The expression of Lebanese Shi'ite identity is a nationalist expression and an unintended result of Iranian efforts to influence the politics of Lebanon. In fact from the Cedar Revolution, to the Israel-Hezbullah war and beyond, Lebanon has appeared to be in the throes of a permanent political upheaval.
While Nicholas Blanford’s Warriors of God and Shaery-Eisenlohr ‘s Shi'ite Lebanon make an interesting contribution to the subject, they mention little about the development of Shi’ah theology.
It should further be empesised that the Iranian revolution made a general argument that the real issue in the Islamic world was to restore religious-based government—it remains to be stressed that this view opposed the pan-Arab vision of for example Nasser and thus regarded the particular nation-states as less important than the type of regime they had.
This is how this primarily Shi’ite, view came to be complemented by what was its Sunni counterpart. Rooted partly in Wahhabi Sunni religiosity and partly in the revolutionary spirit of Iran, its view was that the Islamic nation-states were the problem and that the only way to solve it was a transnational Islamic regime -- the caliphate -- that would restore the power of the Islamic world.
It is here that we can locate Hezbollah's Shi’ite, ideology and intentions in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a Shi’ite radical group that grew out of the Iranian revolution. However, there is a tension in its views, because it also is close to Syria. As such, it is close to a much more secular partner, more in the Nasserite tradition domestically.
Hence Hezbollah emerged as a group representing both, Syrian and Iranian interests.
Still, at the foundation of Hezbollah's ideological organization is an idealized Islamic state: a profoundly messianic construction, which has, as yet, not been fulfilled. This pan-Islamic republic will be headed by religious clerics. Only when the Mahdi or hidden Imam reappears can the utopian state of the Shi'ites truly achieve fulfillment. As a result, Hezbollah must focus its attention on the pre- Mahdist construction of the state, which they perceive, in one form, is represented by the Islamic Republic of Iran. In turn, much of their theory of the state is directly taken from the theories of Khomeini.
The creation of Lebanon
The Shi'a community is one of eighteen different religious groups that comprise the ‘Confessional’ -based political system in Lebanon. These include Sunni Muslims, Christian Maronites, Greek Orthodox, and Druze Muslims. Just as the Druze and Maronites, the Shi'a are a minority sect within their respective religions.
During the era of the Ottoman Empire, the Shi'a played virtually no role in the politics of the region, because the Ottomans ruled in the name of Sunni Muslim orthodoxy. (Juan Cole, Sacred Space and Holy War, 2002,16-30.)
During the latter years of the Ottoman Empire, the area surrounding Mount Lebanon in the Levant had been an autonomous region dominated by the Christian Maronites. Following World War I, the Maronites were successful in increasing the territory under their control to include the Bekaa Valley in what is now the southern part of Lebanon. This expansion of the control of the Maronites was supported by the French government, which had received the mandate over both Syria and Lebanon following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. (Kamal Salibi, A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered, University of California Press, 1988, 17.)
The new lands that came under the expanded control of the Maronites contained large numbers of both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The Sunni, in particular, strongly objected to Maronite rule over what they considered to be their lands. In response, and in an attempt to maintain control, the Maronites eventually struck a deal with Shi'a leaders. In return for a large degree of their own freedom of political action in the south, the Shi'a agreed to accept Maronite control. The Shi'a had long lived in the region as a minority group persecuted by the Sunni majority and, at the very least, sought to bring that practice to an end. Their efforts were successful. As a result oftheir support of the Maronites, the Shi'ites soon materialized as a distinct and important faction in Lebanon; a position they had not been able to assume previously. Indeed, beginning in 1926, the French allowed the Shi'ites to create their own, autonomous, religious-based infrastructure and to practice their religion without outside interference. (Jaber, Hezbollah, 9.)
