Strange and scary names like Hamas and Mujahideen and
Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah cited over and over in the news create sensations
of tension and fear. Hezbollah is a familiar name, usually linked to repetitive
scenes of tightly knit military formations marching shoulder to shoulder over
streets of the Arab world. The more curious observer might wonder who they
For how much can one understand from a name if one doesn�t even
know what the name means? For example, how much information about terrorism is
comprehensibly transferable to the West by the name, Hezbollah -- Party of God?
As the Deputy Director of Ronald Reagan�s White House Task
Force On Terrorism, Edward Peck once said, �The terrorist is in the eye of the
beholder.� It depends on where and when the terrorist act occurs, on one�s
point of view. Peck meant that what for the oppressed is resistance to naked
power, for the oppressor smacks of terrorism. Nationalistic Hungarians in 1956
considered themselves freedom fighters; for their Soviet oppressors they were
terrorists in a conspiracy against the New Order. When Israelis were fighting
for the establishment of their state, their English oppressors considered them
When the president�s man made that statement, Reagan had
called the Libyan leader Qaddafi �the most dangerous man in the world.� Today
the Arab Qaddafi is again a friend of the whole West.
The name rings grim. Just the sound of Hez-bol-lah in
English! The guttural sound strikes terror in the West. Well informed people in
the USA consider Hezbollah a violent terrorist organization. The US State
Department labels it the cr�me de la cr�me of terrorists, worse than Saddam
Hussein ever was and charges it with the 1983 bombing attacks on the US Embassy
in Beirut and a Marine barracks, killing around 300 Americans. Hezbollah has
also been charged with the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos
Hezbollah considers itself a resistance organization. Like
every resistance organization, Hezbollah counts on its fame to help its cause.
Its leaders have often wanted Hezbollah to get the blame, or the credit --
depends on your point of view -- for terrorist attacks. Still today, the United
States, Canada and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization while
United Europe does NOT include it on its terrorist list.
For most Lebanese, American insistence on linking Hezbollah
to Al Qaeda is ridiculous. But many Americans believe it to be true. Such
misconceptions lie behind Washington�s whole strategy in the Middle East.
For Moslems of Lebanon, Al Qaeda is a terrorist group. But not
Hezbollah. For Lebanese, Hezbollah is a resistance movement and a social relief
organization. The distinction is fundamental. And besides, today it is a
political party in the Lebanese Parliament.
An Arab friend told me this: the best way to understand
Hezbollah is to think of it first of all as a Shiite political party -- the
name means �Party of God.� In Arabic Hizb-allah. Hezbollah was founded in 1982
on the heels of the Iranian Revolution to lead a guerilla war against Israeli
occupation of south Lebanon. When the Israeli troops abandoned Lebanon in 2000
after 22 years of occupation, the entire Arab world considered it a great
victory. Guns were fired in the air to celebrate the first victory against
Hezbollah is today popular in the Arab world. It has
organized schools and clinics. Its hospitals offer free medical care to its
members. It has its own press and TV. Surveys after Israel�s war on Lebanon
last year showed that 87 percent of Lebanese supported Hezbollah, including
most Christians, Druse and Sunni Moslems.
Nonetheless, Hezbollah is an armed party.
But, after all, there are armed parties everywhere.
America�s Republican Party has armed a whole fundamentalist people in the USA
-- plus the Blackwater secret militia -- who also resort to terrorism, as a
rule directed against America.
More recently Hezbollah has been defined as a political
party that occasionally uses violence for political leverage. It is in fact
both political party and resistance-guerrilla organization. For the Shiites of
Lebanon, Hezbollah is practically a state-within-a-state. That is the way
Lebanon is today. Hezbollah is a political party, with its own army and a
social service network for the masses in the slums of south Beirut. And it has
a budget of millions of dollars!
So where does the money come from?
Hezbollah claims it is funded by contributions from the Arab
world. The United States believes its money and arms come from Iran and Syria.
Similarly, everyone knows who arms and finances Israel. Even
Brits have raised a stink about fleets of American planes carrying super
weapons to Israel using British airports.
Hezbollah members wear red bandannas. Its soldiers dressed
in green march in tight formations with automatic weapons in their arms. Their
yellow and green flag has a fist holding the machine gun. The Hezbollah flag is
an old idea, calling for an Islamic Revolution in Lebanon!
But in Hezbollah, they don�t talk much about an Islamic
state anymore. In practice it largely ignores the Islamic Shariah. Lebanese
nationalism is the order of the day -- political alliances, trade unions, female
In many ways, Hezbollah is practically Social Democratic.
The irony is that someday Hezbollah could become a member of the Socialist
International together with the Israeli Laborites. They could form a Middle
Eastern bloc together. Another irony: Lebanon and Israel are the two most
Europe-oriented countries in the Middle East, both sometimes mentioned as
candidate members of the European Union.
Hezbollah emerged as a Shiite resistance movement against
the Israeli invasion of Lebanon 25 years ago. Fifteen thousand Lebanese died in
that war. The victims were Shiites, the poorest people of Lebanon who
constitute 40 percent of the population. Hezbollah became their protector. Even
non-believers felt socially driven to collaborate, despite the party�s initial
From the beginning, Iran�s ayatollahs have been Hezbollah�s
spiritual leaders, their holy men, and they share the same holy sites at
Karbala in Iraq and Qom in Iran. Shiites all! Since Iran was busy with its war
with Iraq in the 1980s, it trained Hezbollah militants and let them fight the
war against Israeli occupiers for them. Hezbollah launched attacks against one
and all -- Israelis, American and French.
It was the same old story. For Westerners it was terrorism.
