Hanin Ghaddar

The many shades of Hezbollah

The gap between Hezbollah’s leadership and its community

Hezbollah militants with a Fajr 5 missile in a parade commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein

Two YouTube videos made the news last week, showcasing two contradictory but equally true perspectives on the story of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, with its nuances, complexities and multiple layers. These two videos not only show the concentrations in Hezbollah’s dealings, but also highlight the huge gap between the leadership and the public vis-à-vis Syria.


The first video shows Mahdi Yaghi, a fighter from Baalbak, reciting his will in case he gets killed. He got killed, and the video went viral on social media after Hezbollah’s media broadcasted it. Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar television made it its prime story, and turned Mahdi into a hero and a champion of resistance.


This video was the best thing that happened to Hezbollah’s media this year. It humanized their fight in Syria as Mahdi talked about his family, his fiancée, how he hated his Arabic grammar class and loved Uno. It is difficult not to sympathize with him while watching the video.


While the “martyr” becomes a legend and an icon to be followed and imitated, the young man with the spontaneous smile and childlike eyes sounded very genuine. He wasn’t hiding any agenda and did not use any of the clichés often mobilized by his leaders to justify killing. His faith was true. He was there because he was told, and believed, that his religious duties required him to go fight in Syria.


He believed God wanted him to be there, as Hezbollah made it non-doubtable for him and his friends that the fight in Syria is a sacred fight. Using the collective memory of the Shiites, Hezbollah has painted this war as a divine battle to defend the Shiite faith and pave the way for the appearance of the “awaited” al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam for the Shiites. 


But war is war, and the innocent face and message of the young Mahdi are not the only side of the truth. Another video was released, or leaked, a few days later, showing a number of Hezbollah fighters executing unarmed wounded Syrians.


The video shows several men dressed in camouflage fatigues with yellow ribbons on their shoulders, like the ones Hezbollah uses when they’re on the field. After they drag several gravely wounded men out of a van, they shoot them to death at point blank range. They speak with a Lebanese accent as they execute the Syrian men, who are dressed in civilian clothing.


The brutality screaming at you from the screen is not at all different from that of the regime’s shabbiha, but the question here is: what is the difference between these guys and the ISIS fighters in Syria, famous for brutally beheading those who oppose them? The difference is this: ISIS use swords and Hezbollah use guns. That’s it. The brutality is the same, the merciless killing is the same, and the religious dimension underlying this craziness is the same.


In the name of religion, they both kill and torture the innocent. In the name of religion, it is OK to act like monsters and lose our humanity. Hezbollah is no better. Hassan Nasrallah speaks of moral commitment to resistance, the duty to defend the weak against injustice, and the immorality of killing the wounded and the prisoners of war. Many believe him; many believe in him. And that’s why the young Mahdi went to die in Syria. I wonder what Mahdi would do if he had the chance to see this video. Would he say that this is just an individual mistake that does not represent the resistance? Would he still die for his beliefs? Wouldn’t these beliefs be shaken? How about the others who’ve seen it? How many cruel videos would it take to uncover the hypocrisy of Hezbollah to their community?


Relentlessly, Hezbollah’s leadership speaks of Al-Qaeda as crazy monsters that are harming Islam and why they are trying to stop them. Hezbollah’s propaganda machine cleverly hides their own brutality while Al-Qaeda brags about it. That’s why, when it comes to international public opinion, the West still doesn’t see Hezbollah as senseless terrorists the same way they do al-Qaeda. That’s why there is always a difference between Hezbollah’s military and political wing.


There is a core difference, but it lies on a different level. The political and military leadership are the same. They both bully and murder their opponents without blinking. The real discrepancy is between the leadership and Mahdi Yaghi. The leaders of the Party of God do not tell Mahdi when they send him to Syria that the real goal has nothing to do with the sacred appearance of Imam Mahdi, but it’s a political battle between Iran and Gulf States over Syria. They don’t tell him that he is going to die so that Iran becomes the main player in the region. They do not tell him that his death will not help his family, his people or his country.


He goes, he fights and he dies because he knows nothing else. There is no black and white answer. If we don’t start looking at Mahdi as a victim as well, nothing will ever alter the heartless monster that will eat up the region and every hope that remains for a real Spring.


Mahdi did not want to die. You could see life in his eyes. But the thirst for blood in the second video is a different story. It is this thirst that no Geneva II or III or IV will ever stop.  Holding the criminals accountable will stop this thirst, but this is not enough unless Hezbollah and other non-Syrian fighters, including ISIS, pull out completely from Syria.


Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

Hezbollah militants ride on a vehicle carrying a Fajr 5 missile during the annual parade in the southern town of Nabatiyeh to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Zayyat)

"What is the difference between these guys and the ISIS fighters in Syria? The difference is this: ISIS use swords and Hezbollah use guns."