As expected, the Christian Maronites emerged as the dominant political actor in the mandate. Out of respect for the diverse factions however, political power was divided among the various religious entities. In addition, certain political arrangements were established in an attempt to maintain regime stability and legitimacy. For example, the presidency of Lebanon would always be in the hands ofthe Christian Maronites, the prime minister would always be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly would always be in the hands of the Shi'as. Additionally, the ratio of Christian members of the assembly to Muslim members was fixed at six to five, a relationship that reflected the demographic majority of the Christians in 1932. This arrangement guaranteed that the Sunnis and the Christians would control the leading political and military positions in the new state of Lebanon.
Following ' World War II , Lebanon began to modernize. This process had a significant impact on all members of the state both socially and politically. And, this was particularly true of the Shi'ites. The infrastructure of the entire country began to both expand and improve. Transportation was made easier, which contributed to an influx of Shi'ites into Beirut , searching for a better life. Nonetheless, an almost immediate result was the rapid expansion of the "Belt of Misery."
Modernization impacted the media and the availability of information among the entire population. Radio and television contributed to a growing awareness among the Shi'a that their position within Lebanon was not what it could be, in a way that they had not been impacted before. This exacerbated their sense of relative deprivation and made the lack of social mobility, all the more painfully obvious. Most Shi'a in Lebanon saw an almost continuous sequence of what they perceived of as unjust government and a society that simply did not seem to work for them. And, Sunni hegemony within the Islamic community, placing the Shi'a in a sort of permanent minority status among the faithful, tended to exacerbate these problems.
Thus during the 1940s and 1950s, a significant gap was growing, economically, politically, and socially, between the Shi'ites and the rest of the country, largely because the government in Beirut tended to neglect them. Perhaps worse yet, semi feudal, landowning elites in the south were far more interested in their own personal gain than they were in the welfare of the Shi'a community as a whole. As a result, whereas the rest of Lebanon was modernizing, the Shi'ites lacked basic necessities: schools, hospitals, roads, and even running water in many instances. In comparison with the prospering areas of the Sunnis and Christians, their standard ofliving was medieval. As an example, in an analysis prepared in 1943, at the time of Lebanon 's independence, it was noted that there was not one hospital in the entire south Lebanon area. The closest health clinic was in Sidon , Tyre , or Nabatiyya, all in the middle or northern sections of the country. Further, the availability of water for irrigation or human consumption was a persistent problem in the region. Nonetheless, there was very little that the new Lebanese state was willing or was able to do for the minority and increasingly marginalized Shi'a community. (For details see Graham E. Fuller and Rend Rahim Francke, The Arab Shi’a: The Forgotten Muslims, 1999)
At another level, Shi'a religious leaders and many members of the lay public did not trust the government, which they perceived of as a secular, unworthy, activity. As a result, members of the Shi'ite community purposely held back from participating in public affairs, even within those fields that were within reach to them professionally. (Fuller and Francke, The Arab Shi’a, 46.)
In 1958, a civil war erupted in Lebanon, largely as a result of the increased factionalism caused by the political arrangements established over 20 years earlier. Predictably, the Christian community had developed an increasingly pro-Western orientation, gaining the favor of not only France , but the United States . This orientation came into conflict with the growing pan-Arab ideology of the Sunni Muslims throughout the region. Ultimately, U.S. troops intervened in the fighting and order was established when the leader of Lebanon 's army, Fouad Chehab, was elected president. (Fuller and Francke, 10.)
Then came, Ayatollah Khomeini who sought to connect the Shi'a past, with the Shi'a nature, and contend that “Western” thought and values are dangerous. He advanced the new theory of political Islam that promoted direct clerical rule whose task it was to act as representatives of the hidden Imam. Plus as he stated:
The two qualities of knowledge of the law and justice are present in countless fuqaha [the religious scholars] of the present age. If they would come together, they could establish a government of universal justice in the world. If a worthy individual possessing these two qualities arises and establishes a government, he will possess the same authority as the Most Noble Messenger in the administration of society, and it will be the duty of all people to obey him.( Khomeini, Islam and Revolution)
The concept of political authority resting in the hands of one high-ranking, religious scholar was not new in Shi'a scholarship and theology. And it was certainly not created by Khomeini. Such a concept is steeped in Iranian tradition and culture. It was first expressed in written form, and in a religio-political context, over 100 years before bv the Mullah Ahmad Naraqi. Khomeini was now reactivating it, with some modifications, "as a plausible theory of theocratic monism that was to assume the character of a miraculously revealed panacea to reverse imitative Westernization and to cure the strains of the rapidly emerging industrial society." (See, Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, 268-269.)
Since the hidden Imam remains in occultation, the legal and spiritual sovereignty that rests with him cannot be fully exercised. As result, he requires the assistance of representatives in the temporal world to deal 'with the practical and spiritual matter of guiding the community. The logical choice for these representatives is the ulama who have traditionally interpreted Islamic law for centuries. From among the ulama, one can emerge who is the most enlightened and venerated cleric within the community. Ultimate authority of interpretation rests in his hands: the velayat-e faqih. (See En'and Abrahamian, The Iranian Mohahedin, Yale University Press, 1989, p.22 .)
Then as we have seen in p.1 Al-Sadr, a Persian by birth, and thus non-Arab, was capable of leading the Arab Shi'a community of south Lebanon .
In 1975, he created the Afwaj al-Muqawamah al-Lubnaniyah or Battalions of the Lebanese Resistance. The organization quickly became known as simply AMAL, or "hope." Al-Sadr modified ancient interpretations of the martyrdom of Husayn and like Khomeini, created a more activist movement.
“This revolution did not die in the sands of Kerbala; it flowed into the life stream of the Islamic world, and passed from generation to generation, even to our day. It is a deposit placed in our hands so that we may profit from it, that we draw out of it a new source of reform, a new position, a new movement, a new revolution, to repel the darkness, to stop tyranny and to pulverize evil.” (Transcript of al-Sadr speech as it appeared in Al Hayat, February 1, 1974 .)
Hezbollah rejects both nationalism and ethnicity as a basis for the identity of either the organization or its adherents. Loyalty to Lebanon is irreconcilable with the prophecy of Hezbollah. Indeed, the unrest that exists within the country is perceived of as the unavoidable result of synthetic and illegitimate formation. Hezbollah leaders assert that the country possesses no justifiable or lawful basis for its existence, and that its manmade borders were created by the great powers in order to facilitate a political deal in the 1920s. (Martin Kramer, Hezbollah's Vision of the West, Washington Institute for Near East Policy Papers, Number Sixteen, 1989, p. 27.)
Or as articulated by Naiim Qassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary general:
In our region we have a problem with the West, which at one time placed us under the French mandate, at other times under the British mandate and over certain periods we were politically governed by the whims of the United States . When the West moves into a region, it does so with the intention of marketing its principles. It establishes schools, its own educational curriculum, Western cultural institutions, its own media, practically its own way oflife and thinking. All of this, in a bid to impose its own ideologies in our region ... they seek to impose their own Western principles, not taking ours into consideration, in an attempt to suck us into their own agenda. From here we consider that there is a cultural conflict between us and the West and it is our job to invalidate their concepts here, to prove their evil and to spread our vision instead. If we succeed we will have obstructed their political agenda and this is our first kind of confrontation. (Quoted in Jaber, Hezbollah, 56-57. )
On April 18, 1983, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was destroyed in a massive explosion carried out by a Hezbollah suicide bomber, killing a total of 63. Six months later, a U.S. Marine compound located near the Beirut airport and a French military compound four miles away were bombed within seconds of one another killing 299.
