Radio Lora, 13.4.2009 und Alternative Radio
Die libanesische Wissenschaftlerin, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, gilt als anerkannte Hisbollah Expertin. Sie unterrichtete Politikwissenschaft an der libanesisch-amerikanischen Universität in Beirut und ist heute Gastprofessorin an der Beiruter Carnegie Stiftung für Friedensforschung.
Der folgende Text ist eine kurze Zusammenfassung des Interviews, das sie David Barsamian von Alternative Radio am 19. Juni 2007 gegeben hat.
Im Sommer 2006, während des israelisch-libanesischen Krieges, berichteten die amerikanischen Medien stets nur über die “Terror-Organisation“ Hisbollah. Sie hingegen, beschreiben in Ihrem Buch eine ganz andere Seite dieser bewaffneten Volkspartei.
Die Hisbollah ist nicht nur eine im Parlament und früher auch in der Regierung vertretene politische Partei, sondern daneben auch eine bewaffnete Widerstandsorganisation und eine tief in der libanesischen Bevölkerung verwurzelte soziale Bewegung.
Die Schiiten im Libanon haben kein Wahlrecht, sind politisch marginalisiert und verarmt. Ist das der Schlüssel zum Verständnis der Hisbollah?
Der Hisbollah gehören schiitische Kommunisten und Linke an genau so wie arabische Nationalisten. Mit ihrem weit verzweigten Hilfswerk kümmert sie sich um die Bevölkerung in den schiitischen Armenvierteln und übernimmt so die Rolle des Staates.
Ist sie also der Staat in einem Nichtstaat?
Es gibt keinen starken libanesischen Staat. Selbst wenn die Hisbollah bestreitet, ein Staat zu sein, hat sie dennoch genau die Aufgaben übernommen, die einen Staat ausmachen. Sie – nicht der Staat – versorgt ihre Wähler mit Gütern des täglichen Bedarfs und beschützt sie vor den Israelis.
Maronitische Christen und Sunniten haben die Schiiten im Süden lange herablassend, ja beinahe rassistisch behandelt.
Bevor es die Hisbollah und davor die Amal Partei gab, wurden die Schiiten sogar von ihren eigenen Führern ignoriert. Ihre Diskriminierung ist also nicht so sehr ein religiöses als vielmehr ein Klassenphänomen.
Wie ist die Hisbollah organisiert?
Das weiß niemand so ganz genau. Für einige ist sie eine autoritäre, hierarchische, stalinistische Partei. Für mich nicht, denn bei dieser Volksbewegung könnte Generalsekretär Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah kaum über die Köpfe der Bevölkerung hinweg weitreichende Entscheidungen treffen. Andererseits, welche Widerstandsgruppe und welche Partei ist schon durch und durch demokratisch? Das zentrale politische Anliegen der Hisbollah sind Fragen der Sicherheit und der militärischen Verteidigung.
In den USA wird die Hisbollah oft als Stellvertreter Irans und/oder Syriens gesehen. Wie unabhängig ist sie wirklich?
Ich glaube, dass sie immer unabhängiger von ihren Sponsoren und Verbündeten Iran und Syrien wird. Allein die Tatsache, dass 90% der libanesischen Schiiten die Hisbollah unterstützen, beweist, wie autonom sie inzwischen geworden ist.
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Martin Indyk, der frühere US Botschafter in Israel, machte im September 2006 die Hisbollah für das Beiruter Bombenattentat von 1983 und die dabei getöteten 241 US Marines verantwortlich. Gibt es dafür Beweise und was machten die Marines eigentlich im Libanon?
1983 gab es die Hisbollah noch gar nicht. Vermutlich war die islamische Amal, die Vorgängerin der Hisbollah, dafür verantwortlich. Für Libanesen galten die Marines nie als neutrale Friedensstifter. Sie waren Kriegsgegner, die sich aktiv am Bürgerkrieg beteiligten, muslimische Wohnviertel bombardierten und Libanesen töteten. Ihr Tod war also kein Terrorakt.
Wie finanziert die Hisbollah ihre sozialen Einrichtungen?
Auch wenn die Hisbollah es bestreitet – selbstverständlich wird sie von Iran unterstützt. Aber sie erhält auch viele Spenden von religiösen oder weltlichen Organisation, Gruppen und Einzelpersonen. Darüber hinaus verdient sie Geld mit Investitionen und Handelsgeschäften.
Welche Medienpolitik betreibt die Hisbollahs?
Die Medien sind ein wichtiger Arm der Hisbollah. Bei der Intifada von 2000 spielten sie eine bedeutende Rolle. Damals hat der Sender al-Manar dazu beigetragen, dass die gesamte arabische Welt – Sunniten wie Schiiten – die Hisbollah unterstützen.
Generalsekretär Nasrallah war früher Guerillakämpfer. Was wissen Sie noch von ihm?
Er gilt als einer der charismatischsten Führer der arabischen Welt. Seit dem Sieg von 2006 ist sein Ansehen weltweit gewachsen, nicht zuletzt, weil sein eigener Sohn in diesem Krieg gegen Israel gefallen ist.
Nach dem Abzug der israelischen Truppen aus dem Libanon im Jahr 2000 hatte man befürchtet, dass es zu Chaos, religiösen Konflikten und Racheakten kommen würde.
Kein einziger Mensch wurde getötet oder verletzt. Es gab keine Racheakte und keine Jubel- oder Siegesorgien. Ist das nicht der beste Beweis dafür, dass die Hisbollah eine äußerst disziplinierte Organisation ist, die nicht auf ihre Landesleute schießt.
