Hassan Nasrallah: The New Face of Moderation in Lebanon and the Middle East ?

You kill a terrorist and you have another terrorist. This does not apply to moderates. Every time you kill a moderate you don't have another moderate but you rather contribute to the birth of a radical and a terrorist. Hassan Nasrallah is an exception to this rule. He is becoming a real moderate, I believe, and I will tell you why.

One thing Israel did very well in the middle east was to kill moderates, massively. From the Palestinian leaders killed repeatedly in Beyrouth and Palestinian camps in Lebanon in the seventies to the Palestinian leaders killed during the first and second intifada, there were no moderates left in Palestine, Lebanon and the Arab world. Arafat was an exception to the point where he was becoming suspected of collaboration with Israelis in the eyes of some. Finally they get rid of him when they no longer needed him to kill the Palestinian Liberation movement. Another thing I want to make clear, I don't consider Sadate as a moderate, I don't consider king Hussein of Jordan as a moderate. These leaders have chosen peace with Israel out of other considerations but definitely not moderation.

Recently, I came to believe that killing moderates did not only give rise to extremism in the middle east but also to more submissiveness. When you erase any kind of dialogue and existence in the middle, there remain only the two extremes; submissiveness and unbridled rebellion or what we call now extremism. And with the war in Iraq helping to reinforce this scheme, the political situation in the middle east is presently gearing toward these extremes. This is convenient for the ennemies of Arabs, Palestinians and Lebanese because it helps them justify their military hostilities and operations while dividing at the same time.

Now, one thing I want to make clear before defending where I believe Nasrallah stands politically; we are a true secularist family. We respect people of Faith but we are against organised religion, clerics and, most importantly, clerics who engage in Politics. I am a Christian Lebanese married outside religion with a third generation European liberal secularist whose grand'mother was communist and parents militant socialists, although we have no political affiliation. Our children are not baptised. I had to endure the hostility of my Christian Lebanese family and parents before they came to love my husband and discover that a man can have principles and morals outside religion. Even now I still have to endure the reprobation of the extended family when we unite for Christmas eve. My sister-in-law's mother would take me aside to ask me when am I going to baptise my children and to marry before the church and God, explaining to me that I am living in sin and that I should repent if I don't want to go directly to hell after my death. Finally she would try to convince me to save the children's soul if I don't want to save mine.

During the recent war in Lebanon, my husband, who visited lebanon only last year and fell in love with the country and its people, was advocating in our home an isolated peace treaty between Lebanon and Israel. 'Enough suffering', he would say,' you are not going to resolve the problems of the middle east. The solution to the Palestinian problem must come from the Palestinians themselves'. I didn't agree with him because I thought that he missed the big picture and that the Lebanese problem was a consequence of the Palestinian problem, one would not just resolve a collateral problem and leave the main unresolved. Peace treaties like the ones between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt did not help alleviate the main problem, on the contrary, they exacerbated it.

Yesterday, while discussing the situation in Lebanon during our evening meal my husband seemed optimistic. He was positively surprised by Nasrallah's speech. We agreed that the speech was moderate and patriotic. We agreed also that the speech was positive in the sense that it gave contours and outlines to what peace means for Lebanon and how this peace can be achieved by stating the conditions for it in a very clear way, not your kind of 'Israel has the right to exist' with its ever expanding borders and appetite for regional domination . It was positive also in the sense that it didn't tie peace in Lebanon to the Palestinian problem and to other middle eastern problems. The main focus was on Lebanon. One would not expect that from a man who is labeled as a terrorist and a Muslim extremist by western governments and as working at the orders of foreign governments like Iran !

The links in this post and at the end of the post contain descriptions of the speech and the attendance. I will state here what was most significant in the speech as gathered from the links found in this post.

