Wednesday, December 13, 2006

stop with the suffocation.

Let me put it out there: I agree with the assertion that the “historical development of [what some call] Lebanon’s ‘Shia ideology’ and power is understandable.” I also agree that “Iran was the [Shi'a community's] natural choice” when it came to accepting a foreign patron that would help them face the challenges they had to deal with as a community. Moreover, like all people raised never to bite the hand that feeds them, the Shi'a community refuses to turn their backs (or, at least, hesitate to turn their backs) on their patron.

However, this reality creates what could amount to an existential problem for Lebanon. I see a fundamental clash between what, over the past 20 years has developed into this “Shi'a ideology” and the loose amalgam of usually contradictory ideas and ideals that characterize what can be said to be a “Lebanese ideology.” Specifically, Hizballah’s aggressive and chauvinist disposition, its explicitly religious cultural and political nature, its apparent need for enemies towards which it may direct all of its energies, and its absolute obsession with Israel all combine to turn the party into a significant destabilizing entity within the country as a whole.

Being a Lebanese who exists outside of Hizballah's yoke, I usually find myself saying, “as long as they remain in their quarters, let them do and believe as they wish.” However, if they seek to impose their ideas or realities (such as war) on me, then I will exercise my own right as a Lebanese to do whatever it is that I can to block and thwart them.

Come to think of it, the blessing inherent in the Syrian occupation after Israel’s withdrawal was that all Lebanese who were not Hizballah followers, somewhat naively believed that the party remained actively engaged in the South because Syria – a foreign, occupying power – wanted to use the party to secure its own goals, ostensibly, liberating the Golan Heights. Today though, the Syrian buffer between Hizballah and the rest of the Lebanese population no longer exists, and all of us are looking right at a local party and its base - both of which apparently seek nothing but to impose what they perceive as their own ideal realities on the rest of us (realities that even supporters of Aoun would fight vehemently against had they not been so blinded by their selective hatred of the political establishment and their desire for power).

In conclusion, I will say that the supporters of Hizballah are definitely not blind, uncritical followers. Hizballah has done for Lebanon’s Shi’a community what no other political entity could. And, indeed, if for nothing but a sense of gratitude, the beneficiaries of Hizballah and Iranian generosity should stand by their party. However, at this point in history, I see no reason why the Hizb does not decommission and commit more of an effort into integrating into the Lebanese political system. The time for war is over; Lebanese are tired. Now that the Syrians have left the country, Lebanese should be given a chance to prosper – as opposed to being suffocated by a local entity that is fearful of change.

17 comments:

Doha said...

Nice post. I do recall how a couple of days back we both noted how HA is generally obsessed with the concept of the "3adou" (the enemy). Now unfortunately the enemy has become the March 14 movement (as the term appears in most of HA's speeches).

3li- said...

Warning: this is a long post

Raja,

You state so many assumptions, though they’re your rightful opinion, each will require a dissertation on its own to dissect and refute.

I wonder sometimes if you simply choose to ignore complex realities and historical experience for a more easily identifiable world that better fits your pre-conceived ideas.

You pit the Shia’s and specifically HA’s ” aggressive,…chauvinistic..disposition,” and its, “..explicitly religious cultural and political nature,” vs. a “Lebanese ideology” (whatever that is) that, to infer your opinion of it, represents the mosaic of benign national ideals which, however contradictory, represent a more progressive and tolerant nation.

What you choose to ignore is that this Shii ideology itself is a cultural and religious umbrella to what is also a mosaic of ideas and ideals that found a common platform, led by HA, to express its grievances and wishes. If you care to look any closer you will find that there many Shia in the demonstrations and sit-ins who do not don chadors or wear beards. Not everyone believes in the Wilayat-al-faqih. In between them, as is with other communities in Lebanon, there are the religionists, the traditionalists, the secularists, the agnostics, etc.. If you do not see them, then you are ignorant of the Shia community and its diversity. What unites them? Different things: Some, even though non-religious, view HA as a Lebanese Shii group who represents Shii power in a country with an unfortunate and destructive confessional system that requires allegiance to the sect rather than the state (the state becomes the instrument which each community tries to grab and use to better its own exclusive community or, worse, add to the personal wealth and prestige of its corrupt leaders at the expense of others). Some feel marginalized, some feel threatened, others are distressed that their children are leaving the country to escape the suffocating and humiliating economic and political situation. Some are angry at others, in the Lebanese state and in the region, who apparently connived and winked while the mainly (I know many others from different sects suffered and died as well so I do not need a lecture here) Shii towns, homes and the vestiges of the Shia symbols of power were under orders of annihilation. Regardless and if anything, and especially after the July War, you will be hard-pressed to find any stomach from any of these, including the ardent HA enthusiast, for another war with Israel, having personally suffered the cruel, destructive methods of our civilized neighbor to the south.

Then there are the other non-shii groups who have aligned themselves with HA right now. Are they all promoting HA’s “chauvinism” or are they, and their followers, simply naïve and gullible? HA has Christian, Sunni, and Druze allies. Are they part of the “Lebanese Ideology,” or are they simply unwitting co-conspirators in this intransigent ideology? Is it possible they meet on a purely Lebanese platform that wants a say in their country’s affaires?

