A recent NYT/IHT op-ed that decries the hypocrisy of Hezbollah’s resistance will disappoint any reader who hopes for a cogent analysis of the hollow “resistance” rhetoric of the militant Islamist group that has built a state within a state in Lebanon.
Larbi Sadiki, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter, argues that by failing to support the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime, Hezbollah’s leaders “expose themselves as hypocrites.”
Reminding his readers that not so long ago, the “Syrian masses […] worshiped the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah,” Sadiki points out that they now “curse him when they parade in public squares. The posters of Mr. Assad and Mr. Nasrallah that once adorned car windows and walls throughout Syria are now regularly torched.”
Sadiki then explains why the Hezbollah leader had been so popular:
Until recently, Mr. Nasrallah, a Shiite, was a pan-Arab icon. His standing as Hezbollah’s chairman and commander of the 2006 war against Israel elevated him to new heights of popularity among Shiites and Sunnis alike, reminiscent of the former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s political stardom following the nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956.
Not only did Mr. Nasrallah fight Israel next door; he defied pro-American Arab states, trained and protected Hamas in Lebanon, backed Moktada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia as it killed Americans in Iraq, and showed absolute loyalty to Iran. His fans were in the millions. The Arab multitude from Casablanca to Mecca saw him as a genuine hero who talked the talk and fought the good fight.
It seems that as far as Sadiki is concerned, everything would have been fine and dandy if only Hezbollah, this “wildly popular resistance movement,” had been clever enough to voice some support for the Syrian protesters – or if Hezbollah had at least been as “politically savvy” as their fellow resisters in Hamas, which, according to Sadiki, impressed “onlookers by what it didn’t do and say rather than what it did or said.”
It is also instructive to check out another op-ed by Sadiki on the same subject, entitled “Hezbollah and the Arab revolution” that was published last June by Al Jazeera.
There, he recalls Nasrallah’s “victory” speech after the war with Israel in August 2006:
The sea of people I saw in August 2006 that came to greet and listen to Nasrallah after the 34-day war with Israel related to these messages [i.e. what Sadiki calls the “Che-Khomeini rhetoric: the language of ‘world imperialism’ mixed with meaning about ‘the oppressed’, ‘down-trodden’, ‘justice’, ‘self-determination’ and ‘liberty’”]. They still do. Many more do the same from Rabat to Sana’a.
Nasrallah’s oratory in the “Divine Pledge” [al-Wa’d al-Sadiq] before hundreds of thousands, was electrifying – as ever, the oracle of the down-trodden, crushed by injustice and occupation. In Nasrallah’s mantra of change via resistance, or muqawamah, they find solace, a kind of redemption, and hope for reconstitution as equals to all free human beings.
It’s almost pathetic to contemplate this mindless cheerleading for a “hero” that recklessly provoked a war that brought considerable devastation and suffering to Lebanon.
What Sadiki overlooks in his romantic ravings about Hezbollah’s “resistance” is the fact that, once Israel had withdrawn to the internationally recognized border in May 2000, Hezbollah’s “resistance” could hardly be regarded as promoting Lebanon’s interests or the concerns of Lebanon’s poor. But since it was in Hezbollah’s narrow partisan interest, the group continued harassing Israeli positions near the border and, in October 2000, also crossed into Israeli territory to kidnap three soldiers. It was later established that the three soldiers had been killed and that their attackers had posed as UN personnel; after many similar “resistance operations,” Israel finally responded in 2006 to these attacks that, after all, constituted acts of war.
In an interview with a Lebanese TV station, Sadiki’s erstwhile hero Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged shortly after his supposedly “divine victory” in August 2006 that he had not expected “that the capture [of Israeli soldiers] would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me if I had known on July 11 … that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not.”
Obviously, this also implies a justification for Israel’s forceful response, because Nasrallah’s message is that as long as they could kidnap Israeli soldiers and stage cross-border attacks with impunity, they would continue to do so.
To be sure, Sadiki has a point when he emphasizes how truly popular Nasrallah and Assad were not so long ago – and one could add Ahmadinejad, who also ranked among the most popular leaders in a 2008 Arab opinion poll. But while Nasrallah and Assad now have their pictures torched, they and their regimes are no different now than they were when they enjoyed broad popular support for their “resistance” pose.
Ultimately, the “resistance” ethos that Sadiki so ardently defends can only be sustained if millions of Arabs willingly continue to serve as “useful idiots” for political leaders who expect their constituency to subordinate mundane concerns about the lack of economic opportunity or social and political development to an ideology that demonizes Israel and the West as the enemies of the Muslim world. As long as this ideology is popular in the Arab world, the Arabs will get the leaders they deserve – no matter how many springs pass.