beyond religious boundriesWhile I don't agree with everything in this article, I think it is worth reading this popular secular Pakistani journalist, to get a glimpse of how things have changed in the past month and a half...
"Islam has many faces in the world today: the face of compromise, defeatism and collaboration, the Islam of the Excellencies who preside over the destinies of the Muslim world, autocrats at home and American satellites abroad. The Muslim masses have had enough of these cardboard figures. There is then the Islam of Hasan Nasrallah and Hezbollah, the Islam that stands for justice and resistance."
Faith knows no religious boundaries
By Ayaz Amir
WITH its victory over Israel — a sampling of the Israeli press providing ample acknowledgement of this victory and ample evidence of the gloom into which Israel has been plunged — Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, now take their place among the immortals.
To go no further back than the 20th century, Hezbollah now takes its place with — to name but a few — the defenders of Gallipoli, Stalingrad and Leningrad; the German army while retreating from Russia (even in retreat the Germans fought superbly), the People’s Liberation Army during the Long March, Fidel’s guerrillas during the Cuban revolution, the Vietcong and Vietminh during the war against the United States and the Israeli army in the 1967 war when it brought the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria to their knees in six days.
It must have felt great to be an Israeli in 1967. That war changed, it almost seemed eternally, the strategic calculus in the Middle East. After the second Lebanese war, Hezbollah can lay claim to changing the strategic equation. The myth of Israeli invincibility lies shattered while American arrogance and folly have been dealt a severe blow. American influence in the region stands degraded.
The god of war, as we have already noted, makes no distinction between different faiths. Enough for him if commitment to one’s cause is sincere and wholehearted. And it helps if the cause is also just. “Brute force bereft of reason,” as Horace warned long ago, “falls by its own weight. Power with counsel temper’d even the gods make greater. But might which in its soul is bent on all impiety, they hate.”
Throughout history, this has been the winning formula: force tied to reason and justice, and, of course, tenacity, imagination and boldness. L’audace: fortune favours the audacious.
In the last hundred years the Muslim world has produced only two outstanding politico-military figures: Mustafa Kemal and Hasan Nasrallah, the one almost irreligious, the other steeped in the spirit of Islam. (Although it is another matter that Turkey today enjoys extremely close relations with Israel, an aspect of Turkish policy incomprehensible to most Muslims.)
In short, to each his/her own faith. The only condition is it must be made of the purest material.
Christians who have fought some of the most terrible wars in history — the two world wars being largely intra-Christian conflicts — of necessity cast their faith in Christian terms just as the Samurai does it his own way and the Vietcong rode on the wings of nationalism when they took on the might of the US.
It is therefore only natural for a Muslim to express his/her faith in Islamic terms. The very first thing whispered into the ear of the new-born Muslim child, whether in a religious household or one where religious rituals are not all that strictly observed, is the sound of the azaan, the call to prayer.
Just as the names of the apostles have a special significance for Christians, the names, say, of Omar and Ali, caliphs of Islam, are wired in a special way into the consciousness of a Muslim. When we are in pain we invoke Allah’s name, even those of us otherwise not much given to religious observance.
Hasan Nasrallah’s speeches are peppered with religious references. He invokes God’s help all the time. Hezbollah, however, is not a religious sect. It is a political organisation the central tenets of whose ideology are intensely and purely political. What does Hezbollah seek? Social justice for the people of Lebanon — which means schools, hospitals and the right to a decent life — and freedom from foreign domination, in this case Israeli and American domination.
It does not seek the establishment of a theocratic state, which is one reason why its support amongst the Lebanese population transcends and goes far beyond the bounds of the Shia community.
Robert Pape, author of a well-received book on “terrorism”, says in the Guardian, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, Hezbollah is principally neither a political party nor an Islamist militia. It is a broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. At first, it consisted of a small number of Shias supported by Iran. But as more and more Lebanese came to resent Israel’s occupation, Hezbollah, never tight-knit, expanded into an umbrella organisation that tacitly coordinated the resistance operations of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims.”
Hezbollah conducted a campaign of suicide bombings against American, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986, including the famous bombing which killed about 280 American Marines and got the Americans scurrying out of Lebanon. There were 41 such bombings in all. Researching for his book, Pape says he was shocked to find that “only eight (of the bombers) were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a woman secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.”
“What these suicide attackers — and their heirs today — shared,” he concludes, “was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation.” (I have said above that Hezbollah’s ideology is intensely political. In my view, which could be mistaken, resisting foreign occupation is a political aim. In any event, I was trying to draw a distinction between the religious and the political.)
But the justness of a cause means nothing if not accompanied by dedication and commitment. I may be the world’s greatest idealist but of no use to anyone if incapable of action; or if I am guilty of double standards, holding up one yardstick for myself and a different one for others.
About the dedication of Hezbollah’s leadership, suffice it to say that Hasan Nasrallah’s own son died fighting the Israeli army in Lebanon in 1997. An exchange of bodies took place a year later. The late Eqbal Ahmed (who also wrote for this paper) wrote this for the Al-Ahram weekly at the time:
“Sayed Hassan Nasrallah entered the hall in solemn dignity accompanied by Jawad, his teenage son. He stopped before each coffin and offered the Fatiha (the Muslim equivalent of the Lord’s Prayer) until he reached the one marked 13. He beckoned to an aide and spoke to him in a whisper. The aide summoned two workers of the Islamic Health Association, a Hezbollah outfit. They opened the coffin exposing a body wrapped in a white shroud. Sheikh Nasrallah’s eyes closed, his lips trembled as he offered the Fatiha. Slowly, he bent over and tenderly stroked the head of Hadi Nasrallah, his eldest son who was 18 when he died in battle on 13 September (1997). Jawad, the younger son, stood still and pale next to his father. A deep silence fell on the room while (Hasan Nasrallah’s) right hand rested on his son’s chest.”
Is such a leadership easy to defeat? When Israel attacked Lebanon on July 12, Israeli defence minister Amir Peretz said that Hasan Nasrallah would never be able to forget the name of Amir Peretz. More likely it is Peretz who won’t forget Hasan Nasrallah’s name.
Islam has many faces in the world today: the face of compromise, defeatism and collaboration, the Islam of the Excellencies who preside over the destinies of the Muslim world, autocrats at home and American satellites abroad. The Muslim masses have had enough of these cardboard figures. There is then the Islam of Hasan Nasrallah and Hezbollah, the Islam that stands for justice and resistance.
This is not ‘radical’ Islam. When the US is uncomfortable with anything or when something runs counter to its interests, it uses the word ‘radical’ — and now increasingly ‘terrorist’ — to denounce it. This is the true Islam.
Its constituent elements are simple: democracy, that is rule by the people, not by hereditary emir or power-grabbing general; social justice or egalitarianism which means schools, hospitals and equal opportunities for all; and resistance against American domination, either direct as in Iraq or indirect through America’s surrogate, Israel.
This is the true path and Hezbollah has held up the torch to it. Not for a long time has the Islamic world been stirred by such profound feelings.