Nasrallah on the present Lebanese government and other Arab governments: This is a weak government, he said, and certainly not the one who will be able to protect Lebanese and to reconstruct the country. Arab governments have been in a submissiveness mode for a long time now. This part of Nasrallah's speech reminds me of Ali Ibn Abi Taleb's war speeches. In high school in Lebanon I had an accomplished Arab litterature teacher who was at the same time an accomplished and published poet as well as an accomplished Arak drinker. He would ask us to learn all Ali's speeches by heart and to recite them in front of the class with the ardour and the emphasis they deserve. I remember that in the most famous of these speeches Ali starts by telling his men that he is not happy about the way they have been conducting themselves, he accuses them of being fearful and dull like women and children. In this regard, Nasrallah's take on Arab governments is in the tradition of Ali's speeches. However this is not a speech of an army chief to his troops, this is a speech of a Politician to his fellow Politicians. This is where Nasrallah's victory speech can be considered as political and not military because he is adressing his fellow Politicians - especially Lebanese Politicians because the mention of Arab governments is only here to remind Lebanese that they are taking their orders from other Arab governments - with the same perspective as them and telling them: if you want peace you should come to peace not weak but victorious.
Lebanese Politicians have a long tradition of selling their souls to foreign powers in exchange of protection and political leverage in Lebanon and in this regard, Sanyura is a prototype of this kind of Politician. He takes his orders from any foreign power whom Saudi Arabia agrees with and we now know that Saudi Arabia agrees very much with Israel and the US whom they take their orders from. The chain of command is pretty clear. There is talk that secret negotiations are being conducted between Saudi Arabia and Israel, between the country which considers itself as the leading country in fighting terrorism and the country which breeds terrorists.
Even though Sanyura tried hard to present of himself the image of an opponent to a peace treaty with Israel, sometimes through questionable methods like claiming his indignation in a theatrical manner when asked about peace with Israel as he did in an interview with Jean-François Lépine from Radio Canada recently, something that other Lebanese Politicians like the Gemmayyels, the Chamouns and Jumblatt never bother to show, at the end of the day he will do whatever Saudis will tell him to do. Saudis resented for example Qatar's contribution to the reconstruction of the south recently and they voiced their concern to Sanyura who tried to delay reconstruction efforts financed by Qatar in the south.

Nasrallah on Hezbollah's weapons: These weapons will be laid down some day but only in the presence of a strong Lebanese government. A government on which all Lebanese can count for their protection. Substantially what Nasrallah is saying is that his group and his people and a sizeable part of Lebanese civilians cannot actually count on this government for their protection and their rights. If there is peace with Israel made by this government he cannot be assured that Israel will not kill and assassinate Shiites and all other opponents in Lebanon, like they are doing now with the Palestinians and like what they have done before in Sabra and Chatila after the PLO left and they were no armed militants in the camps. As long as the government is weak and untrusted by its citizens, there is no question for his group to give up on their weapons and on armed struggle because the Israeli menace is always around and the Lebanese government is not up to its job.

Nasrallah on the Palestinian question and its connection to Lebanon's problems: He invited Arabs to follow Hezbollah's example and to resist. Clearly he didn't say that Hezbollah and Lebanon must liberate Palestine. This is where his speech becomes significant in my opinion. Hezbollah's struggle is only for Shiites and Lebanese who don't want to surrender to Israel and to collaborationnist Arab governments at any cost. Once he can be assured that his community and other Lebanese can live in peace, when he can be assured that Israel will not invade and attack Lebanon, when he can be assured that Israel will liberate Lebanese prisoners, when he can be assured that Israel will give back every bit of Lebanese territory, Hezbollah can give his weapons but only to a strong government. Nasrallah's perspective is purely Lebanese, disconnected from the Palestinian question when it comes to state his conditions for peace, he mentions the struggle of the Palestinians and the weakness of Arab governments only as a way to have a larger perspective for his conditions.
This is from a man who is thought to take his orders from Iran and who is accused by some Lebanese movements, who acted during the civil war as mercenaries for Israel and later became serviles toward Syria, as having his allegiance for Syria and Iran and not for Lebanon. Iran could surely have benefited from the continuation of the war but Hezbollah accepted a peace resolution despite stating that the resolution was against their immediate interests and unfair to them ! And the only thing the Syrian regime showed during the latest war on Lebanon was its ability to work towards its self preservation at the expanse of its political alliances. Some Israeli 'moderates' were even advocating negotiations with Syria as a way to cut Hezbollah's support and surely, if the neo-cons would have given their consent to this plan, Syria would have let down its Hezbollah 'ally'. Nasrallah would take arms and weapons and financial help from Iran ? And who would blame him ? Doesn't Israel depend on the US for its weapons ? More than that, doesn't Israel depend on the US to bully and kill and invade while Hezbollah's struggle is only restricted to a certain form of resistance. You can agree with this form or not but it is a resistance to an invader nonetheless.