Warum identifiziert sich die Hisbollah so stark mit den Palästinensern?
Die Gründung der Hisbollah war die Reaktion auf die israelische Besetzung des Libanon. Deshalb ist es nur logisch, dass man auch die sunnitischen Palästinenser in ihrem Kampf gegen die amerikanische und israelische Besatzung materiell, moralisch und politisch unterstützt
Im Libanon leben über 400 000 Palästinenser in 12 Flüchtlingslagern. Erst kürzlich kam es in der Nähe von Tripolis zu bewaffneten Auseinandersetzungen zwischen der, der al Qaida nahe stehenden Gruppe Fatah al Islam und der Armee.
Das Problem der Flüchtlingslager ist nicht die Sicherheit, sondern die Verelendung. Um ihr Rückkehrrecht aufrecht zu erhalten, werden die Flüchtlinge daran gehindert, einen vernünftigen Beruf auszuüben und sich so eine Existenz aufzubauen. Das ist der beste Nährboden für jede Art von Extremismus. Deshalb muss endlich eine Lösung gefunden werden, wonach die Flüchtlinge – wie in Jordanien – in die Gesellschaft integriert werden, ohne ihr Recht auf Rückkehr zu verlieren.
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Welche Auswirkungen hatten der Irakkrieg und die Besetzung des Irak auf den Libanon?
Es wurde deutlich, dass die USA planen, mit Bürgerkrieg und Terror einen neuen Mittleren Osten ohne demokratische Rechte zu schaffen, um ihre eigenen und die Interessen Israels durchzusetzen. Die Libanesen fürchten, dass der von den USA gewollte oder ausgelöste Religionskrieg als Modell für andere arabische Staaten dienen könnte
Welche religiösen und politischen Bande bestehen zwischen der Hisbollah und dem Irak, der Heimat der zwei wichtigsten schiitischen Wallfahrtsorte Nadschaf und Karbala?
Es bestanden schon immer enge kulturelle und familiäre Beziehungen zwischen den iranischen, libanesischen und irakischen Schiiten. Daraus ergibt sich jedoch nicht automatisch auch ein politisches Zusammengehen. So hat z.B. die Hisbollah die Willfährigkeit der Maliki Regierung gegenüber den USA wiederholt kritisiert.
Als der frühere Premierminister Rafik Hariri am 14. Februar 2005 bei einem Autobombenattentat ums Leben kam, löste dies die so genannte Zedern Revolution aus.
Die Ermordung Hariris hat das Gesicht des Libanons verändert. Die Syrer zogen ab und die Amerikaner machten sich breit. Deshalb ging es bei dem Streit zwischen der Opposition und der Bewegung um Hariris Sohn Saad nicht um für oder gegen Syrien, sondern um für oder gegen die Bush Regierung.
Nach ihrem Wahlsieg in Palästina im Januar 2006 wurde die Hamas sofort mit schweren Sanktionen und Boykottmaßnahmen belegt. Wie ist das Verhältnis der Hisbollah zur Hamas?
Beide Gruppen verbindet der Widerstand gegen Israel. Beide haben einen starken Rückhalt in der muslimischen Bevölkerung, weshalb beide von den USA als Terrororganisationen bezeichnet werden. Nur um die Hisbollah ja nicht an die Macht kommen zu lassen, sperrte sich Washington gegen baldige Wahlen im Libanon, für die man sich in Palästina noch sehr energisch eingesetzt hatte. Die Hisbollah unterstützt die Hamas moralisch und politisch und höchstwahrscheinlich auch mit Militärausbildern.
Der von vielen hoch verehrte Rafik Hariri hat als Premierminister rekordverdächtige Schulden angehäuft. Der Wiederaufbau des Landes erfolgte also mit geliehenem Geld.
…..mit Geld des Internationalen Währungsfonds und der Weltbank. Wie in vielen anderen unterentwickelten Ländern wurden diese Mittel nicht gerecht verteilt. So gibt es einerseits das meist wohlhabende hypermoderne Beirut und andererseits eine vernachlässigte Landwirtschaft und rückständige Industrie mit Arbeitern, die nicht von ihrem Lohn leben können.
Was halten Sie von Präsident Ahmadinejad und der iranischen Regierung?
Für mich sind seine Provokationen eine Reaktion auf die Bedrohung Irans durch Israel und die USA. Der Überfall auf den Irak, die Politik in Palästina und im Libanon, der ständig drohende Angriff nicht nur auf die Atomanlagen, sondern auf das ganze Land, haben die Menschen dort sehr verunsichert. Unabhängig davon, ob man mit seinen Methoden einverstanden ist oder nicht, muss man Ahmadinejad zugestehen, dass er alles daran setzt, sein Land, das von amerikanischen Militärbasen umzingelt ist, gegen die hegemonialen Ansprüche der USA zu verteidigen.
Ein Kapitel in Ihrem Buch beschäftigt sich mit dem Verhältnis der Hisbollah zu Zionismus und Judaismus.
Dabei muss man deutlich zwischen Antisemitismus und Antijudaismus unterscheiden. Der Hisbollah und den anderen islamischen Gruppen geht es bei ihren Auseinandersetzungen nicht um die jüdischen Menschen, sondern um religiöse Fragen. Natürlich haben die vielen Kriege zwischen Juden und Muslimen auch zu gegenseitigen Animositäten geführt, jedoch nie zu einem Rassismus, wie man ihn in Europa erlebt hat.
Der Fund for Peace bezeichnet den Libanon als Failed State, als Staat ohne Hoffnung. Die Intelligenz verlässt das Land und die, die bleiben, warten auf die nächste Bombe, das nächste Attentat.
