Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Weakening Hizballah

It's been a slow day in the news, nothing of great excitement.

The Arab plan failed in Lebanon, Bush has sold more arms to Saudi Arabia, and more dead in Iraq.

Nothing really out of the ordinary. This is the time the bloggers start throwing their theories, and digging up gossip from unknown sources to fill in the gap.

I did come across something of interest - that I feel is worth commenting on - on a blog I regularly frequent, Friday Lunch Club:

"The steps taken by Israel and the international community have thus far not succeeded in weakening the organization. This study argues that in addition to considering Hizbollah's military power, the organization's other assets must be taken into account, including its Iranian connection; developments along the Israel-Syria axis; and its domestic Lebanese standing. Weakening Hizbollah rests on reducing it to an unimportant actor on the regional scene, and the study offers some proactive strategies toward this end." First & foremost: "rub out Hasan Nasrallah"


It strikes me as baffling that Israel, US, EU, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan persist with this obsession to weaken or destroy Hizballah. Every effort, from war to UN resolutions, has not only failed to weaken the party, but to the contrary has assisted in boosting its power and prowess to celebrity status in the entire Arab and Islamic world. Their efforts and decisions are blinded by paranoia, arrogance of their own strength, and simple misunderstanding.

David v Goliath, Hizballah has captured the hearts and minds of many Arabs and Muslims disenchanted by half a century of continued loss and failure in the face of Israeli and Western conquests.

To fully weaken Hizballah requires a greater understanding and an objective analysis of where they truly derive their strength. The Iranian petrodollars do play an important key, but every Lebanese chieftain is sitting on millions, so money doesn't make everything.

Its appeal among ordinary Arabs stems from the self-perception of the Arab world being the helpless victim at the constant focus of Western imperialism and Israeli bullying. For an Arab entity to rise up and bring the Israelis to their knees ... on more than one occasion ... rings as a long overdue triumph for the often disappointed Arab public.

But the heart of Hizballah's power lies within the boundaries of Lebanon. The hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Lebanese that depend on the services provided by the Shi'ite party are the source of Hizballah's power. Unlike the vast majority of Lebanese, and Arab political powers that are driven by corruption and are generally symbols of inherited power of elitist families, Hizballah was an organisation born to serve the Shi'ites of Lebanon.

Its entire existence is centred on serving and protecting its community. There's no tribalism, or father-son hegemony, this is an efficient organisation that operates - literally - as a state. It provides the basic services such as health and education, it provides a moral code of conduct, and it provides internal as well as external security with its military wing.

A service-providing party was an inevitable consequence of the fractious state of Lebanon and its institutions. Lebanon is a state with no state-like functionality. The government wields little influence on the daily life, rather it acts simply as an assembly of the various clans from the various villages.
There's no social welfare, no security, no sign of any indication of law and order. Most Lebanese are probably unaware that government laws exist. A lack of order on everything from zoning a quarter, to litter, to road rules, demonstrate that laws in Lebanon are simply non-existent.

Consequently, I'm incredibly puzzled that Lebanese politicians are willing to descend to the streets with weaponry to gain power of a seemingly ineffective and "inutile" institution.

Hence the rise of Hizballah. The frustration and growing impatience - of a section of Lebanon's community - for recognition and access to just the basic services reached its peak. Hizballah has risen to power, not only as a result of its spectacular defeats against a regional superpower, but its ability to skate along the rim of Lebanon's unruly political system and provide long-neglected regions with the basic of services. The Shi'ites have demonstrated their gratitude with unwavering loyalty.

Hizballah's efforts haven't gone unnoticed in the other communities either. I remember driving with an aunt in Beirut, when she turned to me and said:

"the Sunnis had Hariri to rebuild their areas and provide them with services, the Shi'ites are looked after by Hizballah, who's looking after us (the Christians)?"

Another uncle (formerly a vicious right-wing pro-Gemayel, now switched to the Aoun camp) said to me, "this was our country, the Maronites' country, but after 15 years of war we realised we have to live and share with them (Muslims)". I constantly wonder whether this distant uncle was forced to reverse his situation as a consequence of sudden love for thy neighbour (that was coincidentally lacking when he was a fascist supporter of the Phalangist Party), or because his former opponents have risen to such prominence that they are demanding his respect and acknowledgment.

Envy of the Shi'ites increased organisation, power and functionality in the state is running high amongst the current disenchanted, Lebanon's Christians. Now they are asking for their own Hizballah, an organisation to rise up and give them the same services, order and recognition that has disappeared since the Syrians won control of the country after 1990.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to pure human instinct. The simple desire to live a simple life. To work a decent job, to raise a family in comfort and security, and be in good health ... to live.

The key to reversing Hizballah's success is by taking the focus and energy away from trying to destroy the party, and instead focus on rendering it unnecessary. Empower and reform the state institutions in order to produce a government that truly serves all of its people, equally.

But of course, that would render Lebanon stable, united, prosperous and strong, a much worse prospect than a strong single sect.

No comments: