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    Politics and Hizbullah’s Grim Language

    The rhetoric of Hizbullah representatives lately has been so extreme, so contrary to the conventions of courteous political exchange in even semi-democratic Lebanon, that we have to wonder how long the country can survive without a showdown to settle its contradictions.

    Whether it is Hizbullah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, describing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as an “Israeli project,” before demanding that the Lebanese government accept this line of argument and end all collaboration with the institution; whether it is Nawaf al-Musawi, the head of Hizbullah’s international relations department, saying that the tribunal represents a new May 17 accord for the party; whether it is the same Musawi warning that “the period that will follow the [tribunal] indictment will not be the same as the one before, and any group in Lebanon that might endorse this indictment will be treated as one of the tools of the US-Israeli invasion, and will suffer the same fate as the invader”; whether it is other Hizbullah parliamentarians directing the accusation of collaboration with Israel against their colleagues supporting the tribunal (most recently Ali Ammar in a parliamentary commission session this week); whether it is Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek declaring that Hizbullah will not “accept accusations against any [party] member [which would represent] a violation of Lebanese dignity and the implementation of a conspiracy hatched by others”; whether it is any of these statements, or all of them, the meaning is the same: Hizbullah does not acknowledge the Lebanese state as sovereign.

    That’s no surprise, you might say. Hizbullah has its own army and intelligence service, while its self-definition as a “resistance” liberates it from the usual constraints on Lebanese citizens. However, the tribunal forced Hizbullah out of the closet. Where the party once defended its actions within the framework of the state (even as it undermined the state), all pretenses ended during the struggle between the March 14 coalition and the opposition between 2005 and 2009. The armed takeover of Beirut in May 2008 confirmed that Hizbullah would fire on its fellow citizens and regarded state authority and the rule of law as thin veneers to be swept away when necessary.

    That same logic persists with the tribunal. The Lebanese tend to forget that the creation of the tribunal was initially devised as a measure to bolster Lebanon’s judiciary, by ending impunity for political murder. The tribunal, like the investigation preceding it, along with Resolution 1559, were part and parcel of a broader effort to allow the Lebanese state to manage its affairs independently of Syrian hegemony and Hizbullah’s guns.

    That is why Syria responded so violently to Resolution 1559, and why Hizbullah backed Damascus up as the Syrian order began collapsing after the Hariri killing. Time and again the Syrian regime has made clear to its Lebanese partners and its international interlocutors, including the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that it rejects the special tribunal. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, echoed that thought once more in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week, saying Damascus would oppose indictments from the tribunal, whose work he described as “politicized.”

    More worrisome is that Hizbullah’s rhetoric is being internalized by many in the Shiite community. It’s one thing to criticize and disparage the state, long a favorite pastime of the Lebanese, but it’s another thing entirely to relentlessly strike against the very props of that state – whether the supremacy of its representative government, the sanctity of the judiciary and of other national institutions, regardless of which party controls them, or the right of all individuals or groups to express themselves freely, pluralistically, without being accused of treason.

    Hizbullah has made a conscious effort in the past two decades to alienate Shiites from the state, even as it has integrated its coreligionists into state bodies, both for reasons of patronage and to better ward off efforts by governments to challenge the party’s freedom of action. This alienation, a tactic copied by Michel Aoun with his own followers, serves a double purpose: to compel Shiites (or in Aoun’s case, loyal Christians) to consider only their leaders the source of ultimate legitimacy in society; and more recently to facilitate a situation where their full takeover of the state, whose current leaders are deemed illegitimate, would be welcomed as a purgative.

    That is why Hizbullah, no less than Aoun, has been at ease with the principle of overturning the system at will. However, that kind of reasoning is inherently undemocratic, when not actually permeated with a sharp lining of demagoguery, spite, violence, and a pronounced antipathy toward peaceful debate reminiscent of countless fascist movements. These characteristics are not remotely reconcilable with the way Lebanon has historically functioned. Either Hizbullah must win out or the state will, even if the battle is a long one.

    In a 1996 interview, Nasrallah remarked that the resistance could not depend on state authority, because in such a case “there would be no resistance on the ground at all … [U]nder such conditions resistance would simple be pro forma – a resistance in name only, staged for publicity purposes, rather than genuine, serious and effective.”

    Here was a transparent statement from Nasrallah as to why the resistance must never and would never embrace the supremacy of the state. More chilling was his attitude toward the state itself, for which he reserved withering contempt as an entity inherently unserious, surely handicapped by its debilitating complexities, by the presence of divergences among its forces and the privilege to dissent. Nasrallah had spoken the words of enforced uniformity, the premise of his anti-state.

    Michael YOUNG
    The Daily Star
    30.09.2010

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