Der Libanon war nie starker, souveräner Staat. Er war immer besetzt. Heute verhindern die USA eine Regierung der nationalen Einheit, in die auch die oppositionelle Hisbollah eingebunden wäre und die das Land endlich aus seiner wirtschaftlichen, gesellschaftlichen und politischen Krise herausführen könnte.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)David Barsamian
P.O. Box 551
Boulder, CO 80306-0551
Hezbollah by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb
Interviewed by David Barsamian Beirut, Lebanon 19 June 2007
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is an expert on Hezbollah and her book on the Lebanese party has been widely praised and cited. She taught political science at Lebanese American University in Beirut. Currently, she is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Center in Beirut.
There was a lot of coverage of Hezbollah in the United States, during the July-August 2006 war. It was routinely characterized as a terrorist organization, taking its cue from the State Department. You ‘ve written a book on Hezbollah. It certainly has a dimension way beyond a simple armed militia.
Hezbollah, of course, is not only a political party represented in Lebanon’s parliament, previously in its government as well. It’s also a resistance organization. I wouldn’t use the term militia, with all its civil-war connotations, but it is an armed group which resists Israel. At the same time, most importantly, Hezbollah is a grass-roots social movement. As a movement, it is very much embedded in the local population and therefore cannot be seen as a sort of hierarchical, small organization that’s distant from the Lebanese population.
Talk about the historical background of Shi ‘a disenfranchisement its political marginalization, and economic immiseration. That’s key to Hezbollah, isn ‘t it?
Of course, Hezbollah did not emerge purely in response to Shi’ite economic deprivation and political marginalization. The precursor, actually, to Hezbollah was the Amal movement, which initially emerged to address these economic, social, and political grievances of the community and to promote Shi’ite interests. But I would say that Hezbollah was definitely an extension of that kind of historical marginalization of the community insofar as an organization Hezbollah addresses many of these grievances today.
What formed its backbone essentially was Shi’ites who were in communist, left-wing, and Arab nationalist parties. So you find that the leadership of Hezbollah today is composed of former officials who were in left-wing organizations. As an organization Hezbollah seeks to address underdevelopment in Shi’ite areas. And because of its vast social-services network it is a substitute for the state in these areas and has promoted, I would say, the interests of its constituency.
You coined a phrase that Hezbollah really constituted “a state within a non-state.”
I think it’s something of a misnomer to say that Hezbollah is a state within a state, because that presupposes that there is a strong state in Lebanon, which has never been the case. Hezbollah, as much as it denies it, does act as a state. Obviously, when we talk about a group which provides for the basic needs of its constituency and protects their lives from Israeli aggression, these two functions, defense of national territory and providing basic services, is essentially what defines a state. In that capacity, yes, Hezbollah is a state and, in fact, has a very complex, organized social services and political organization, which is by far more efficient than the Lebanese state we have. So historically the state has neglected its functions of defending its citizens and providing for their basic needs. Therefore, I would say that this is a non-state.
Why did the Maronite Christians and the Sunni Muslims have problems with the Shi ‘a? They historically have neglected them. I don ‘t know how to phrase this, but even one hears racist comments about people from the south, that they don ‘t know how to eat properly and don ‘t know the difference between Chardonnay andMerlot, you know, the important things in life.
I would add to that that in the past as well the Shi’ites were neglected by their own Shi’ite leaders, before the advent of the Amal movement and Hezbollah. So it isn’t so much that they were deliberately marginalized by Maronites and Sunnis. In fact, I wouldn’t say that there has not been any political discrimination as such practiced against Shi’ites. What we have is a form of social discrimination. And that’s much less a sectarian than a class phenomenon. I don’t think that Shi’ites are treated or branded as being what we call in Arabic mutawali, which is a very derogatory term. Actually, it means the followers of Imam Ali, but historically it’s been a very pejorative term, and it was used in place of the word Shi’ite. But, again, I think it’s very much a class-based phenomenon. Not a sectarian one.
What’s interesting today to see is how the Shi’ite youngsters, especially in the aftermath of the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006, now call themselves mutawali. It’s very much reminiscent, in my view, of how after the black civil rights movement you have many blacks who call themselves nigger, but, of course, if anyone else calls them nigger, that’s considered a great affront. So Shi’ites now are reclaiming their identity as mutawali and embracing it, and they see this as a form of empowerment because of the achievements of the resistance.
There is a huge gap between demographic realities and actual political representation. The Shi ‘a now constitute at least 40% of the population of Lebanon, but that’s not reflected in parliament. Why not?
That’s because there hasn’t been a census in Lebanon since 1932. And this is something of a real hot potato, especially for Lebanon’s Christian community, which at the time of the census constituted the majority but, of course, no longer does.
Estimates vary. I can’t say that they’re definitively 40%, but they’re definitely the largest minority in Lebanon. Because of the naturalization of non-Lebanese Sunnis, in fact, you have slightly more registered Sunni voters than Shi’ite voters. So it isn’t so much that Shi’ites would overtake the political system, right now at least, for the next 10 years or so, if there were a new census. But, again, they are very much underrepresented. They only have 21% of parliamentary seats, cabinet positions. And even in terms of real influence and decision-making power, they have the least influential post, which is speaker of the house. So with the Shi’ites at 30% or 40% of Lebanese, at least, they are very much politically underrepresented.
The 1943 pact between the Maronite Christians and the Sunni Muslims allocated, as you said, the speaker of the parliament to a Shi ‘a and the prime minister’s office to a Sunni and the presidency to a Maronite. That was somewhat changed in the 1989 Taif Agreement.
