Perhaps the most devastating quality of the Arab world’s violent brand of anti-Zionism is its tsunami-like ability to submerge everything, including clearly disparate ideologies, in a warmongering froth. How else to explain those secular, liberal, and leftist Arabs who support Hizbullah and Hamas? Logically, political Islam is their greatest enemy. Yet they unabashedly support Islamist movements. The only explanation is that they consider "resistance" and the killing of a few Israeli soldiers here and there—to say nothing of the countless Lebanese and Palestinian lives lost in such confrontations—more important than their secular, liberal, or leftist convictions. Such people will support any outfit that fires a few rockets at Israel (or murders Israeli civilians), even if the group in question has a vision of Arab society antithetical to theirs.
Indeed, this is the only reason a religious extremist group like Hizbullah could have done so well in Lebanon, the most liberal and religiously diverse of all Arab countries. One would think that they don't stand a chance; their ideology appeals to only a portion of the Shiite community. Yet ideology aside, it is Hizbullah’s image as “The Resistance” that has historically earned it the support of other sectors of the Lebanese populace. This might have been excusable when Lebanon was occupied by Israel, but that's over. The United Nations has ruled that the Shebaa Farms belong to Syria, and the Syrian government cannot even bring itself to state in writing that the region is Lebanese.
For years, secular and liberal Lebanese and Palestinians haven't had the courage to stand up to Hizbullah and Hamas on ideological grounds. Maybe now they can do so for purely political reasons; Hizbullah and Hamas have caused the destruction of Lebanon and Gaza. That’s pretty bad, and might finally galvanize people into action. In a way, there’s a certain symmetry to this; too much resistance undoes the Resistance. Now would be a good time for secularists and liberals to remember that they disagree with these groups’ fanatic religious ideology, too.
Hitherto, open expression of such sentiment flew in the face of established political orthodoxy, which lionized Hizbullah. Despite Hizbullah’s stated aim of establishing a Shiite Islamic theocracy on the Iranian model, few Christian and secular Muslim intellectuals have openly challenged this proposition. More often than not, politicians and parties opposed to Hizbullah have couched their criticism in legalistic terms, arguing against a state within a state. Yet they would quickly and needlessly temper such refreshing candor by affirming their opposition to the international community’s calls for Hizbullah to be disarmed, claiming that they do not feel threatened by the party’s militia wing. This bit of studied vacillation is like saying that one disagrees with Hizbullah and everything it represents, but doesn’t mind that it is armed to the teeth with all manner of heavy weaponry.
More common is the position, traditionally adopted by Lebanese politicians across the political spectrum, that ideological disagreements should not even be broached so long as Israel continues to occupy Lebanese land and “threaten” Lebanon. This defeatist attitude has furnished Hizbullah with a ready means of pre-empting any potential criticism of its controversial beliefs. Whenever Hizbullah feels that prying eyes are beginning to encroach upon its affairs, all it has to do is resort to a bit of exalted “resistance” against Israel in order to silence its would-be critics. Disproportionate Israeli retaliation, of the kind we have just witnessed, further ensures that Hizbullah does not come in for censure by a dazed Lebanese populace concerned only with how to rebuild what was destroyed.
That such a sorry state-of-affairs exists could not be more indicative of the salient fact that political life in Lebanon has been grossly disfigured by the prevailing “culture of resistance.” Political parties that stand to lose from the rise of political Islam tumble over one another in a bid to curry favor with its foremost representative in Lebanon. Shortly after returning from exile in France, General Michel Aoun steered his Free Patriotic Movement into an alliance with Hizbullah. This may seem shrewd from a vantage point concerned only with securing the presidency, but it makes a mockery of Aoun’s announced plans to turn Lebanon into a secular state. Indeed, Aoun has effectively blunted his secular program in favor of an alliance with a party that opposes secularism outright. Meanwhile, the moderate Future Movement opposes UN Security Council Resolution 1559, the imposition of which would mean the disarmament of Hizbullah.
The Shiite Amal Movement, which differs markedly from Hizbullah in that it is not an outgrowth of the Iranian Islamic revolution, has bewilderingly agreed to provide diplomatic cover to its main competitor for Shiite support. The ageing Phalange has unsurprisingly proven ineffectual, while a cautious Samir Geagea, clearly chastened by 11 years in prison, carefully maneuvers the Lebanese Forces away from outright confrontation, though his recent speech at his party’s rally in Harissa may have signaled a change in this regard. It is telling that Walid Junblatt, alone among major Lebanese politicians in openly criticizing Hizbullah and questioning its motives, remains ensconced in his ancestral home in Mukhtara, rarely venturing out of the Druze heartland for fear of assassination.
Interestingly, the situation in Israel—like Lebanon a mosaic of different communities—is quite different. Secular Jews openly confront all measures aimed at further squeezing Judaism into politics. Alas, there is no Arab equivalent to Shinui, the staunchly secular political party whose mission is to prevent the ultra-Orthodox from turning Israel into a theocracy. Yet if Lebanon is to climb out of the pit it has dug for itself, this will have to change. More voices like that of Roger Edde, head of the little-known Lebanese Party of Peace, who lambasted Hizbullah on live television at the peak of the crisis, will have to make themselves heard. More Lebanese will have to echo, or at least heed, warnings of “The Hizbullah State” made by secular Shiite sociologist Waddah Sharara in his 1996 Arabic-language book of the same title. Ultimately, dissenting Lebanese will have to assert that they have as much right as Hizbullah to decide Lebanon’s future.
Hizbullah’s mythical status as “The Resistance” is at once its most powerful as well as its weakest attribute. It is powerful because of its ability to attract a populace conditioned to extol the virtues of anti-Israel jingoism in a cloistered world of martial values. Yet it is Hizbullah’s Achilles’ heel in that, if veneration of armed resistance is demolished, non-Shiite support for Hizbullah will collapse. After all, only card-carrying Hizbullah members—by most estimates less than half the Shiite population—espouse the party’s ideology. There are no Christian, Sunni, Druze, or secular Shiite members of Hizbullah. Numerous polls on issues such as secularism and civil marriage demonstrate that most Lebanese do not share Hizbullah’s theocratic vision of state and society; they chose to support the party solely in its capacity as the resistance. It is time that era drew to a close. Today, those who want a new and different kind of Lebanon should steel themselves for a mighty challenge. For only by striking at the mythology of resistance—which they helped create—can the Lebanese hope to arrest their country’s descent into an Iranian-inspired nightmare of theocracy and perpetual war with Israel.
Rayyan Al-Shawaf is a writer and freelance reviewer based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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