Saturday, October 29, 2005

Does Hizbullah know What it Wants in Lebanon? Not Clear. The least you can say about Hizbullah's political performance in Lebanon is an acute case of political naivite. They really think that they are outsmarting their opponents, while it is obvious that they are the ones who are being outsmarted by Hariri Inc (and its appendage, Jumblat). I watched the speech by Hasan Nasrallah on Jerusalem Day, and watched parts of the parade on NBN-TV. First, I was struck how carefully the party is working to express its political stance. For the first time in recent memory, Nasrallah actually read the text of the speech (although he added a few lines of elaboration here and there). But the text of the speech was written (by him presumably) before hand. He wanted to make sure that his views are very carefully calibrated and crafted, and that the message does not get distorted by media reports. In the past, he always improvised and the audience interacted with the speaker, although he would sometimes writes an outline of the main points. But what was very important about the speech, and this has not been noted by the press, is what was NOT mentioned. Iraq and US occupation barely got a mention. The Party basically does not want to take a stance against an on going US occupation, perhaps because that is the view of Iran these days, and because Hizbullah has alliances with the main Shi`ite parties in Iraq. But this sectarian alliance that is silencing or suppressing the views of the party on US occupation is undermining the credibility of the party, in Lebanon and beyond, especially among Sunni Arabs. The party was celebrating Jerusalem Day, and yet the expressions on Palestine were rather vague and non-committal. One does not know what the party's stance is regarding US-Israeli plans for Palestine. Again, the party is reinforcing its image as a Lebanese--or Lebanonese--party that is rooted in a commitment to the Lebanese entity first and foremost, and this is partly due to the new US definition of "terrorist groups" after Sep. 11 as ones that operate across the border. But that is in conflict with the party's message, and with that sentence emblazoned on the party's flag. Hizbullah as a purely Lebanese party will clash with the ideology of the party, although the party thinks that it is playing a very smart game, which it is not. I know, I know. When I interviewed the Party's leaders in Lebanon this summer, I was always told that: "you were not here in March to see the state of Sunni-Shi`ite tensions" and the exploitation of that conflict by Hariri Inc. I know, and I am aware of that. But the party's fears of this factor, are not ameliorating the situation at all. And this Sunni-Shi`ite factor is a two-edged sword--to use a cliche, although the party acts as if it is only a sword by Sunnis against Shi`ites, or as a sword by the outside (Larsen and whoever is behind him) against the inside. This sword can easily turn against Hairri Inc especially as more Shi`ites and some Sunnis are sick and tired of the sectarian and ugly ploys and tactics pursued by Hariri Inc, and especially as his agenda (a disguise of US-Saudi agenda) is increasingly exposed. The party is the most powerful political party in Lebanon but acts as the weakest political party in Lebanon. But this has to do, partly, with what I call sectarian self-esteem in Lebanon. Shi`ites have historically been (mis)treated as an inferior community, initially because of their poverty and rural residence, and later because of thoughts of "civilizational inferiority" as Maronite and Sunni leaders often invoke terms and lexicon of "civilized groups" that they had inherited from colonial powers. Religious bigotry is another reason. So the Shi`ites today constitute the single largest group in Lebanon, but act as if they are the smallest group. The Maronites (through their leaders and political movements) are the third largest group in Lebanon, but act as the single largest group. That will take decades to change, and an awareness to challenge. The speech glaringly did not elaborate a position on Palestine. The party is even afraid to criticize Abu Mazen, and the criticisms of Sanyurah were very mild and very indirect. Nasrallah implied that Roed-Larsen was provoking the party by implying that he had received promises of support for UNSC 1559 from "the Lebanese government." No, Larsen was NOT deceiving anybody. He was telling the truth here, and the only one who does not know that is Hizbullah itself. Hizbullah, for some inexplicable reason, has decided to believe whatever lies told to them by Hariri Inc and their allies. But why? Don't judge the rhetoric, and look at the practice and actual policies. This sudden siege of Palestinian camps is NOT accidental. It is there for everybody to see. This is not a conspiracy THEORY, but a conspiracy IN ACTION, and before the TV cameras. Some people in the Middle East, were put on the defensive by critics of conspiracy theories. There are some who are now even afraid of saying "conspiracy" for fear of being mocked. But there are real conspiracies in the Middle East today, and they are being hatched and implemented before TV cameras, and I for one love to say that out loud. In the past, it was foolish to resort to conspiracy theories for explaining Middle East developments, and now it is foolish to rule out conspiracies from Middle East analysis. Hizbullah used to have an image of credibility not only among Shi`ites but also among secular and leftist Lebanese because the party was seen as an affective vehicle against Israeli occupation, and also against Hariri's disastrous economic and social policies. Now that the party is represented in the cabinet, it will be--and that was the reason for inviting them into the cabinet in the first place--seen as just another Lebanese political party which is now represented in a cabinet that is not only aligning itself with the Bush and Saudi governments, but is regarding World Bank-IMF privitization as its priority. The party was brought into the cabinet to cover for it and to legitimize it, and not--as the party thinks--to honor it. If the party thinks that it will appeal to the Lebanese by its religious ideology, this is the least appealing element of the party, and even among many Shi`ites, and even in South Lebanon where people do not remember fondly the times of puritanical religious rule and standards that were imposed on the region back in the 1980s. I don't see the reason for the party to be represented in the cabinet: this was a trap set for the party, and the party came there willingly, and it has only itself to blame when all becomes clearer and clearer, and when it will be too late to recover politically speaking. And how can one celebrate Jerusalem Day while being represented in the same cabinet with Lebanese Forces militia and Pierre Gemayyel, who were aligned with the Israeli occupation for years and decades in the modern history of Lebanon. Only the naive will believe that those groups have severed their ties with Israel, or with its agenda in Lebanon and the Middle East. And why would the party be so careful in criticizing the Mehlis Report? And what accounts for the party's careful effort to avoid offending Hariri Inc? But then again the party also covered up for Hariri's economic policies in the 1990s, and stood by while Hariri and Syrian intelligence crushed the labor movement in Lebanon. This is not new. And the party puts a show of military parades and yet has failed to present the Lebanese people with a coherent and well-thought out view or strategy of why it needs to keep its arms? The party has not given one consistent answer to this important question, and public opinion surveys among the Lebanese indidcate that support for "weapons of the resistance" has been diminishing among Sunni Lebanese, and the party has itself to blame for that, at least partly. And I don't understand why the Lebanese--at the official or popular levels--don't demand that Israel be disarmed? Surely, the massive WMDs of Israel, and its conventional weapons, pose a direct threat to the Lebanese, and to other Arabs too.