What fundamentally changed was that it became a sort of 50-50 ratio. The Muslims together, Shiites and Sunnis, would get 50% of all seats and the Christians would get the other 50%. But that would still not accurately reflect demographics. This is why, as I said, there are only 21% allocated to Shi’ites. On the other hand, what really changed was that the powers of the president were cut down. More power was given to the prime minister. But, again, this did not affect the Shi’ites as a community.
What is the political structure of the organization?
It’s a tricky question, because nobody really knows the internal dynamics of Hezbollah as a political party. Some consider it a Stalinist group, which is hierarchical and authoritarian, and so on. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate to the extent that Hezbollah is very much a people’s movement, and therefore it’s not as if the secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, can just issue edicts on his own and not be accountable to the people at the end of the day. And the resistance, if you want to talk about how democratic it is, I wouldn’t say it is as democratic as Western parties are, but, then again, no parties are democratic, to be very frank with you. It has nothing to do with it being an Islamist organization. But the resistance wing of Hezbollah wields incredible influence over the political wing, if you like. So it’s very much a security, military-driven organization. As pragmatic as it is, that section or segment of the organization wields a lot of influence over the party.
It’s often described in the U.S. as being a proxy of Iran or Syria or both. How independent is it of those countries?
I would say that over the years Hezbollah has become increasingly independent of its sponsors and its allies, Iran and Syria. In fact, if Hezbollah were entirely beholden to Iranian and Syrian interests, it would not enjoy the mass popular support that it enjoys today among the Shi’ite community and some segments of other communities. Over 90% of Lebanese Shi’ites support the resistance. And I think that more indicative than anything else that Hezbollah is an autonomous organization is that fact. The overwhelming majority of Shi’ites could not possibly all be beholden to Iran and Syria.
In September 2006, I was listening to National Public Radio and Martin Indyk was the guest. He’s the director of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He was not identified, incidentally, as a former ambassador to Israel or as an official of AIPAC. (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Nevertheless, they were having a discussion about Lebanon, and the anchor, Liane Hansen, asked him about the 1983 bombing here in Beirut in which 241 Marines were killed. Indyk said Hezbollah was responsible for the attack. Is there any evidence to support that? And what were those Marines doing in Lebanon?
First of all, regarding culpability, there was no Hezbollah in 1983. Hezbollah as an organization did not officially emerge until 1985, with what is called its open letter, in which it announced its existence. The Hezbollah nucleus did not emerge until then, in fact. It did not have a secretary general at the time. So it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly who was responsible for the attack. I would say that Islamic Amal, which later became part of Hezbollah, is considered generally responsible for that action and claimed responsibility at the time.
The Marines in Lebanon were not considered neutral peacekeepers by anyone. They actively took a part in the civil war. They were shelling Muslim areas of the country. Therefore, attacking the U.S. military, which was considered by many Lebanese as an occupation force, cannot really be considered an act of terrorism. They were American military combatants killing Lebanese people.
You talked about the vast network of social services that Hezbollah provides, particularly in the southern part of the country. From where does it generate monies to provide those services?
No one can deny, although Hezbollah will, that it does receive funding from Iran. But at the same time, we should not discount the significance of the number of the different organizations, groups, and individuals, that donate money to Hezbollah. Some of it is channeled through the Shi’ite religious tax called the khums. The khums is peculiar to the Shi’ite sect. It’s a portion of one’s income which is channeled through different religious venues. And a lot of that goes to Hezbollah, not only from Lebanese but also from non-Lebanese Shi’ites.
Others are generated from donors, not through religious channels. Hezbollah also has a lot of its own investments in businesses which generate income. But definitely Iran provides some of that funding.
What is its media strategy? It has a TV station, al-Manar. It’s broadcast throughout the Middle East. It also has a radio station, Nur.
Hezbollah’s media is another arm of the organization. It is widely watched not only in Lebanon but also in the region. When the Palestinian intifada, uprising, began in 2000, al-Manar played a leading role in promoting resistance against Israel. And for that reason it gained a lot of support among Sunni Arabs. I would say al-Manar has helped consolidate support for Hezbollah in the Arab world.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is the secretary general of Hezbollah. He ‘s a former guerilla fighter. What do you know about him?
One can write a whole book on Nasrallah. He is regarded as one of the most charismatic leaders ever to emerge in the Arab world. He’s very much likened to Gamal Abdel Nasser. Obviously, his stature and standing not only in Lebanon but also in the region, even in the world, rose because of Hezbollah’s performance during the July 2006 war, in which Hezbollah clearly emerged as the victor. Nasrallah enjoys, I think, a special, if you like, sanctity in the region. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that he sacrificed his own son for the cause. This is rather unknown among Arab leaders. They sit in their ivory towers and they’re all talk and no action. Here’s a man whose own child was killed fighting Israel. This, I think, gave Nasrallah a lot of legitimacy and credibility as a leader who is genuinely committed, who is not power-hungry, and who would sacrifice, more than himself, his own son for this cause.
In conversations I’ve had with Lebanese who were obviously hostile to Hezbollah, they even, reluctantly in some instances, said that they respect the organization because it’s not corrupt. In a country that has a notorious reputation for corruption, this counts for a lot.
It definitely does. Hezbollah has not been tainted by corruption, political, financial, or otherwise. At the same time, I would say that its leadership as well is reflective of this general sense of self-sacrifice. During the July war, for example, many children of leadership officials were wounded or killed. And this very much feeds into that reputation.
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978, and then there was a major invasion in 1982, with an 18-year occupation that ensued. What was the impact on the country when the Israelis withdrew in May of 2000?
Interestingly, back in 2000, although it was considered, obviously, by all counts, a victory for Hezbollah, it wasn’t felt as acutely as the 2006 victory. Back in May 2000, the Israelis had decided to unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon. And because it wasn’t the result of a battle in itself but, rather, a protracted war, the effects of that victory were not as keenly felt. But at the same time, after the July war, there were many Lebanese who did not consider it a victory. It was interesting because the Israelis themselves were calling it a defeat, were calling for an investigation into the war and Israel’s very poor performance in the war and the fact that had to withdraw without Hezbollah being disarmed, its main objective. Yet there were many Lebanese who refused to call it a victory because of the destruction. However, I think that is a very unusual qualification, since in any war there is always destruction and death. How could it be called a war otherwise?
After that May 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon, it was widely predicted that there would be chaos and sectarian violence and vengeance killings because Israel had contracted some local Lebanese to do its dirty work. But that didn ‘t happen.
That’s right. I think more than anything, in fact, this came as a very big surprise, to many Western observers especially, and even many Lebanese, who anticipated that Hezbollah would turn against the local Christian community or the families of collaborators and so on. None of that happened. Not a single person was killed or injured. There was no excessive jubilation or triumphalism amongst the Hezbollah cadres. And that more than anything, I think, proved that Hezbollah is an extremely disciplined movement, which does not turn its guns against fellow Lebanese.
Shebaa Farms is a disputed area right on the border between Syria and Lebanon and northern Israel. It’s about 15 square miles. It was seized in the 1967 war. Lebanon claims it’s Lebanese territory, and that’s certainly Hezbollah’s position.
What’s interesting is that both Lebanon and Syria consider this area to be Lebanese. It is still disputed but at the end of the day the Lebanese government has declared it as Lebanese. The U.N. does not recognize it as being Lebanese, but, rather, Syrian territory. Various documents show the land belonged to Lebanese landowners. Regardless of this, it remains to be resolved. The U.N. has to recognize it is Lebanese in order for a diplomatic solution to be reached. However, Hezbollah and the Lebanese government consider it Lebanese territory, and therefore consider it Lebanese land occupied by Israel.
Actually, what happened was that in the year 2000, the U.N. delineated the borders between Lebanon and Israel. It was basically at the time, I think, when the U.N. observers decided to demark it as being outside of Lebanese territory.
Explain why Hezbollah identifies so strongly with the Palestinian cause. Certainly the overwhelming majority of Palestinians are Sunnis. Does Hezbollah transcend this narrow sectarian lens on this particular issue?
I don’t think Hezbollah can be described as a sectarian organization by any means. It was not formed to further the interests of the Shi’ites in Lebanon, certainly. It was formed as a response to Israeli occupation, and it is essentially a resistance movement. Resistance to Israel is its priority. Political power is not its priority. In fact, Hezbollah’s pursuit of political power has always been to serve its resistance, to protect its resistance, and to legitimize it. And therefore I think that it is only natural that Hezbollah would lend its support, both material, moral, political and otherwise, to Sunnis who resist Israel and American occupation.
Therefore, the issue of the Palestinians is one which is automatic, if you like. There is a general sense of natural sympathy and affinity with the Palestinians between the Lebanese Shi’ites and, of course, many Sunnis in Lebanon as well, not only Shi’ites, and the Palestinians resisting the Israeli occupation.
There are over 400,000 Palestinians living in 12 refugee camps throughout the country. In May 2007, near Nahr al-Bared one of these camps outside of Tripoli, there was fighting between a formation that’s described as al-Qaeda, Fatah al-Islam, and the army.
And the problem with the issue of the camps is not only one of security but also one of long-standing economic and social deprivation. These are really the poorest communities in Lebanon, very much a subproletariat. More than 70 professions cannot be practiced by the Palestinians in Lebanon in these camps. While it’s understandable why the government and all political forces are in agreement that the Palestinians should not be naturalized because that would prevent their right to return, which is very much a symbolic issue as well, there is no justification for Palestinians being subject to this kind of discrimination and deprivation. And it’s only natural that in their sealed-off, densely overpopulated refugee camps in Lebanon that these would be breeding grounds for extremism. This is exactly what has happened in the Nahr al-Bared camp. Add to that the infiltration by al-Qaeda elements from various countries. There is too the issues, of course, of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and Palestine All of these are factors which are conducive to the rise of such groups in Lebanon and, I would predict, elsewhere in the region.
But in the case say, of Jordan, Palestinians have been integrated into the society. They ‘ve been given citizenship and therefore have civil rights, which they are sorely lacking in Lebanon.
That’s right. And the argument has been, at least Hezbollah has made this argument, that even though we too reject the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon because that would be tantamount to giving up their right to return to Palestine, that is no excuse for mistreating them and not giving them their basic human rights. So I think that there could be some formula whereby the Palestinians could be much better integrated into Lebanese society without giving up the political principles.
What effect has the U.S. war and occupation on Iraq had on Lebanon?
It has had an impact on Lebanon insofar as it basically instituted the Bush administration’s plan for a new Middle East. More than anything, the occupation of Iraq clearly signaled to Hezbollah, to other actors in the region who resist American and Israeli occupation and intervention, that the U.S.’s idea of a new Middle East is essentially one marked by subordination of these countries to U.S. interests by civil war, no democratic rights for these people, and the growth of terrorism. So it’s a strategy governed entirely by U.S.’s interests, protecting Israel’s interests, and at the same time a strategy of divide and rule.
