By Anno Bunnik
Extremist movements and parties tend to disguise their true colours. The English Defence League, notorious for its racism, calls itself a ‘Human Rights’ Organisation. Dutch politician Geert Wilders, bent on banning the Quran, mosques and immigration, heads the ‘Freedom’ Party.
Hezbollah, the self-proclaimed champion of Islamic ‘resistance’ is not alone in its discursive politics.
1. The act or an instance of resisting or the capacity to resist.
2. A force that tends to oppose or retard motion.
3. often Resistance An underground organization engaged in a struggle for national liberation in a country under military or totalitarian occupation.
Since its inception it has bolstered the image of the only effective force against Israeli and American domination over Arab lands. And it served them well. Their military capabilities and strategies were the main reason why Israel finally gave up its occupation of Southern Lebanon over a decade ago.
But developments in the last years, both domestically and regionally, elucidate that Hezbollah is anything but a resistance movement. Domestically, ‘the Party of God’ has used their (legitimate) struggle against foreign occupation for other means: to grab and consolidate its control over Lebanon. In Syria, it is fighting for the survival of a brutal dictator.
In its early years, Hezbollah was a model underdog: representing the marginalised Shias vis-à-vis Lebanon’s wealthy Sunnis and Christians and fighting against foreign occupation by the region’s most powerful country. In recent years, however, the movement has transformed into a hegemon.
As Hezbollah’s military strength grew over the years, the historically rooted dominance of Lebanese Sunni and Christian communities faded. Several events have been key in the rise of the Shia party. First and foremost, its capacity to resist Israel has boosted its reputation as the sole entity capable of defending Lebanon against foreign aggression.
In relation to its Sunni rivals, the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and, more recently, of top security official Wissam Al-Hassan served as timely messages to remind the wealthy Sunni community of Lebanon that Hezbollah can, and will, take out anyone who seeks to diminish its influence.
Hezbollah now has near total control over the country. It is the most powerful military force and most prominent political party. Hezbollah can operate without much interference from the state and little to no accountability. Despite the country’s official stance of disassociation with the Syrian conflict, it can send over thousands of troops to support Bashar Al-Assad. Or, when protesters gather in front of the Iranian embassy last June, the ‘Party of God’ can freely send in a mob to beat them up – resulting in the death of one protestor.
This sheer lack of accountability sends a strong message to every Lebanese: “enjoy your beaches and your cocktails but don’t forget that we rule the show”.
Other than its domestic power grab, perhaps the party is involved in other activities that could merit the resistance label? Is it perhaps involved in fighting the IDF in the Occupied Territories? Is it supporting fellow Shias in Bahrain and Iran who are tortured, prosecuted and murdered for resisting authoritarian rule? Or is ‘the resistance’ ignoring the many ‘struggles for national liberation in a country under military or totalitarian occupation’ currently taking place across the region?
Last week, a brutal video emerged (likely) depicting Lebanese militants shooting dead unarmed and wounded Syrians. The executioners wore Hezbollah’s standard military uniform and yellow ribbons and spoke with Lebanese accents as they praised God (fi sabilillah, ‘in God’s cause’) –signals that they were indeed Hezbollah fighters. This is the first video to surface indicating the party’s involvement in crimes against humanity.
Interestingly, this video appeared in the same week that Human Right Watch accused 20 rebel groups including Jabhat Al-Nusra (JaN), the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and Jaish Al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar of crimes against humanity in the Latakia countryside. In Syria, Hezbollah is no different than the takfiris they loath.
Hezbollah unmistakably chose sectarian politics over resistance. It is knee-deep entrenched in a bloody civil war fighting for the survival of a powerful dictator whose main contribution to its own citizens seems to be to bomb them regularly.
The Syrian conflict has exposed Hezbollah’s true colours: it is just another poisonous militia like the Al-Qaeda affiliates JaN and ISIS. Let us remind them next time they try to fool us again that they are the ‘resistance’.
Anno Bunnik is a PhD Fellow at the Centre for Applied Research on Security Innovation at Liverpool Hope University. Follow him on Twitter @Eurabist