For Lebanese it was resistance. The result of the Israeli war against Lebanon
then was that as ally and sponsor of Hezbollah, the Qom ayatollahs gained a
foothold in Lebanon and the Middle East.
One must grasp the significance of the Hezbollah �victory�
against Israel in 2000 to understand Palestine, Iraq or Iran today. Hezbollah�s
victory proved that resistance pays. It works. Not terrorism, but resistance!
They fought with any arms they had and they forced foreign withdrawal.
Guerrilla war and resistance are not synonymous with terrorism. No more than
antiglobalists are terrorists.
The terrorist forgets goals. The terrorist forgets ideas in
the name of pure terror. He�s a fake nationalist.
The guerrilla instead is a resistance warrior. A freedom
fighter. A nationalist. Sometimes he uses the same methods as the terrorist but
he has a purpose -- liberty and independence for a people or a nation or
support for an idea. European guerrillas who fought against the Nazis were the
resistance, la resistence, i
partigiani, la resistenza.
They were not terrorists. The guerrilla warrior has an idea.
Though Hezbollah still gets support for its military
operations from Syria and Iran and though it does a job for Iran and Syria too,
it appears more and more autonomous. Long ago it ceased to be an
Iranian-dominated and controlled militia.
Nationalism is the key word. Hezbollah moreover sets an
example for other Arab peoples. Hezbollah has said that the question of the
existence of Israel can wait. Lebanon�s Palestinian neighbors are impressed
with Hezbollah�s winning ways -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad adopted its martyrdom
But Hezbollah itself has become so political and nationalist
that it denounces Al Qaeda attacks on Western civilians. It labels September 11
an act of terrorism and views the conflict with Israel as an existential
struggle, not a conflict over land. In 2005 national elections, Hezbollah alone
obtained 11 percent of the vote, while the Resistance and Development Bloc to
which it belongs obtained 27 percent. It has 14 parliamentary deputies and
controls three key ministries -- Foreign Affairs, Energy and Labor.
But what about Hezbollah�s recruiting and training kids for
First of all, Hezbollah today speaks a nationalist language
in Lebanon but a language still saturated with Shiite theology. It stresses
resistance and also martyrdom. Martyrdom is an ancient Shiite tradition,
reaching back to the grandson of the Prophet, Hussein ibn Ali, who was slain by
troops of the hostile caliph at Karbala in Iraq in 680 A.D. When Israel
occupied Lebanon, Hezbollah exploited the Hussein cult to glorify the idea of
kamikaze attacks. Though the Hezbollah TV station has promoted martyrdom
theology, things began changing a decade ago.
Some Middle East observers are convinced that Hezbollah�s
evolution is cosmetic, concealing its strategy to make Lebanon an Islamic
Republic. Hezbollah denies such an intent. Europe-oriented Lebanese are too
pragmatic for that. With their French, English, Greek and ancient cultures,
they are too cosmopolitan. They have been cosmopolitan for millennia. Lebanese
peoples love Europe. And Europeans love Lebanon and Beirut, the Paris of the
Middle East. Unlike Saudis, Lebanese do not have Islamic fundamentalism in
their DNA. They are too secular, also too politically oriented for Iran. They
are the other side of the moon from Saudis.
Hezbollah had everything to gain by entering the Lebanese
political arena. It wound down �terrorist� activities, although hanging onto
its Katyusha rockets and its militia, just in case, leaving both options open
-- politics and resistance. Its leaders turned out to be right. For in July of
last year, Israel launched a long-planned 34-day war against Lebanon on the
pretext of an unprovoked Hezbollah attack on Israeli military units. Israel
bombed Beirut, destroying infrastructures and killing thousands of civilians
and again reinforced Hezbollah�s image in Lebanon and its maturing nationalist
Nonetheless, Hezbollah is still dei]picted in the West as the
most violent terrorist organization. After the 2006 war, Human Rights Watch
charged Hezbollah for indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli towns with the
intent of killing and maiming civilians.
Hezbollah rebutted that HRW is nothing but an American mouthpiece.
Islamic organizations, groups and splinter groups are not
only elusive they often change sides. They are also at war with themselves. To
many Arabs the suggestion of a war between civilizations is laughable. Some
Arabs consider that an idea of Western quirks, or American religious fanatics,
or journalists trying to make a name for themselves. Friends today, enemies
tomorrow. It is hard know who�s who among the Arab peoples. They forget
themselves. You see it every day in Iraq.
In the end it all has to do with political power. And that�s
where Hezbollah and, to a certain extent, Hamas in Palestine show their stuff.
If anything they are, in fact, surprisingly less divisive than traditional
power structures in the Arab world.
In an article, �Is There A Good Terrorist,� some years ago
in the New York Review of Books,
Timothy Garton Ash cited Schiller�s lines from Wilhelm Tell: �When the oppressed man can find
justice in no other way, then he calmly reaches up into the sky and pulls down
his eternal rights that hang there, inalienable and, like the stars,
imperishable. When no other means remains, then he must needs take up the
Stewart, writer and journalist, is originally from Asheville, NC. After studies
at the University of California at Berkeley and other American universities, he
has lived his adult life abroad, first in Germany, then in Italy, alternated
with long residences in The Netherlands, France, Mexico and Russia. After a
career in journalism as the Italian correspondent for the Rotterdam daily
newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, and contributor to the press, radio and TV in various European
countries, he writes fiction full-time. His books of fiction, "Icy
Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger" and "Once
In Berlin" are published by Wind
River Press. His new novel, "Asheville," is published by www.Wastelandrunes.com He lives with
his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: email@example.com.