This is what all Lebanese fear, that this sectarian civil war in Iraq is a U.S.-manufactured or U.S.-triggered, at least, and the U.S. is trying to implement a similar strategy elsewhere in the Arab world, starting with Lebanon.
Let’s concede the point and say that that is indeed the case. How would it redound to American interests if there were chaos and bloodshed on a wide scale?
I can understand that for many this would be counterintuitive. Why would the U.S. deliberately seek to fragment Iraq and cause chaos? What you would find any Arab quoting is the famous constructive chaos theory, which came straight out of an American think tank and which very much influenced the Bush administration policy makers. As part of that theory, the idea of sowing strife, chaos in the region would permit the U.S. to gain a stronger foothold in these countries. By creating what many call here little statelets, the U.S. would be better able to cement its presence in the region and would prevent any organized unified opposition from emerging. For that to happen, the U.S. would have to try as much as possible to sow disunity in Arab ranks. By fragmenting these countries the U.S. would have easier access to economic resources.
What kind of relations, religious and political, does Hezbollah have with Iraq? Iraq is the site of Najaf and Karbala, the two most important Shi ‘a pilgrimage sites.
Historically, there have been a lot of cultural and social interactions between Iraqi Shi’ites, Iranian Shi’ites, and Lebanese Shi’ites. But I don’t think that really in any way has promoted a very strong political bond between Lebanese Shi’ites or Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shi’ites or the Maliki government. In fact, although Hezbollah has not taken a clear, explicit stand against the Maliki government in Iraq, it does not in any way have a strong affinity with this government and has on many occasions indirectly criticized it for pandering to U.S. interests and for not resisting U.S. occupation.
Is there any connection between one of the founders of the Amal party, the precursor to Hezbollah, Musa al-Sadr, andMoqtada al-Sadr in Iraq?
The Sadr family is of Iranian origin. A lot of Iraqi Shi’ite leaders, like Sistani, are Iranian. That’s very much lost on many Westerners, who don’t understand the strong bond between Iraqi and Iranian Shi’ites. Part of it has a lot to do with the Iranian origins of many of these families. Even many towns and cities in Iraq have Iranian names. So it goes beyond Iran’s recent political influence in the region. It’s a historical influence. That’s the same for several Lebanese families of Iranian origin or who have lived in Iraq. You can’t really divorce one from the other.
So this holds true even though there is this significant language divide, Farsi and Arabic?
Yes. Musa al-Sadr used to speak Lebanese with a Persian accent, they say, although he had lived in Najaf previously. But there isn’t this strong Persian-Arab barrier between the two, no.
And Nasrallah also studied in Iraq and Iran.
A lot of Hezbollah’s clerical leadership, including Nasrallah, has spent time studying either in Qom in Iran or in Najaf. And that also explains a lot of this historical affinity between Iraqi Shi’ites, Iranian Shi’ites, and Lebanese Shi’ites.
On February 14, 2005, former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was killed in a car bomb along with more than 20 other people. That ignited what the State Department anointed the Cedar Revolution—massive demonstrations in the streets here and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. What kind of reverberations has that assassination had?
The Hariri assassination really changed the face of Lebanon. The byproduct of that was not only the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon but was also the U.S.’s entry into Lebanon in a very flagrant manner. Before Lebanon was directly controlled by Syria. Now it is very much controlled by the United States, in a very explicit manner. And that’s what has really led to the polarization of this country. The conflict isn’t so much, as is often characterized in the Western media, as between pro- and anti-Syrians. Because the opposition, while supporting Syria strategically in opposition to the United States, is not one which sits around begging for Syria to return to Lebanon. It is nothing like that at all.
I would say a much better way of distinguishing the two sides is between pro-American and anti-American, and by that I mean pro-Bush, pro-U.S. administration. That is very much how the Lebanese can be characterized. The opposition is much closer to Syria and Iran strategically whereas the March 14 movement, led by Hariri’s son Saad, is much closer to the United States and France.
Is the U.S. goal in Lebanon to create a client state and integrate it within the so-called globalization framework?
That’s a fact. Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials call Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his government a moderate Arab regime akin to Mahmoud Abbas government in Palestine and this whole new class of so-called moderate Arab regimes. What do they mean by moderate? It means these regimes accommodate themselves to the U.S. and Israel. That’s what it’s tantamount to. These are not regimes which are considered moderate because they’re not religious extremists. No. These are regimes which are willing to do business with the U.S., which are willing to toe the U.S. line at the expense of their national interests. They are, quite frankly, regimes, which even if they are democratically elected are considered illegitimate by a significant segment of their populations.
In January 2006, a democratic election was held in Palestine, and Hamas was elected. It was immediately subjected to some of the most severe economic sanctions and boycotts in history. What is the relationship between Hezbollah and Hamas?
Hezbollah and Hamas, and I think even more today now with the current events in Palestine, share a similar history of resistance towards Israel. Both groups gradually evolved in a more democratic, inclusionary manner in the political and social milieus of which they’re a part. And both of them are the most popular movements on the ground in both countries. And, of course, for that reason the U.S. considers both groups terrorist organizations.
At the same time, what is very interesting to see is that there are further parallels between these two groups. In Palestine, for example, the United States supported early elections, whereas in Lebanon, while Hezbollah was a main proponent of early elections because of the deep political polarization, the U.S. objected to early elections here.
Of course, they have a relatively recent history of working in close coordination with each other. And I do know that Hezbollah has very strong and good relations with the Sunni Islamist organization and does provide, at minimum, political and moral support, I would even venture to say it provides military training of sorts to Hamas.