Or take for example Hezbollah Salah Ghandour, who in 1995 drove his car, laden with bombs, into an Israeli military compound. Before his death, he recorded his final message:
I shall, insha'allah [God willing], shortly after saying these words, be meeting my God with pride, dignity, and having avenged my religion and all the martyrs who preceded me on this route. In a short while I shall avenge all the martyrs and oppressed of Jabal Amel, South Lebanon, as well as the children and sons of the Intifada in Palestine . I shall avenge all those suffering in the tortured security zone. Oh sons of Ali and Hussein and sons of the great Imam Khomcini, God bless his soul. Yea sons of the leaders Khameini and sons of the martyr Abbas Musawi and Sheikh Ragheb Harb, your jihad, insha'allah, is the preparatory jihad for the anticipated Imam, so let us continue until we achieve our desired target and the Godly gratification and thus arrive at our Godly promise. We belong to God and to God we shall return. (Quoted in Jaber, Hezbollah, 86-87.)
The leaders of Hezbollah claim they possess a large number of young Shi'ites who are ready to give their lives in martyr attacks in order to play their part in ultimate success of the movement. Although many scholars of Islam have condemned the practice, the leadership of Hezbollah detends it. They assert that these young martyrs follow in one of the more powerful and durable traditions of Shi'ism, inspired originally by Husayn. (Jaber, Hezbollah, 84.)
In the same way, there is no room in Hezbollah's vision of the future of the community for expressions of either Arab or Persian ethnicity, which, it is argued, splits Shi'ites along unnecessary lines. (Ibid., 29. He cites a speech by Shaykh Ibrahim Qusayr ofDayr Qanun al-Nahr, Al-Ahd, February 28, 1986. The occasion was a visit by Iran 's charge d'affaires, Mahmud Nurani, to Beirut.)
As a result, Hezbollah argues that the "ties of Islamic belief are the only ties which truly bind, and they bind without distinction of origin, nationality, race, language, or sect." The party does not acknowledge any of the state boundaries that exist among the Islamic states. This is particularly true of those that divide the Islamic umma and hinder the formation of a true Islamic identity. According to their ideology: "all believing Muslims must work together to implement what Sayyid Ibrahim al-Amin calls the 'one Islamic world plan,' the aim of which is the creation of a 'Great Islamic State' which will unite the entire region." (Martin Kramer, "Redeeming Jerusalem: The Pan-Islamic Premise of Hizballah." In The Iranian Revolution and the Muslim World. Ed. David Menashri, 1990, p.118.)
In this way, identity within the movement is not grounded in ethnicity, nationalism, place of birth, or language. Rather, it is firmly grounded in the millenarian faith of Shi'ism that stands at its ideological foundation. The plan of achieving the.'Great Islamic State, they perceive, will proceed in four phases. First is confrontation with Israel. Second is the toppling of the Lebanese regime. Third will be the liberation of Lebanon from interference by the Great Powers. Finally, these will be followed by the establishment of Islam as the exclusive basis of rule in Lebanon "until the Muslims of Lebanon join with the Muslims throughout the world in this age, to implement the single Islamic plan, and so become the centralized, single nation (umma) willed by God, who decreed that 'your nation will be one."Hezbollah not only seeks to establish a republic in Lebanon based on the rule of Islam, they seek to incorporate such a state into a far broader entity that brings together all Muslims. According to Ibrahim al-Amin," Lebanon's agony will end only 'when the final Middle East map is drawn. We seek almighty God's help in drawing this map as soon as possible, with the blood of the martyrs and the strength of those who wage the jihad.' This messianic notion that a final map of the entire region is now being drawn in blood sets the struggle of Hezbollah in a larger pan-Islamic context for its adherents." (Kramer, "Redeeming Jerusalem," 119)
Thus Hezbollah asserts that Iran and Lebanon (as part of a 'new' caliphate) are one nation. Indeed, the party itself is a function of the universal Islamic Republic, symbolized by Iran. The Islamic Revolution only began in Iran. Ultimately it will spread throughout the community. (Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion, 2002, 72.)