By the way, all I said above can be applied to any other sect in Lebanon, just as what you said about the Shia can be applied to some other Lebanese sects whose chauvinistic..disposition,” and their, “..explicitly religious cultural and political nature,” allowed them to massacre their fellow countrymen in the interest of their narrow and sectarian ideology. And that is not just in the past. The same ideological impetus and rational that fed these Lebanese sects in the civil war remains today. Have the Phalange or the Lebanese Forces changed their charter, updated their symbols, or changed their leaders? Fear of the other breeds mistrust and narrow, expedient loyalty. I am sure many in the Christian communities find appalling what the the Gemayels and the Phalange and Ja’Ja’ and the LF did, and many Druze frown on what Junblat did, and many Shia find abhorrent what Berri and AMAL did, so why do they not change parties or demand new leadership? The Shia and HA are hardly a peculiar example in Lebanon’s messy landscape.

Everyone in Lebanon need to change, and no one will change until a unified central gov’t can convince its citizens, all citizens, that they are all equal under the law; that it will safeguard them; that it will care about the South, its schools, its economy and security, just as it cares about the Keserwan, Chouf, Beirut and the North; Not only do the citizens need this gov’t, but the government itself needs them, their hard work, creativity, their taxes, their optimism, or else how are we going to prosper? Leave the majority in Lebanon to languish, and simply concentrate on a pocket or two of elite areas where we can shamefully show off our ingenuity and enterprising spirit to the rest of the world? Hardly a recipe for national stability or economic success.

So my advice to you is to stop obsessing about HA as being the stumbling block in what would otherwise be a grand progressive and unified nation that is a light unto the world. We destroyed our country with our own hands before HA, and the same players are still with us today. HA is part of the landscape. Many accused it of being outside the system. Now that it wants enter and have its ideas represented in an equal way, with the support of many Shii and non-Shii groups, it is all of a sudden rejected. Just as with other sects and their political parties in Lebanon, the more you exert pressure on them and try to intimidate them, the more their constituents will rally to defend them and invest in them. It is the nature of how sectarian politics works. HA, as with other parties in Lebanon, will not lose their appeal until Lebanon can offer an alternative vision the Shia can confidently and proudly believe in.

JoseyWales said...

3li-,

I don't disagree with a lot of what you say. But it does not follow that Hezbo, under current leadership, is a benign force.

-The diversity of HA supporters is indeed there but is no guarantee of future diversity.

-When Khomeini overthrew the Shah, the opposition was very diverse. Today all these people have no voice and the regime went in directions loathesome to many Iranians (look up Ghotbzadeh, Bani-Sadr etc..).

OK, Leb is not Iran but let's not get complacent. Leb can become a large prison and was under Syria's boot.

-I think March 14 is worthless, but I am unable to cross to the other side because the other side's logic and rethoric are totalitarian if you care to pay attention.

-There were many ways HA and allies could have asked for change and gotten 90%+ of the Lebanese on their side.

They did not and could not, in part because their position on pre-July resistance/Shebaa is a sham and not credible.

As is their position on the tribunal, as is their alliance with killer Assad, as was their position on illegal Palestinian arms at the round table, as was their position on border demarcation....

Raja said...

3li,

First let me say: yes. The topics we are all dealing with here require multiple dissertations. in fact, i know of at least one person who is writing a dissertation on what I somewhat fleetingly called the "Lebanese ideology."

I also don't disagree with your characterization of shii ideology - as a religious and cultural umbrella of sorts. I see the protesters on my television screen, and as you point out, not all of them wear burqas and beards.

With regards to why the protesters are down on the streets, I notice that you've signaled agreement with my own previous position - i.e. people are down there for a myriad of reasons; however, they see Hizballah's success as a precursor to their own.

As for the non-shi'i presence, the only one I would consider as having any consequence would be the FPM's - an organization that testified in the US Congress that Hizballah was a terrorist organization under the direct command of the Iranian and Syrian regimes merely two or three years ago. Who provided that testimony? I'll stop here.

As for the other "attendees," well... maybe Wiam Wahhab and his extended family showed up. Patriarch Franjieh and his flock also attended with their shish taouk. But otherwise, I would say that the FPM was the only other major presence.

But let's go back to HA. You keep on pushing aside the militaristic agenda of the organization. But ask yourself: today, what is the fundamental disagreement between Hizballah and the ruling camp? Is it not weapons? Wouldn't you agree that the gridlock that currently strangles the country is a consequence of the drive to disarm Hizballah and convert it into an exclusively political party? Finally, you keep on saying that the most ardent Hizballah supporter does not want war today because of the damage suffered during the last Israeli onslaught.

However, if you don't want war, why are you insisting that you keep your weapons? Is it because of your weapons' deterrence capabilities? If anything, the last war proved that any notion of deterrence was an illusion! Lastly, although Hizballah may not seek to provoke conflict today or tomorrow, what about next month? or next year?

