Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pity Lebanon’s Shia community

Hezbollah places the Shia, once again, in dire straits
Michael Young, Special to NOW Lebanon , May 15, 2008

The failure of Hezbollah’s latest effort to tilt the political and military balance in its favor was visible in the eyes of the mild inhabitants of the Shia village of Qomatiyeh on Tuesday, as they buried a young Hezbollah man killed by Druze fighters. According to the villagers, the young man, Suleiman Jaafar, was first wounded then executed by members of the Progressive Socialist Party. Such frightful ferocity will greet Hezbollah in every hostile location it would ever wish to control.

There is great poignancy in the fate of the people of Qomatiyeh. With Kayfoun, the village is one of two Shia enclaves in the predominantly Druze and Christian Aley district. The inhabitants, far more than their brethren in the southern suburbs or the South, must on a daily basis juggle between a past in which they coexisted with their non-Shia neighbors and a present and future in which the neighbors view them as an existential threat. That story written large may soon be the story of Lebanon’s Shia community after the mad coup attempt organized by Hezbollah last week. In the past decade and a half, Hezbollah has injected regional animosities and an antagonistic and totalistic ideology of confrontation into tens of thousands of Shia homes, quarters, towns and villages where such attitudes have no place. Whatever brings the Iranian concept of wilayat al-faqih – the guardianship of the jurisconsult – to Qomatiyeh? Suleiman Jaafar may have been a Hezbollah member, but he was more than anything else a village boy caught in a fight far bigger than him, than all of us.

A solution appears to have been found for the immediate crisis that began last week. The airport and roads have been opened, but there never was a way for Hezbollah to emerge successfully from the conflict it created. Militarily, the only way the party could have momentarily broken the deadlock in the mountains was to mount a massive invasion of Aley and the Chouf, using thousands of men and its most sophisticated weaponry. The Druze would have remained united – as Talal Arslan’s supporters and other Druze opposition members were united with Walid Jumblatt’s followers at the weekend. There would have been carnage, and had Hezbollah prevailed, it would have had to hold unfriendly territory indefinitely, locking down resources and manpower. Then what? An invasion of Metn? Kesrouan? Jbeil? The North? Not even the most ardent Hezbollah believer would have seriously argued that such a project was feasible. Military stalemate would have prevailed, and even if the stalemate had collapsed in one area, it would have been followed by myriad stalemates elsewhere, denying Hezbollah any real political gain.

But worse, Hezbollah’s actions of last week have brought terrible misfortune upon the Shia community. As the Christians learned to their detriment during the 1975-1990 war, fighting the Sunni community in Lebanon is tantamount to fighting the Arab world. The Northern Islamists have been awakened, and with them Sunni Islamists everywhere in the region and beyond who will rally to do battle against the apostate. As Saad Hariri said in his press conference on Wednesday, fitna, or discord between Muslims, already exists; things may still be under a measure of control, but not for long if the situation worsens. As Hariri implied, if Hezbollah chooses to break the Future Movement and the Sunni moderates, it will soon have to face the most extremist Sunnis.

The Shia community is obeying a leadership that cannot be said, in any way, to have ever understood the essence of the Lebanese system. Hezbollah and its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, will often insist that sectarian compromise requires handing the party, and Shia in general, veto power over political decision-making. But that’s not what the consociational system is about; the point of the sectarian arrangement is not to build a system based on mechanisms of obstruction. It is to force the different communities to reach compromises in order to avert mechanisms of obstruction. Hezbollah has repeatedly tried to ignore this by imposing its will in the street or through its guns. The result has been a gathering, strengthening alignment of adversaries that will fight hard before allowing Hezbollah or the Shia to gain hegemonic power.

But wasn’t this reaction always obvious? Apparently not to Nasrallah and his Iranian sponsors, who never had any liking for the baroque but necessary give and take of the Lebanese order – let alone respect for the retribution that has always crippled those ignoring its fundamental rules. Through its contempt for Lebanon, Hezbollah has left itself with two stark choices: either to integrate fully into the state or to control the state. But since it will or can do neither, we are in for a long and harsh standoff between Hezbollah and the rest of Lebanese society.

The clock began counting down in May 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon. This threatened to deny the party its reason to exist, even though it tried to keep “resistance” alive through the Shebaa Farms front. In 2005, once the Syrians departed, everything collapsed. The party found itself having to justify its private army against a majority of Lebanese that opposed Hezbollah’s state within a state and its lasting allegiance to the Syrian regime. In 2006, as the national dialogue prepared to address the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, Nasrallah sought to turn the tables by kidnapping Israeli soldiers and imposing his version of Hezbollah’s defense strategy on March 14. The plan backfired when Israel responded by ravaging Lebanon and the Shia in particular. And now, having fully discredited its “resistance” in the eyes of its countrymen, having ensured that an antagonistic population will be to its rear in the event of a new war with Israel, having weakened its non-Shia allies, Hezbollah, as both an idea and a driving force, is in its death throes. The party may yet endure, but the national resistance is finished.

It is undeniable that Hezbollah has over the years given Shia a heightened sense of self-respect. But regrettably, it has taken the party’s accumulation of arms to do so, even as Hezbollah has utterly failed to clarify the Shia role in any new Lebanon. In fact the party has consciously undercut that debate to retain its grip over its co-religionists and block the emergence of a sovereign country free of Syria. What kind of party places its own community in such dire straits? Certainly not one that can ever hope of finding itself at peace with its fellow Lebanese.


EV said...

If I read you correctly, you're predicting the demise of Hezbollah, maybe at the hands of its own community?

Anonymous said...

mm i'm sorry but what happened lately has nothing extraodinary in nature.... it happened times and times again. and all this talk about the Lebanese population support for national resistance is nonsense... for years we have been hearing lot and lot of talk about the inviability and illegality of resistance from the same people. after all if hizbollah's case as the group that won over israel cannot protect hizbollah and shia population from saudi-funded secterian groups than hizbollah would garner more support of the shia population, and this organization would have a new role added to its many roles. As long as Syria is in the firm hands of the alawite regime(nationalistic also) the existence of hizbollah is secured.