result is that ISIS will probably take over more areas currently under FSA or Jabhat al-Nusra control.

 

Ultimately, this means ISIS and Hezbollah will clash in Syria and spark heightened sectarian violence in Lebanon – not merely through suicide bombings and explosions, but probably through a new civil war, this time between Sunnis and Shiites.

 

It is likely already too late to stop this. As long as the international community – especially the US – still thinks ISIS is bad news while Hezbollah and Iran are not, Hezbollah will never compromise, and ISIS will only grow.

 

Hanin Ghaddar is the Managing Editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

More to come. (AFP Photo/STR)

"The majority of Sunnis in the region are neither part nor fans of ISIS, but the group is extending the same promise as the one Hezbollah offered in the 80s: resistance and political power."

  • Vlad Tepes

    No, I'm sorry. This is another pathetic attempt to discredit Hezbollah. And you are embarrassing yourself. If you were a Shiite and supported Hezbollah, you supported them forfighting the good fight and there aaccomplishments in battle such as removing the Zionist occupiers and representing a forgotten people in the south. If you support ISIS, well, you are an extremist clown. You want a caliphate, and a fundamentalist regime hell bent on terrorism of what are perceived infidels. If Sunnis didn't like Lebanon with all of its different sects, they could move to Arabia. In no Shiite majority country have Sunnis ever been persecuted. It's always been the other way around. I think 60% of the Syrian regime top leadership is Sunni, including Mrs. Assad. Beautiful but always wrong.

    June 27, 2014

  • mjay

    she shows a picture of a funeral and captions "more to come". is this "journalist" mentally stable?

    June 25, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    [continued]....and their primitive attachment to the status quo, to Islam as religion of state, to monarchies and dictatorships, and the illusory "liberation of Palestine" for which Lebanon has paid the heftiest price.

    June 25, 2014

  • anasd

    we would like to see Hanin Ghaddar reply to readers' comments..

    June 26, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    She can't. She is up to her eyeballs in Sunni sectarianism and on the Hariri dole. She tows the line, like every other journalist. Twenty years ago, someone like Ghaddar would be crucifying some other journalist who attended a conference with Israelis. Today, she is on the other side. This is why I never trust them, because they can;t switch their opinion overnight.

    June 26, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Hanin Ghaddar has it a little upside down. ISIS may be a new "Sunni" terrorist militia on the block, following in the footsteps of Shiite terrorist Hezbollah. But what Ms. Ghaddar chooses to ignore is the fact that from the late 1960s through the late 1990s (and perhaps all the way to the 2005 assassination of the Sunni pro-Syrian occupation collaborator, Rafik Hariri, the Sunnis had their own terror organizations (both direct and proxy) running Lebanon into mayhem and destruction: The Mourabitoun, the PLO and all its affiliated Palestinian terror groups (PFLP, Abu-Nidal etc...), the Syrian army and its satellites (YArmouk Brigades, Al-Saika, Al-Assifa, Ikhwaan Ali, Ahmad Al-Khatib's "Arab Army of Lebanon", etc. etc. ). During 30 years, and well before Hezbollah took up the mantle, it was Hanin Ghaddar's more "respectable" Sunnis that ran the sectarian killing, the dismantling of the Lebanese Sate under the guise of "Arabism" and "Arab nationalism" and indeed even "Islamic" nationalism, backed by the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Syrians, Egyptians, and every Sunni traitor and hater of Lebanon. Later on, they supported the Syrian occupation and the rise of Hezbollah against the Lebanese State. In so doing, the Sunnis of Lebanon were the pioneers and the vanguards of today's Sunni and Shiite extremism. They were the ones who decried the attempts by Lebanon's Christians to save the republic, maintain the state, divorce Lebanon from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, support the army against all the Sunni insurgents, and so on and so forth. No amount of pretense to otherwise today will exonerate Lebanon's not-so-moderate Sunnis from the groundwork of destruction and backwardness they prepared for the extremists of both Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda-inspired ISIS to emerge. Like the Saudis and Kuwaitis, the Sunnis across the Arab world continue to sit on the fence of secularism, peace with ISrael, democratization, etc. on one hand, and their primitive attachment to the status quo, to Islam

    June 25, 2014

  • aliberri

    Seriously I do not understand your one-sided news coverage. How can you compared Hezbollah with ISIS. ??? ISIS is the murderers kill people because they smoke a cigirat, listening to music or you don't believe the same as them. Tell me when Hezbollah ever done that?