Talk more about Rafik Hariri, who in some circles here is a revered and iconic figure. While he was prime minister, Lebanon amassed the largest debt of any country in the world. I believe it’s the highest per capita, in excess of $40 billion. So a lot of the reconstruction—we ‘re looking outside your office on rebuilt downtown—was done with borrowed money.
That’s correct. And there were many different reasons for that, all of which are interrelated. Rafik Hariri is considered a unifying symbol, and still is, actually. I don’t think that the opposition sees Rafik Hariri in the same way that they see the March 14 leaders.
Having said that, opposition groups like Hezbollah, at the time of Hariri’s years power, used to heavily criticize him for his economic policies, which essentially were governed by the IMF, the World Bank, and focused on modernization rather than economic development. And by that I mean that while you had some economic growth in Lebanon, you had the overdevelopment of certain areas, such as Beirut, and overdevelopment of the service sector, to the great detriment of industry and agriculture. This pattern is typical of most Third World countries which are allied with the United States. It has led to a society which has a large segment of working-class people living below the poverty line.
The creation of a U.N. tribunal to investigate the Hariri assassination is perceived by some as a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.
This is one of the main problems, which has exacerbated the polarization in Lebanon today, is the very strong intervention by the U.N. Security Council in Lebanese affairs. Basically, I think that Lebanon has really become the country which has more U.N. resolutions written in its name than any other, not only regarding the international tribunal but also, before that, starting with Resolution 1559, which called on Syria to withdraw and groups like Hezbollah to disarm.
Since then we have seen one U.N. Security Council resolution after another related to Lebanese affairs. This is what many in Lebanon call the internationalization of Lebanon, meaning that Lebanon has been really sold out to the United States, to the U.N. Security Council, which, of course, is dominated by the United States.
Where are Russia and China on these issues?
Russia and China have been trying to some extent to curb U.S. influence over Lebanon, to curb these U.S. resolutions which target Hezbollah and which basically violate Lebanese sovereignty. For that reason, Russia and China abstained from the recent vote on the tribunal. But I think at the same time these countries won’t go so far as to veto certain resolutions, because they have their own interests at stake in the region and vis-a-vis the United States as well. I don’t think anyone is willing to go all the way in support of one side in Lebanon against another, except for the United States, of course, and France. The Security Council has extraordinary powers, but this may be the first instance in which it’s actually functioning as a kind of detective agency, investigating a murder of a former political figure.
It’s very hard for many people here in Lebanon, including myself, to understand how the assassination of Hariri can be justified as falling under Chapter 7, which relates to a threat against world peace and security. That just does not add up as to why the assassination of Hariri, first of all, requires a U.N. Security Council resolution and an international tribunal, which is unprecedented in the history of political assassinations; and secondly, how that could possibly be considered a threat to world peace. Even if the Syrians were directly responsible for this—and we found this out today, for instance—how that is a threat to world peace is beyond me.
You ‘ve been doing work on Iran and recently visited that country. Iran is seen as part of the “axis of evil” by Washington. It’s assailed as a “growing threat” to U.S. interests in the region. What’s your assessment of Ahmadinejad and the government in Tehran?
Ahmadinejad is obviously a much more provocative president than Mohammad Khatami, who was someone who stressed dialogue. But I think that Iran’s foreign policy, the statements of its president, are very much reflective of a general sense of threat to the Iranian nation. This is felt not only by the government but by the Iranian people as well. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, its policies in Palestine, Lebanon, and elsewhere, its threats to invade Iran, and, of course, the nuclear power issue have all contributed to a heightened sense of insecurity. Iranians are very much united on the nuclear issue, whether they support the regime or not, because it’s very much a source of national pride. Iranians are very jealous of their national sovereignty.
For all these reasons, I think, the Iranian government is in a defensive position now, regardless of its influence over the region. I think it’s only natural that Iran would try and affect developments in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere as a response to U.S. intervention and hegemony, or attempted hegemony, in these countries. Iran is a neighbor of Iraq. It has not only interests in the region but it has ideological and religious links with other groups in the Middle East. The people of region do not see Iran as their main threat. Only 6% of Arab Sunnis see Iran as a threat. Over 80% see the U.S. and Israel as a threat. Therefore, I think it’s only natural that Iran attempts to defend itself in this manner. Regardless of whether or not one approves of its tactics, it is in a defensive position.
Iran is surrounded virtually on all sides by U.S. military forces: in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Gulf is the site of major U.S. naval forces. Nevertheless, Dick Cheney and Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol are still talking about the Iranian threat to the United States.
One has to look at, obviously, what propels these neoconservatives to make accusations against Iran of this kind. Even if they are true, even if Iran is sponsoring resistance groups in Iraq—and I think that there is a lot of evidence which does point in that direction—I don’t think that should come as any surprise to the United States, which as you rightly pointed out, has basically encircled Iran with its military bases in the region and, of course, with its almost daily threats of attacking the country not only to strike at nuclear facilities but even to institute regime change in Tehran as it has done elsewhere.
Abdullah of Jordan, one of the so-called moderate leaders in the region, has injected this term Shi ‘a Crescent into the discourse. The media, almost on cue, has picked it up and repeats it.
That’s a load of nonsense. There is no Shi’ite Crescent. What do we mean when we say Shi’ite Crescent? We mean basically that Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria are all strategic allies. First of all, Syria is not a Shi’ite country. Secondly, Hamas is a Sunni Islamist organization. And thirdly, Hezbollah and other groups don’t have this natural affinity with the Shi’ite government in Iraq now. So it doesn’t add up.