With Nasrallah's recent speech we are seeing the birth of a true moderate and a powerful pragmatic Politician who is learning from all his political experience, who had the guts to conduct a sucessful resistance to the long time planned Israeli savage agression on Lebanon, even though he admitted later that he didn't expect this agression and that if he knew that this was going to be Israel's answer to his kidnapping of its soldiers he might have backed. The definition of a radical and an extremist is that extremists follow a rigid agenda, no matter the circumstances, the suffering of their people and the outcome of their actions. Not Nasrallah, he does not answer this definition while at the same time he seems to capitalise smartly from all his previous experience in politics and armed struggle.
Moreover, Nasrallah has stated on multiple occasions that Lebanon will not be an Islamic republic ruled by Islamic law and I believe him. I think that he showed his pragmaticism during this 'accidental war' and that he wants a unified Lebanon where his community can leave peacefully and have the same rights as other communities. One has to remember that Lebanon's shiites, about 40% of the population, had to fight continual Israeli invasions on their homeland, south Lebanon, and to live without the protection of the Lebanese state. They only rose when they were able to organise in a political and military movement. Nasrallah is not asking for exclusive powers and privileges neither for special rights for his community but rather for equal rights and a fair share of power for Shiites in Lebanon, having in mind that south Lebanon cannot exist without its north and center and without other communities, and having in mind, yes, the recent political agreement between Hezbollah and Michel Awn's movement, the leading movement among Christians now in Lebanon.

If Israel is a state free of outside influences, it can access peace with Lebanon on the basis of Nasrallah's demands and I am quite sure that Nasrallah is pragmatic and smart enough to accept peace with Israel on the basis of his demands. Why ? First because he outlined very precisely in which conditions Hezbollah will lay down arms. Second, because he will not be letting down the Palestinians, on the contrary, he will be showing them that the road to peace must cross the road of victory, even if it is a symbolic victory...

Now if Israel wants really to make peace with Lebanon, there is no other way. Otherwise, it will listen to the US's and Saudi Arabia's rethoric, continue to fight, kill moderates, bully and commit crimes in the name of its right to exist while its right to exist, in my opinion, is at reach if it makes peace with Lebanon and with the rest of the Arab world, country by country, but a fair peace and not a peace based on domination, submissiveness and the contempt for other's rights.

One must remember and learn from History that there is no peace with humiliation and submission. Arabs and Palestinians and Lebanese don't need the peace Israel accomplished in Oslo with Arafat and later rejected. They want a peace where every group can keep its rights and a sense of dignity, something Israel seems to be incapable of even recognising. And I think that it was this kind of contempt Israel excerted on its Palestinian and Arab counterparts that again killed Camp David in 2000.

The road to peace in the Middle East must follow Nasrallah's speech... I think Nasrallah came out of this speech as a moderate and someone whose agenda is not dictated by Iran neither by any outside power. Can we say the same thing of other Lebanese Politicians ? Can we say the same thing of Israel ? I think Israel's independance from the US's agenda for the new Middle East will be measured in its response to Nasrallah's speech. Either they find a way out with Hezbollah and Lebanon peacefully or they are going to dismiss the elements for peace contained in the speech and continue to act as this never existed, as the ugly war on Lebanon never existed and as the Hezbollah did not score a small victory against them. They will surely try, in this spirit, to assassinate Nasrallah and they will get another leader for the shiites who will be less moderate. You can fabricate an extremist in a second of madness and demagogy and anger but it takes time and a wealth of political experience to breed moderates and bring them to maturity. It is always more easy to destroy than to build.

