Monday, November 2, 2009

Hezbollah in the Larger Scheming of Things

In the early days of last September, Ibrahim Amin delivered a scorcher. The editor-in-chief of al Akhbar, a leading left-leaning broadsheet whose sympathies for Hezbollah are as visceral as they are principled, wagged his caress-worn finger at the Party of God. It was the surest sign yet that the ululating faux pas involving Mr. Salah Ezziddine had indeed the makings of a full-blown scandal.
On the surface of this man’s sin squirmed a group of embarrassing revelations: the mysterious two days and nights Salah spent with Hezbollah before he was sent on his way to declare his bankruptcy to the Lebanese state; the inconvenient detail that this glaringly pious businessman was not the Madoff of the Shiites, but the Madoff of Hezbollah’s Shiites, a community whose blind faith in him stemmed directly from its blind faith in the Party; the absurdly high 40, 50, even 80% returns on dodgy speculative projects that spoke of sloth and greed and gluttony afflicting a sect which still liked to think of itself as deprived; and, of course, Hezbollah’s indulgence in business practices that mocked not a few teachings by Islam.
But as damaging as these disclosures were, their impact paled before that of the much larger question that recast a seemingly scrawny tale of theft and betrayal as a political bombshell: ensconced in its Shiite terrain, all mighty and divine, did Hezbollah, as Fida’ Itani put it in yet another al Akhbar editorial, shave the beard and put on the neck tie?
Or, as Amin lamented at the end of his September 4th column: “Many years ago, there was a man high up in the enemy’s hierarchy whose name is Uri Lubrani. Do you remember him? He was the coordinator of the enemy’s operations in Lebanon. Once, during a discussion on how to face the tough and stubborn foe that goes by the name of Hezbollah, he remarked: ‘We will be able to nail it only when the contagion that struck the PLO in Lebanon hits it; that is, when it becomes a show off and bourgeois.’ “
In a region where newspapers are little more than echo chambers, this is what we interminably skeptical spectators call an interesting moment. It’s not that newspapers like al Akhbar had never before chided Hezbollah, but whereas the old rebukes were about missteps and miscalculations, this one was about essence and trajectory. The meaning of resistance itself—as an identity, as liberation theology, as a down-to-earth, temptation-free way of life, as a socio-economic proposition in earnest search of alternatives to capitalism and globalization--was on the table. And those who put it there were not the usual disbelievers, but the devotees and admirers. Hezbollah, for the first time, was being called into account by its own followers.
All those dreams and expectations that wove myths on the coattails of genuine achievements were having epiphanies and experiencing doubt. Old sacred truths were becoming fair game in the debate arenas.
But the last thing you want to do is treat Salah Ezziddine as a lone matter in a room full of strangers. Context is everything in the Arab world. Salah is not only about the inevitabilities of extreme exposure for a party who has long been on the political scene. Nor is his indecency, and Hezbollah’s implication in it, merely a parable about the particularly odious corruptibility of those who peddle themselves as spokespersons for the deities.
So, when following the thread of Hezbollah’s Salah, you might want to probe farther in the fog for the other intrigues that appear to be wrapped around it. Like those about the UAE’s recent expulsion of around 40 of the many Lebanese Shiites residing in the Emirates, and the forced return of Imam Abd al Mun’im Qubaisi, one of Hezbollah’s fundraisers, from the Ivory Coast’s Abidjan. And those about the court case currently on-going against a so-called Hezbollah cell in the land of the Nile, and the movement’s busted sabotage activities in Azerbaijan. And those about the Katyushas flying from Southern Lebanon into Northern Israel, courtesy of the Battalions of Ziad al Jarah, a Jihadi group with links to al Qaeda, and subsequent Israeli taunts that Hezbollah is losing its grip on the South.
Like pieces, these news items fit into that puzzle that is Israel and Iran, both of whose regimes at present are as seemingly hostile as they are palpably distraught. This is a very intricate dance as colored by Shiite-Sunni sectarianism as it is driven by hard-ball politics. It is all the more interesting, then, that Turkey, the region’s Sunni powerhouse, should be building bridges to and striking deals with Shiite Tehran at a time when Arab Sunnis and other chums of America are encircling Persia’s allies in their own backyard. It is even more interesting that the US, contrary to conventional wisdom, may actually be encouraging Turkey’s extended hand, which explains Israel’s furious facial expressions from what is increasingly looking like a tight spot.
These are delicate times, however. So, mind the ifs and buts and maybes that pester every other line of this unfolding story.