Rayyan Al-Shawaf / Sep 07, 2006

By now it should be painfully obvious that the recent Israel-Hizbullah war was as much about the identity of Lebanon as it was about Hizbullah’s dispute with Israel. Hizbullah’s attack was double-pronged; it wanted to hit Israel hard while mounting what was tantamount to a coup d'état in Lebanon. Hizbullah wanted to kill Israelis and gain the release of other Arabs who have killed Israelis, but it also wanted to drag Lebanon back into the Arab-Islamic mire of jihad, martyrdom, and genocidal fantasies about killing all the Jews. Hizbullah wants Lebanon to remain a front-line state in the never-ending Arab-Islamic war against Israel. Indeed, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrullah asserted in no uncertain terms that "Hizbullah is fighting a war on behalf of the [Islamic] umma, whether the Lebanese like it or not."

Of course, this is not the first time Lebanon is faced with a violent movement that views the country in purely exploitative terms; in the 1970s, the Palestine "revolution" was based here, arrogantly insisting that Lebanon's "duty" was to be a staging area for Palestinian attacks against Israel. It is tragic that in both instances, the Lebanese state could not bring itself to clamp down on the troublemakers, and it took an Israeli invasion to precipitate talk of the inevitable.

Fortunately, some people understand what this is all about. Like most Lebanese politicians, Walid Junblatt is a shameless opportunist, switching sides every so often to stay in the game. Yet occasionally, Junblatt will make a surprisingly perspicacious remark. A few years ago, he declared that Lebanon had to decide whether it wanted to be the Hanoi or the Hong Kong of the Middle East. Hanoi refers to the North Vietnamese city which Vietcong rebels used as a staging ground for attacks on US-backed South Vietnam, thereby inviting massive US retaliation which devastated the city several times, while Hong Kong refers to one of the East Asian "Tigers," a tiny territory which became ridiculously wealthy by concentrating solely on developing its economy.

Though it was unclear whether someone like Hizbullah MP Ali Ammar, one of many who dismissed Junblatt’s statement out-of-hand, understood the analogy when he rather endearingly countered that "Lebanon is neither Hanoi nor Hong Kong; Lebanon is Lebanon," Junblatt’s observation is as true today as it was then. Hizbullah not only wants Lebanon to remain the Hanoi of the Middle East—a launching pad for anti-Israel attacks, a miserable no-man’s-land fated to never break free of the vicious cycle of Arab-Israeli violence—but it is opposed to the cultural transformation that has long been underway in the country.

Make no mistake; Hizbullah wants to halt the Westernization of Lebanon. When Hizbullah members and supporters were offended by a depiction of Hassan Nasrullah on a well-known LBC comedy show, they descended en masse on Achrafieh’s trendy Monot Street. Lined with bars and nightclubs, Monot is the antithesis of proper Islamic values. Though the hooligans were halted in their tracks by alert security forces, their choice of target was quite telling.

Indeed, Hizbullah doesn’t want alcohol, unveiled women, sexual freedom, civil marriage, secularism, peace with Israel, and friendly ties with the US/Great Satan. Hizbullah openly aspires to a Shiite Islamic state on the Iranian Wilayat al-Faqih model (its opening communiqué in 1982 openly called on all Christians to convert to Islam). Yes, it is more "moderate" than other Islamic organizations in that—up till now—it has not used violence to achieve its aims, and promises that it will wait until a clear majority of Lebanese want an Islamic state before making a move in that direction. And yes, it has softened much of its sectarian rhetoric and its opposition to a unique Lebanese identity; in the 1980s, during the civil war, reports cited Hizbullah demonstrators as burning the Lebanese flag alongside the Israeli flag, but in the 1990s, all such reports ceased as the Lebanese flag began to be treated with reverence.

Yet the party’s ultimate goals remain unchanged. And now Hizbullah has made that initial move toward keeping Lebanon firmly within the Arab-Islamic orbit. We may not be witnessing the Islamization of Lebanon, but we are witnessing the start of an open struggle between those who want Lebanon to sink ever deeper into the Arab-Islamic rot, and those who want it to emulate the West. Culturally, post-civil war Lebanon was becoming too lax and permissive for Hizbullah. Politically, it was becoming too opposed to Syria, Hizbullah’s ally and lifeline to Iran. Nasrullah and cohorts evidently hope that their latest not-so-diplomatic démarche will effectively pull the reins on a westward galloping Lebanon

They have their work cut out for them. Aside from Hizbullah (and its resistance-intoxicated lackeys among other sectors of the populace), most Lebanese do not long for "jihad" and "martyrdom," and most do not thirst for Jewish blood. In this Arab country, most people do not fantasize about "liberating" Palestine, and many would not be averse to a peace agreement with Israel. And despite what is being broadcast on the Arab satellite channels, most Lebanese mothers do not wish to "offer" their children as a sacrifice on the altar of the great jihad against the "Zionist entity." It’s too bad that these Lebanese—the majority—often aren’t deemed suitable enough to be interviewed by the jingoistic Arab media.

Most Lebanese cringe at the totalitarian ideologies of Arab and Syrian nationalism, communism, and political Islam. Most Lebanese, Christian and Muslim, do not seek the establishment of an Islamic state, and many openly aspire to a Western secular and liberal model of governance at variance with the totalitarian ideologies that hold sway in the Middle East. It is thanks to them that Lebanon has never been captured by the Baath, Nasserists, Palestinian resistance, SSNP, Communists, Sunni Islamists, Hizbullah, or any other totalitarian political party of the kind that came to power in virtually every single other Arab country. Yet radical Islam has now made its first bid for Lebanon. Will the Lebanese stand up to Hizbullah, or keep silent in deference to its role as the much-vaunted "resistance"? The immediate future of Lebanon will likely be determined by this decision.


Rayyan Al-Shawaf is a writer and freelance reviewer based in Beirut, Lebanon

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