Moderation does not derive from submissiveness, it rather derives from the feeling of security and entitelment, from the feeling that people have when they are talked to and recognised as other human beings with dignity, not as slaves and lackeys. Submissiveness breeds only extremism and preserving people's dignity is the starting point for openess and moderation. Hezbollah and his chief, Hassan Nasrallah, were able to restore, with a small and symbolic victory, a sense of dignity to the Lebanese people which added to their 2000 victory against Israel and amplified it. This is why they can talk peace now and this is why they can appear as moderates. This is the true meaning of Nasrallah's victory speech. Could Israel and the US understand this meaning ? Can the world, the western civilised world understand this meaning ?

Nasrallah's speech in english translation can be found on Juan Cole's site. (Thanks Issam)

Declan from Gorilla's guides: A moving and heartfelt first person account of the rally

Video ( 1 minute) of Nasrallah's speech and the victory rally from Le Monde

Angry Arab's take on Nasrallah's speech

Alain Gresh on Hezbollah's victory rally and Nasarallah's speech

Al-Safir, in Arabic, on the rally and the speech

UrShalim: At the Victory Rally and the reason why this can be called victory.

Update November 2007: Tariq Ali on Hezbollah


Sophia said...

At 7:24 PM, RoxieAmerica said...
Sophia, I wish I could share your optimism. Quoting, "These weapons will be laid down some day but only in the presence of a strong Lebanese government. A government on which all Lebanese can count for their protection."

I believe the "some day" he is speaking of is when an Islamic Government, like that of Iran, controls Lebanon. I do not consider the leader of Hezbollah to be a moderate - more cautious - but not moderate.

I certainly hope I am proven wrong. Excellent article!

I took the liberty of copying your comment on Nasrallah at the right place because it was posted on the previous article.
Thanks for the comment. I think your reservations are legitimate but as we say in french 'il faut donner sa chance au coureur' which means you have to take people at their words and to give them a chance to prove that they can actually do what they promise they were going to do. I believe that trusting people is more productive then suspecting them of the vilest things.
I am may be optimistic but don't we need a certain dose of optimism in the Middle east ?

Anonymous said...

Sophie , the full text of Nassrallah's speech translated into English is on Juan Cole's site at http://www.juancole.com/ today's post.

I think that pragmatic or realpolitique is a better description of Nasrallah politics. His party is constrained by Lebanon's diversity and its libertine culture. HA tried to set up a virtue" department but it was met with opposition within the party.

Without a doubt , he is a unique and brilliant leader in Lebanon , the Arab and Muslim world. He is a danger to long term Israeli and US interests in the region. He is , as they say, a marked man.

His death will have serious repercussions in Lebanon and the region ,even more than Hariri's murder but it will not warrant UN resolutions or a judicial inquiry.

Great post. You are right , Nasrallah is at his best when talking about internal Lebanese politics. The Shia struggle is really first about a fair share of the Lebanese pie. Palestine and Iran are secondary. Unfortunately other Lebanese players would rather separate and fracture the country than give them their political rights.

Lebanon and Palestine have a shared history. They were both carved out of Syria and Transjordan in 1922 with the aim of the Mandate powers to create States where some residents because of their religion have more rights than others.

Lebanon will only know peace, stability and a strong government when there is a census and different sects are represented according to their proportion of the population in Parliament.

Lebanese will only be free when sectarianism is eliminated. I truly wish that could happen so that Lebanon would be rid of its demons. However HA's success as a political religious party will force other sects to follow.


Sophia said...

Thanks Issam for the comment and for the link. I am going to add it to the post. Your insight on this blog is always welcome. I agree with your characterisation of Nasrallah.

Chris said...

Wow, what a great article! I really enjoyed reading it. I agree that a good dose of optimism is needed, along with an equal dose of sobriety.

I believe that Nasrallah is indeed a moderate, as you say, as well as a realist and pragmatist, as Issam states.

All these qualities are indeed needed and one could say rare, not only in the Middle East, but in many places in the world, including the US.

Once again, great article!


Sophia said...

Thanks Chris,
It is good to have an input like this from someone like you. I visited your blog briefly and will vsit more extensively later. Thanks for the comment.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Sophie,

I can only say that I fully agree with your luminous article on Hezbollah.

I also share ‘Issam’s views on the need to get rid of the scourge of sectarianism once and for all.