  • sweety1987

    Hanin Ghaddar and keti.raicheva I hope you will go to the Zionists or in the hands of the Wahhabis and they gut you like a .... you ungrateful scum. it among your Christians and Sunnis some traitors who sell Lebanon Americans, Jews, Salafis, Wahhabis. you .... who writes a lie! Hezbollah protects Lebanon from the Zionist Jews! how much you paid for the Jews, Americans or Saudi Arabia for your slander against Hezbollah? you traitor! Salafis and Wahhabis killed Syrians and Lebanese! And you hide behind them. I do not know who you are Sunni or Christian, but you're so blind and can not see that the killing of Shiites, Sunnis and not. if they come killer thugs from Syria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia.then cut out the first Christians. because they are paid to the west, Israel and Sudovskaya arabia. sorry that there are among the Lebanese. So be thankful that there is Hezbollah, which protects Lebanon from Israeli attacks.

    February 5, 2014

  • Metnman

    "They both bully and murder their opponents without blinking." Sounds very libelous to me. I mean I know it's likely true but surely the editor in chief has got to check this stuff before it goes up.

    October 19, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    "Libelous"? You are outraged at qualifying Hezbollah as "...bully and murder"? You want the editor in chief to "check this stuff" before going to press? What are you, some kind of a lunatic? What do you want the editor to check? That Hezbollah has assassinated dozens of Lebanese figures, has bombed the US Marines and the French Paratroopers compounds in Beirut in 1983, has kidnapped, murdered and traded western hostages? Hijacked TWA 847 in 1985..... I mean the list is too long. Then, the real question is this: THERE NEVER WERE TWO WINGS IN HEZBOLLAH. This differentiation between a political wing and a military wing is an invention by western cowards (especially the British) who want to appear both as tough (hence against its "military" wing) and appeasing (play "nice" to the so-called "political" wing). They did the same thing with Hamas because they fear that both terror groups might send a few bombs their way or might start kidnapping their people. I never heard - even by Hezbollah's own statements - that there is such a division of labor within Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, plain and simple. What the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will prove is known to everyone...(...)

    October 20, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    It's becoming comical to read Hanin Ghaddars' now predictable vitirol against Hezbollah and the Assad regime. You can tell she's on a mission, or perhaps she's doing the job for which she is paid. In Arabic literature, she would be (minus the notoriety) like Al-Mutannabi or Al-Farazdaq or such poets of circumstance who are paid to praise (المديح) or to lampoon (الهجاء) rulers. Anyway, it's his "fiancée", not "fiancé", unless Mahdi was gay and gay marriage was allowed under Lebanese law.. Even so, I thought Persians, Iranians and Shiites did NOT have gay people, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to us a couple of years ago in an interview.

    October 15, 2013

  • keti.raicheva

    Hezbollah Direction must Stoping kidnapping and TORTURE PEOPLES! Hesbollah Direction make Crimes and must goo to Prison! Hezbollah must stop KIDNAPING tourists and evry one lebanese people entry in Lebanon and evry one foreigner! Hezbollah have big FOBIA FOR evry one people THAT WORKING FOR IZRAEL! NOW IS 21 CENTURE! WHO IS HEZBOLLAH THAT NO SAVE HUMAN RIGHTS WITH KIDNAPP AND TORTURE? Hezbullah is NO STATE LEBANON ! Hezbollah must no INVOLVING IN THE LEBANESE COURT! Hezbollah is NO COURT! Lebanese State Institution MUST INDEPENDENT FROM Hezbollah! Why Lebanese Institution allow to Hezbollah MAKE CRIMES ? Hezbullah DIRECTION is TERRORIST GROUP! Hezbullah direction hold Peoles with KIDNAP,TORTURE AND UNJUST MURDERS!! Peoples FEAR FROM HEZBULLAH, PROGRESIVE PEOPLES HATE HEZBOLLAH, BECOUSE HEZBOLLAH KILLING EVRY ONE THAT HAVE DIFERENT OPINION! Hezbollah must DISARMS! IS UNLOWLY IN ONE NORMAL COUNTRY HAVE PARTY WITH ARMS DICTATE TO POLITYCS AND COURT DESIGIONS!!! Hezbollah direction oppose shia muslim against sunny and cristian peoples! Hezbollah killing SHIA, SUNNY AND CRISTIAN PEOPLES! THIS IS BARBARIAN ACTS! God punish Hezbollah! Hezbullah Lider Hasan Nasrallah u ruasa INTU SATAZHAB ILA JAHANNAM KARIBAN!!! WHY HEZBOLLAH DIRECTION KIDNAPPED AND TORTURED 63 DAYS MY INNOCENT 62 YEARS OLD HUSBAND TALAL MOHAMED KHALIL AND MUCH ANOTHER SHIA AND SUNNY PEOPLES? My husband Talal get 3 heart and 2 brain hits in the time of TORTURE BY HEZBOLLAH!!! INSHALLA HEZBOLLAH RUASA AND HASAN NASRALLAH SATAZHABU ILA JAHANNAM KARIBAN! Hezbollah Direction will be goo TO HELL! My bulgarian Family and Bulgarian and germany Friends will be struggle to Freedom for evry one Polityc Prisoner in Lebanon! WE WILL BE PROTEST IN FRONT LEBANESY AMBASSY IN Bulgaria-Sofia! Lebanese State MUST SAVE HUMAN RIGHTS TO ALL PRISONERS IN LEBANON!

    October 15, 2013