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To understand Hezbollah

Faith and Resistance: The Politics of Love and War in Lebanon
Forfatter: Sarah Marusek
Forlag: Pluto Press (Storbritannia)
Hezbollah has Islamized the class struggle. The belief gives strength to an ignored population, concludes author and researcher Sarah Marusek after two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Lebanon.


In the West, religion is considered a conservative force. Therefore, religious movements are considered reactionary or fundamentalist. This view, however, fails to seize the revolutionary potential of religious activism: Just think of Malcolm X or Pastor Martin Luther King jr. during the American civil rights struggle, or the Christian church in South Africa. The latter played a significant role in the fight against apartheid by publishing the Kairos document in July 1985, challenging the church's response to the apartheid policy of the white regime in Pretoria.

The revolutionary potential of religious activism.

Many continue to distrust religions as such, since Western understanding of concepts such as believe og rationality was changed during the Enlightenment period. Later, this skepticism was exported to the global South through colonial systems, such as the bureaucratic state and the capitalist free market, both of which promote a particular form of instrumental rationality, often at the expense of what it means to be human. To a large extent, this is where we stand today when it comes to Islam, at least related to what is considered radical features by religion.

Sarah Marusek, a writer and researcher at Leeds University, set out to get under the skin of this phenomenon and spent two years with ethnographic fieldwork in Lebanon. We find the result of her research Faith and Resistance: The Politics of Love and War in Lebanon. The book focuses on Shia Islam, and especially on one of the most divided Shia Islamic groups – Hezbollah.

Social movement

According to Marusek, religion becomes a revolutionary force when activists refuse to reconcile religion with unjust conditions. Throughout much of Islamic history, the Shiites have longed for the return of the Twelfth Imam, Mahdi, but have not considered this to be possible in this world – only in the next. However, this changed during the 20th century, with widespread utopian thinking of the period, and Shia Islam has become a liberation theology that seeks salvation by seeing the dominant ideas and practices of Western secular liberalism through religious or mythic optics.

Western secular liberalism seen through religious optics.

A key figure in this development is the Iraqi ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr (1935–80). He sought a fundamental rethinking of Islamic ideology by deconstructing Western ideas. He reinterpreted canonical texts in the light of new scientific facts, and at a time when Arab socialism was becoming popular, he demonstrated the superiority of the Islamic religion. But first and foremost, he did believe relevant and relevant to the present, by creating a modern framework for an Islamic economic system.

Al-Sadr paved the way for Ayatollah Khomeini, who came to power in Iran in 1979, and he became the source of inspiration when the Shiites in Lebanon united, first in the Amal movement, later in Hezbollah. Hezbollah emerged as a social movement, to the benefit of the oppressed Shiites in the slums of Beirut and in rural southern Lebanon. Modeled on al-Sadr's thinking, Hezbollah used the faith as a tool to create personal pride, and all the way was love the key word: love of individual freedom and love of one's neighbor, whether he or she was Sunni, Christian or Jewish. Only when the need arose, with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, did Hezbollah become a fighting force.

Assad's allies

According to Marusek, Hezbollah has Islamized the class struggle; faith has given strength to an ignored population. This is what the West has not realized when Hezbollah is primarily branded as a terrorist group. She claims that Robespierre and his reign of terror during the French Revolution are a relevant parallel, and points out that the African National Congress was characterized as a terrorist organization during the fight against apartheid.

Sarah Marusek delivers a sharp and nuanced analysis.

But why did Hezbollah end up in the company of a brutal dictator like Bashar al-Assad early in the Syrian civil war? This can hardly be called progressive and modern, because when it comes down to it, all resistance is about fighting oppression. During frequent visits to Lebanon, Marusek looked at this development with great concern, but she gives an explanation that only emphasizes the West's stereotypical way of thinking. For it is a regional issue: After the US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime in 2003, the Iraqi Shiites took a stance that a majority can give the bluff to the minority. The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt behaved just as arrogantly after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and the development within the global movement for a free Palestine was not much better: Shiites were kept out. In Lebanon, this resulted in a breakdown in relations between the Palestinians and Hezbollah. The Palestinians sided with the opponents of Assad, so Hezbollah decided to side with the dictator. The reasons were tactical, but for the West this was just another sign that Hezbollah had joined a sworn enemy of democracy – and therefore must be considered a terrorist group.

Sarah Marusek delivers a sharp and nuanced analysis of the precarious situation of Shia-Muslim resistance theology in Lebanon, and along the way she launches new definitions of the term terror, something western people have a hard time understanding. But, as she writes, in a deviation from the usual academic style: "All this shows that shit is really complicated."

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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