I posted Matt Lyons’ piece on Defending My Enemy’s Enemy to Louis Proyect’s Marxism list, where it received a number of (highly) critical responses. One answer in particular, though, did at least try to deal with the actual issues Lyons was touching on.
As i stated in my own comments – we “know” a lot about Hezbollah without knowing how we “know” this. What interests me is knowing what life is like in areas controlled by the group – especially what it is like for women and queers. While Michael Karadjis’ reply below is by no means the last word on this subject, he does shed some light on this, and so it is interesting to read what he has to say:
The fact that imperialist leaders and media continually talk as if Hizbullah were a local branch office of the Iran regime can blind people to the realities.
1. “The Islamic Republic of Iran enforces medieval religious law”
Hizbullah does nothing of the sort in southern Lebanon and south Beirut, where they run most of the councils, and have been the effective state power for nearly 20 years
2. “The Islamic Republic of Iran imposes brutal strictures on women and LGBT people”
I do not know the situation of LGBT people in Lebanon, but suggest it is probably no better and no worse than anywhere in the Middle East, or most of the third world for that matter. Regarding women, no doubt they face many of the kinds of restrictions they face right throughout the region. However, Hizbullah does not “impose brutal strictures on women” throughout the areas it runs. Many wear veils, many do not. Women wearing jeans and average western looking clothing can be seen walking around the central Shia mosque in south Beiruit, the Hizbullah headquarters. Young men and women work together in the local pizza hut. Women in general are very visible and active, unlike in pro-western Jordan with a “non-fundamentalist” government, for example. I stayed at the Palestinian camp in Bourj al Barajneh, right in this area. The camp is full of bullet holes from when Amal was firing on them in 1985. The Palestinians there were most grateful when Hizbullah came and shoved the Shia-communalist Amal out of the way. I asked Olfat Mahmoud, a social worker in the camp, if Hizbullah had at least initially tried to impose strict religious restrictions on the local populaiton, many years ago, and had perhaps given up later. She replied “we heard a lot about that in the western media, but I never noticed it here.”
3. “The Islamic Republic of Iran persecutes religious and ethnic minorities”
Hizbullah does not persecute Christians or Sunni Muslims, or anyone else as far as I know. They fought against other Shia (Amal) to defend Sunni and Christian Palestinians. They fought against the ‘Christian’-led South Lebanon Army because it was Israel’s proxy army of occupation in the south.
4. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has executed tens of thousands of leftists and other political dissenters”
Hizbullah has not executed leftists or political opponents, on the contrary it works with them. Just on that point, let me turn to a message LP sent quoting Gilbert Achcar:
“Hizbollah built itself partially through fighting the LCP over this (Shia) constituency and managed to prevail”
I don’t know about that. Amal launced many violent attacks on the LCP in the early 1980s, over the Shia constiuency, but that was before Hizbullah was born. I don’t rule out that Hizbullah may have in the earliest times, but I was following events pretty closely in the early years of Hizbullah. And I can assure you, repelled by the executions in Iran, I had no predisposition to thinking Hizbullah would not continue Amal’s work; I expected they would step it up. Yet from my memory I was pleasantly surprised that they did nothing of the sort.
However, a Council on Foreign Relations dossier on Hizbullah claims:
“Hizballah proved to be especially intolerant of competitors for Shi’i recruits. In this regard, the Communist Party, an especially appealing target given its alien and atheist ideology,was singled out for attacks. Dozens, if not hundreds, of party members were killed in a brutal, bloody campaign of suppression and assassination in 1984 and 1985.” It gives as its source a book, A.R. Norton, Amal and the Shia: Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon’, Austin: Uni of Texas press, 1987.
However, Hizbullah only clearly emerged in 1985 with its famous declaration. Before that, there were a number of smaller groups, with names like Islamic Jihad, which went on to form Hizbullah. Many were still under the shadow of Amal. And this period, 1982-85, before Hizbullah’s clear emergence, these groups were more directly under the control of the contingent of Iranian revolutionary guards which ahd been dispatched to Lebanon. From 1985 however, the open Hizbullah came much more strongly under the influence of Lebanese reality, including of radical Lebanese Shia figures, like Sheik Fadlahah, who were sympathetic to Iran but undeniably and forcefully independent, with a long term standing on their own feet.
Hizbullah is obviously not a left-wing or socilaist organisation, so I suppose one can call it “right-wing” in a very general sense, ie, it is led by the Shia bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie and operates within the confines of national liberation. However, it is not a “right-wing” movement in the sense suggested above, one “dedicated to Khomeini style fundamentalism”, or one that represents some kind of international right-wing anti-imperilaism, as suggested elsewhere in that article, which one might arguably say about Al Qaida. It is simply a Lebanese national liberation movement, and at the same time a movement of the relatively impoverished Shia section of the Lebanese nation for a greater slice of the pie. And comapred to the majority of other movements originating with ‘Islamist’ colouration, I think it has to be argued that many of its policies and tactics are surprisingly sensible.
Also on the subject of Hezbollah – while it does not shed any light at all on life in Hezbollah controlled areas, the following interview with Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah (emailed to me by a regular Sketchy Thoughts reader – thanks!) does give some indication as to how the current Israeli onslaught looks through the eyes of their enemy.