3li, that point is one that you refuse to acknowledge. It is always worthy to look at the broader picture; to take a deeper look at matters. However, sometimes, it pays to look at the more immediate causes that lay behind certain realities.

Let me conclude by reverting to your broader, deeper, portrayal of the situation, and again concur with your assertion that the root of the problems we face today lie in Lebanon's sectarian character and the dismal performance of the Lebanese state. Yet, if any of these problems are to be resolved, the Lebanese will need a long period of peace and stability. And I will reiterate that if the country is to experience that prolonged stretch of peace and stability, Hizballah will need to accept new realities, and disarm.

march14yuppi said...

Raja,
Do you have any links to the congress testimony you mention, I recall reading it back then and I don't remember any mention of Hizballah but I am probably wonrg.
A quick google search did not help much so can you please provide a link?
Thanks salaf.

3li- said...

Raja-

I don't disagree with you that HA should not have their own weapons apart from the state; it is the manner and timing through which the current gov't wishes to disarm them.

There was talk and even demands from some March 14 leaders mere days after the July War for HA to give up their only defense, even though Israel remained threatening, making wholesale threats against HA's leaders, and civilians were still buried in the rubble. It was a bit much to expect HA to hand over their weapons having endured 33 days of hell to counter otherwise, and knowing that the Lebanese state could not even last a day in a war against Israel. That did not win the trust of HA or their constituents, and made the Shia wonder whose side some of the Lebanese were on.

I disagree with you that Israel was not deterred. Even Israelis admitted so. Yes they have the capability of laying indiscriminate waste to the country, but militarily they did not realize any of their objectives (disarming HA, killing any of its leaders, reaching Litani and occupying the South, or bringing back their abducted soldiers). In fact 1701 was a face saving resolution that allowed them a hasty retreat after their forces were pummeled the last couple of days of the war during their biggest land offensive. US policy in the region is still reeling because of the unexpected outcome of the war.

As for the “long period of peace and stability” we will need to put together a worthy and more equal democratic system, I think we can agree to a conspicuous national pact where HA’s arms would only be used in a defensive war until such a time when the state can integrate them or dissolve them properly. In a climate of ugly accusations of betrayal from both sides I don’t think one or the other groups will completely capitulate. It will have to be a compromise. We may not have all happy winners, but not everyone would feel like a loser either. We have to show a modicum of trust, and give each other a chance to prove ourselves. I am not sure what the alternative is, short of continuous paralysis and demonstrations and counter-demonstrations that may not necessarily lead to civil war, but is slowly killing the nation just the same.

vrai14mars said...

http://www.defenddemocracy.org/usr_doc/General_Aoun_transcript.doc

www.vrai14mars.com

Doha said...

3li,

Just to be clear: the allegation that Hariri was asking Sayyid Nasrallah to give up HA's arms during the July war was debunked yesterday. Hariri was asking for a gentleman's agreement that when the war ends and Israel withdraws from all the Lebanese areas it occupied during that war, HA should sit on the negotiating table with other Lebanese political factions to discuss the disarmament issue and the country's defense strategy (and this was because without such an agreement, Chapter VII of the UN Charter would be imposed on South Lebanon, which is disarmament by force by UN troops.)

Just a clarification, but other than that, thanks for such an important debate you're keeping up guys.

Solomon2 said...

In conclusion, I will say that the supporters of Hizballah are definitely not blind, uncritical followers.

The Washington Post
begs to differ:

"What does it mean to be a Shiite?" she asked.

"To be a Shiite means that you do not question the meaning of victory -"


Sounds blind and uncritical to me.

3li- said...

solomon2,

Learn to read the whole article first.

One opinion is just that: one opinion. The fact that it comes from a Shii woman shows the exact opposite of you're trying to prove: that Shii critical voices run the gamut.

Solomon2 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Solomon2 said...

3li, this is what the Lebanese have to decide, is that not so? The guys with guns and the families that support them fit the characterization, right? They're the ones who can start a war, correct? And the other side, what power do they have to stop them?

if for nothing but a sense of gratitude, the beneficiaries of Hizballah and Iranian generosity should stand by their party.

Contrast that attitude with this one:

His latter comment remined me of a family story my father-n-law used to tell about a constituent whom he had helped in many ways over thirty years. In an important election Sen. Barkley said to this constituent he assumed latter would vote for him. When constituent said he not certain Barkley recounted at length all he had done for him and his family over 30 years to which constituent replied, "Yes, but what have you done for me lately?"

There is a lot to be said for this latter approach. Blind personal and tribal loyalties work against democracy. Do Lebanese believe that their loyalty is for sale? I'm sure Nasrallah does. Look at how Hezbollah's emphasis after the summer conflict was about paying off the affected, rather than medical treatment and the safety of civilians. Nasty expects that if he caters to the material needs of the Shia (preferably by being the sole supplier) he's bought their loyalty for his "bigger than Lebanon" ventures.

Is there anything in Nasrallah's demeanor that suggests that he believes ordinary Lebanese are anything other than contemptible people?

Anonymous said...

Read what Hassan Nasrallah (some people are calling him now Nasr Al Furs) back in 1989:

The Taef accord is the main problem...

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