Ironically, with its openly turbaned leaders and their seemingly (“Al-Zâher” in Arabic) feverish references to Koranic cosmogony, Hezbollah is in fact a relatively (by Middle-Eastern standards) secular and Westernized political party, profoundly influenced by classical Christian philosophy and European socialism…

On the other hand, Lebanon’s supposedly “pro-Western” government is in fact controlled by Saudi-style Talebans wearing ties and suits to look more “modern”: the fact these Wahhabi puppets are advertised as “our allies” by Bushmert shows the power Saudi and Israeli lobbyists yield in Washington and the extent of the damage these foreign operatives have done to America’s sovereignty!

Sophia said...

Thanks you for this equally luminous comment. I couldn't agree more with you about our westernised Talebans. 'L'habit ne fait pas le moine'. I don't think anybody still remember this wisdom in our western societies because perceptions are all what matters for us.

Wolfie said...

Great article Sophia, I agree heartily. Victor as usual hits the mark, well said.

markfromireland said...

Greetings Sophia :-),

Declan who writes on my blog, was at that rally. You might be interested in his "take."

Sophia said...

I appreciate your comments since we disagree more than we agree and since you always voice your dissent in such an elegant and respectful manner. Strange, I felt that you might disagree on this one but I misjudged. I am relieved that you appreciated this opinion. Une fois n'est pas coutume...

Sophia said...

Hi Mark,
I will look at Declan's article and link to it.

Solomon2 said...

You kill a terrorist and you have another terrorist.

I don't accept platitudes. Execute a criminal thug and you discourage the rest, every time. Execute the leader of a criminal gang, and you encourage a struggle for power among the remainder. I know of no evidence that refraining from killing terrorist or gang leaders means that they wouldn't have recruited more members anyway. Israel refrained from invading Lebanon for six years and Hezbollah only increased its membership in that time.

One thing Israel did very well in the middle east was to kill moderates, massively.

I think we must be careful here to define just who is a "moderate". A leader may appear to be "moderate" to others if he refrains from calling for totalitarian world conquest, but Israelis would still classify him as a mortal threat if he called for the destruction of Israel.

Whatever Israel does or has done certainly pales in comparison to what Arabs do to other Arabs. That is not an excuse for Israeli actions, but that does call into question your judgment at putting the Israel issue first.

From the Palestinian leaders killed repeatedly in Beyrouth and Palestinian camps in Lebanon in the seventies to the Palestinian leaders killed during the first and second intifada, there were no moderates left

You are freely fibbing a good bit here. The Palestinian leadership was evacuated by Western forces from Beirut to Tunisia when Israel invaded in 1982 in response to repeated Palestinian attacks and bombardments from Lebanese territory, and Israel didn't participate in the Lebanese massacre of the Palestinian camps (indeed, I have read hostile accounts of people who survived by running to Israeli troops), though by Israeli (not Arab) standards its troops should have stood between the Lebanese and the Palestinians to better prevent such things from happening.

convenient for the ennemies of Arabs, Palestinians and Lebanese because it helps them justify their military hostilities and operations

killing moderates did not only give rise to extremism in the middle east but also to more submissiveness.

Submission is a function of control. When Israel kills terrorists in an air strike, the remainder remain aggressive as long as they retain support. When Hezbollah takes control of a neighborhood by brandishing weapons and threatening residents people become quite submissive. When Israel or America or Britain launches a ground invasion and eliminates armed resistance, the remaining population - even if they were once terrorists themselves - becomes moderate. The same rules hold for Nazi Germany and Hezbollahland alike.

Wolfie said...


Sometimes I'm just a little nitpicking I'll admit or even playing the devils advocate in order to widen the debate at hand.

Think of your many posts that I do not comment upon...

That is because I agree entirely and unequivocally.

Sophia said...

I appreciate the kind of dissent you bring to this blog.

Elizabeth said...

"When Israel or America or Britain launches a ground invasion and eliminates armed resistance, the remaining population - even if they were once terrorists themselves - becomes moderate."

I see absolutely no evidence in reality for this assertion.

And when is armed resistance eliminated? Only when a political solution is reached.

Since March 29th 2006