    June 25, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Hezbollah would love to do "that", just like their Iranian masters do to their own people, but Hezbollah IS UNABLE TO DO "THAT" because in Lebanon everyone hates them. They would not even dare. Also, remember how Hezbollah kidnapped, murdered, held innocent people hostages, hijacked planes, bombed embassies and peacekeeping forces, assassinated politicians and journalists, besieged Palestinian camps and killed 10,000 Palestinians in the "War of the Camps" of the 1980s.... You either have short memory, or you were not even born to know these things, or you are just too stupid to admit the truth.

    June 25, 2014

  • anasd

    Hanibaal well said though sometimes you sound like (انا خلقت لأعترض)!

    June 26, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    ANASD: That is the point of democracy. You always have to criticize those who rule over your life and who have the power to destroy your life and your country. Keep pointing out their weaknesses, faults, and crimes, and never praise them as Arab people always do. They idolize their political leaders, treat them like deities, elevate them to near mythical status.... Politicians need to know that they are in power because they are your servants, not the other way around. الاعتراض مبدأ اساسي للعبة الديموقراطية/ خصوصاً لما يكون حكامك مجرمين وقتلة وزعران وخونة ومرتزقة لبلدان اجنبية.

    June 26, 2014

  • Beiruti

    And why not, Jacob, I take it that you are Israeli? Yes? Well what kind of game is this? Hezbollah is the creature of Iran, Israel''s clandestine regional ally. ISIS was incubated by the Assad Regime, also an Israeli project. Ironic or not that The Assad Regime would have such a role in the incubation and creation of both the Shia Fundamentalists, Hezbollah, and the Sunni Fundamentalists, ISIS? How is it that 2000-3000 guys took over so much territory, including the A,Erica's arsenal near Mosel, the Assad Regime's oil fields, the gold in the bNk of Iraq at Iraq and now an oil refinery, without much opposition? It's like the Nusra group and ISIS were auditioning in the Syrian War to see which would win the "right" to the guns and money to become the Sunni counterpart to Shia Hezbollah. So now the proxies are set and we can have a nice regional sectarian war where the biff stares get cut down to smaller religiously and ethnically homogeneous states that will remain in conflict with each other, and not with Israel. Neat regional survival strategy, but remember the warning: those who seek power by riding the back of the tiger, often end up inside. Be careful what you start, it's not so easy to stop.

    June 25, 2014

  • mjay

    when in doubt blame the Assad regime. the Assad regime also created Stalin, Hitler, and North Korea to distract the world from it's nefarious plans. give me a break. sunni extremism has existed far before shia extremism, it has always been a invading, barabic occupying force that does not tolerate other relgious groups unless they are under complete subjugation. sunnis are just mad in Iraq that their homeboy Saddam (who killed 10X the number of Assad in terms of Kurds and Shias) got the justice he deserved and are butthurt that they can no longer subjugate shia. In syria, the sunni population has always dreamed of subjugating their fellow Syrians but are now getting a huge reality check by both the Syrian Army and its allies. ISIS is a silly fad, a disgusting reflection of the hatred within the average sunnis heart

    June 25, 2014

  • Beiruti

    MJAY, though you may wish to think it knee jerk reasoning to just blame Assad, but my posts are not knee jerk, there is authority, found in the artillery, that indeed the Assad regime harbored the ISIS in Syria. He deployed them to Iraq to fight the Americans, and in Syria, members have been quoted as saying that they have no fear of attack by Asad regime forces since they are together with them. The ISIS was used by Assad to discredit the FSA. They sell oil to the Regime and the Regime has become a source of their revenues. I think you suffer knee jerk defense of Assad, so that you don't see the whole picture. It's a very large game. Assad is not a master, but a servant to others who a re players. Iran, the Us and Israel on one side trying to create mini states in the region so that no one state is strong enough to gain hegemony. Saudi Arabia on the other, trying for the opposite result, to erase all national boundaries and create one large umma state with the King of Saudi Arabia as it's leader. Assad is merely an accent of Iran/Israel/the US in this broader game.

    June 26, 2014

  • LiberalLebanese

    How hard is it to let people live their own lives and enjoy their freedom ? We don't need Hezbollah nor ISIS (or Asir). If Hezbollah doesn't want a peaceful freedom by laying down their arms, maybe it's time the liberal people revolt against this hatred and extremism. Let the state of Lebanon declare freedom, and everyone against it shall be deported to Syria to join the dog (Assad). Hezbollah started this sectarian violence. To solve it, we need to go down the roots. Long live the independence of Lebanon!

    June 25, 2014

  • Jacob the aggressive watcher

    If I want to be very cynical : I wish both a lot of success

    June 24, 2014

  • whiteknight

    Oh please be cynical and let's watch both of them go at it to the bones ....

    June 26, 2014