Arab regimes are trying desperately to find a way of saving face among their people. And the only way to do that is by creating a Shi’ite bogeyman with which to threaten Arab Sunnis in the hope that they will rally against Iran and groups like Hezbollah, who pose a threat not to the security of these countries but to the interests of these regimes, who see in Iran and Hezbollah a dangerous model of resistance against the United States and Israel, which they, of course, have failed to provide.
Seymour Hersh has written many ground-breaking articles in The New Yorker. One of them was entitled “The Redirection,” in which he suggests that the Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, will be funding Sunni groups to resist this Shi’a tidal wave, as it is said. It’s been suggested that Fatah al-Islam, which has been fighting in Lebanon, is one such organization. Is there any evidence this?
There is no concrete evidence to date which points in that direction other than circumstantial and historical evidence that the U.S. does have a precedent of supporting Sunni radical groups, as they did previously in Afghanistan. And also, Seymour Hersh talked about Saudi funding of these organizations. There is a history of that as well regarding Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and so on, when the Soviet Union was a threat. Now, when Shi’ites are a threat, such as Iran and Hezbollah, then it’s perhaps, one could say, only natural that the U.S. would attempt this strategy again, although it is a failed strategy ultimately.
But I do think that there is evidence, let me say, that the Americans, the Saudis, and the Hariri group in Lebanon have been trying to depict the current conflict as one between Sunnis and Shi’ites. That in itself might very well point to attempts at perhaps co-opting groups like this in the hope that they could confront Hezbollah and Shi’ites. There is no hard evidence of this, of course, but with the growing sectarian Sunni discourse of these Arab regimes, of the Hariri group in Lebanon, and according to many accounts in the media by Sunnis themselves, I don’t see it as too far-fetched.
In your book you devote a chapter to Hezbollah views on Zionism and Judaism. I found it interesting reading, because obviously there is a political objection to Zionism, but I didn ‘t realize that there was a theocratic objection to Judaism.
While Hezbollah, of course, does not really try and highlight this anti-Judaic discourse, I don’t think one can completely deny it. But, again, here I think we have to be very careful, although many will disagree with me, that we must distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in the sense that the anti-Judaism, which characterizes not only Hezbollah but many Islamist organizations and many Muslims in the region, has much less to do with the Jews as a people; in fact, it has very little to do with them as a people but more to do with the religion itself. This is very largely a theological objection rather than a political one in the sense that the Jews, who were considered to be originally a people of the book, were later seen as having deviated from and distorted the message of Moses, and creating a whole new religion of their own, which is not really the authentic message, as it’s considered. So it’s very much of a theological, religious objection to Judaism. And there were many wars between Jews and Muslims. So there is that historical animosity as well.
But it is not a racist or racial hostility towards Jews as a people in the same sense that Europeans in the past practiced a very strong form of racism against the Jews, which was not theologically based. But I would say that this anti-Judaism, the quotes I picked up in my book from Hezbollah officials, which were anti-Judaic, were almost always in a political context in the sense that Israel’s practices today were likened to Jews’ wars against Muslims in the past, and the fact that Israel has very much exploited Judaism in the service of its political goals today. So it’s very much of an exacerbated by Zionism.
How do you feel about their position on this?
As I said, it has not been something that they go around proudly showing off. I picked pieces here and there. It is not a daily discourse. It is not something that is widely known or publicized. But at the same time I do think that this has been a source of much misunderstanding and friction between Jews, Americans, Westerners, and Islamist organizations like Hezbollah. Even leaders like Ahmadinejad, who has been, because of his Holocaust denial, for example, which, by the way, Hezbollah practices as well, although not as flagrantly and regularly as Ahmadinejad, have been a lot of source of tension between Jews, Westerners, and these organizations. I do think it is rather unnecessary on their part to go around recalling historical animosities, theological animosities, and so on, which does not serve them in any way, really.
The Fund for Peace lists Lebanon as a failed state. There is out migration. Some of the most talented people are leaving. There is just palpable anxiety as we sit here. Where will the next bomb go off, where will the next assassination be? Wither Lebanon?
It’s very sad. Lebanon has never really had a strong state, and that’s why Lebanon has been subject to one invasion after another, one occupation after another, be it the Americans, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Palestinians, the French. You name it. Ever since Lebanon’s inception, it’s been subject to this complete lack of sovereignty. And today it continues.
I don’t think the main issue is only that Israel continues to occupy Lebanese land, which it does. The greater issue, I think, more significant, which impacts on people’s daily lives is really the lack of political sovereignty insofar as Lebanon’s fate is in the hands of the United States and foreign powers. And, of course, Syria continues to attempt, at least, to destabilize Lebanon. That’s to some extent very probable. But at the same time, Syria does not have much influence in Lebanon anymore. It withdrew its forces from the country. Hezbollah is not a Syrian tool. Therefore, I can’t say that Syria has a strong foothold in Lebanon. It doesn’t at all, in fact.
The strongest power in Lebanon today is the United States. The Siniora government, unfortunately, has not been able to strengthen its position, which it could if it formed a national unity government with the opposition. If it weren’t for the United States, I believe this government would have formed a national unity government. The U.S. has been the main obstacle to any resolution to this political crisis today. And it has made its objection to a national unity government very clear and plain on several occasions. This is not simply an analysis. It’s a fact. The U.S. does not want to see a government of national unity, early elections, or anything else that could solve the current political crisis, which is costing this nation economically, socially, and politically.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)David Barsamian
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