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How Does Hezbollah Interpret Civil War?

How Does Hezbollah Interpret Civil War?

Wednesday, 27 October, 2021 - 09:15

With the Lebanese terrified by the specter of civil war, Sheikh Naim Qassem offered us his definition of this war or its equivalents: It is Tarek Bitar who “brought the problems and calamities upon us, and he should leave so that the situation stabilizes.”

To many, this phrase echoed by Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general seemed to be the outcome of genuine stupidity. However, that is not the case. It is, first and foremost, the outcome of functional malice aimed at trivializing the meaning of civil war and thus of its “problems” and “calamities,” as well as presenting light, improvised meanings for them and how to avoid them that conceal their real meanings.

Before that, during his televised speech, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah casually stated: “The civil war has nothing to do with us.” Party leaders and spokesmen often reiterate this phrase or something of a similar sort.

The fact is that the goal behind this affirmation, which is stated as though it were obvious, is easy to understand: we are above and beyond the civil war, above it in the sense of moral superiority, and beyond it in the sense that resistance moves us from one epoch to another in the same way that the dawn always follows the darkness and turns the page on it.

Behind this goal is another: we are not a subject that the Lebanese are divided over like those that trigger civil wars. We are something that they agree about. You have been, as we had been, before Hezbollah’s emergence, knee-deep in the ugliness of infighting that divides and scatters, and with the party, we have been flying in the skies of total resistance that brings us all together.

All of that is untrue. What is true about it, if we were to consider the civil war to have ended with the Two Year War (1975-6), is that the party did not exist as a party at the time.

However, even then, the validity of the statement remains extremely relative because the most prominent of those who would become party leaders had been involved in the war through their membership in its factions: Hassan Nasrallah himself had been a member of the “Amal Movement”, and he actively contributed to operations conducted in his village of Al-Bazouriyeh in the southern district of Tyre.

Imad Mughniyeh was part of Fatah, and by some accounts, Palestinian leader Abu Hassan Salameh gifted Mughniyeh’s services as a bodyguard to Yasser Arafat, whom he guarded under the latter’s final days in Beirut in 1982.

For its part, the claim that Hezbollah’s members, by defecting from their parties or joining their new party, broke with the civil war mentality is untenable. Hussein Al-Moussawi’s experience shows that the exact opposite is true. The Amal Movement’s deputy head defected from the party and established “Islamic Amal,” at precisely the same time that its leader, Nabih Berri, decided to moderate his positions slightly and reach a national compromise with his Lebanese counterparts. Moussawi swiftly took his movement and integrated into the then nascent Hezbollah.

That means that rather than breaking with the civil war, Hezbollah sought regional powers’ help to fight in it. It thereby took a stance more rooted in civil strife and more tightly linked to its regional dimension. It thus added to the war more flammable elements that ignite conflict and are harder to extinguish.

If, on the other hand, we consider the civil war to mean the period between 1975 and 1990, then this narrative is absolutely erroneous. The party was involved in some of that war’s fiercest battles, whether against the communists or Amal. The violence seen in Iqlim al-Tuffah, between the “brothers” in the party and the “brothers” in the Amal Movement crowned the war and required mediation from both the Syrians and the Iranians to end. That happened after fierce battles were fought in the South, the Bekaa, and Beirut’s southern suburbs.

However, only once we add the Arab and foreign victims to the Lebanese one can we see the extent to which the party invested in state absence, i.e., the extent to which it benefited from civil war to play a regional role.

Beyond all of that, the requisites for civil war are the same as those for the party’s ability to go on and maintain its arsenal, and it has ensured that they are met far more capably than the Palestine Liberation Organization had.

When Sheikh Naim Qassem says what he said, he is merely digging another one of the party’s rabbit holes for defining civil war: Judge Bitar has caused the “problems” and “calamities,” while only his departure can eliminate them.

War is only the opposite of peace superficially. At its core, it is the opposite of justice, especially since peace could be imposed through the force of arms. The Lebanese have lived a nominal or cold peace for years, while the reasons for civil war were accumulating behind the scenes.

Hezbollah, in this sense, is a regime of civil war because it possesses military force that others are barred from obtaining and because it, not the state, has become the entity that ensures and reassures or yanks its assurance when it finds that this furthers its interests. The effort to conceal this major fact is what pushes the party to depict Tarek Bitar, or any other person or event, as a reason for civil war.

Thus, the question on everyone’s lips ‘will war break out?’ remains inaccurate as long as it is not linked to the fact that the mere presence of weapons is itself a manifestation of permanent war.

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