How Hezbollahi Shifting and Multiple Identities Will Impact its Future?

Abdullah A. Bin Asakir

Abdullah A. Bin Asakir is MA Degree holder in International Security Studies – UK University of Leicester, and currently MA Candidate international Studies and Diplomacy – UK SOAS University of London. Asakir is a Non-State Groups Specialist and focuses on Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is usually treated by scholars as having multiple identities, which sometimes clash or overlap with one another, including its resistance identity, pan-Islamist identity and politically pragmatic identity. The majority of analysts  who conceptualize the primacy of the  Islamist identity of the group have argued that after 2000 Hezbollah has pursued to obtain pragmatic political objectives instead of championing for religious beliefs and norms whenever the situation called for it and the group was forced to choose between the its secular and religious character. In particular, the pan-Islamic identity of Hezbollah become lost by political concerns and a pragmatic strategy. For instance, following the 2000 Israeli withdrawal Hezbollah all but abandoned its previous goals of establishing a pan-Islamic identity in order to maintain its support from both Sunni and Shia Arabs in Lebanon. Additionally, after 2000 Hezbollah became an ally of the Christian Party led by current Lebanese President Michel Aoun, which forced the organization to abate its religious rhetoric.

The Structure of Hezbollah’s Identity

When material and cultural identities clash, the material concerns take precedence and the cultural ones are pushed in the background, which is especially true for Hezbollah, which espoused a transnational religious identity and abandoned it for the sake of political pragmatism and superficial nationalism. Nevertheless, Hezbollah still resorted to revoking the religious norms and values whenever this strategy would advance its own resistance agenda. For instance, the ideas of martyrdom are considered to be embedded within Shia religious thought and rhetoric. During the period, Hezbollah made apt use of this powerful identity by equating martyrdom with the honorable struggle and resistance against the occupying enemy (Israel) and juxtaposed the ideals of martyrdom against the debasing existence under occupation. The organization evoked this concept during the two exchanges of prisoners and killed martyrs between Israel and Lebanon in 2004 and 2008 as well as during the numerous suicide attacks it had committed during the Israeli occupation. This subversion of religious norms and beliefs – as Islam prohibits suicide but Hezbollah redefined it as being equal to the sacred ideas of martyrdom – proved that the organization was able to innovatively use religion in service of politics. In this manner, Hezbollah subsumed religious rhetoric and historical symbolism within the ideological framework of its own nationalized struggle and used it to justify its militant tactics while at the same time transforming the national cultural mind-set of the Lebanese people. Another important political innovation and a displaying of the transformation of Hezbollah was the 2009 Political Document, which has been extensively compared with its 1985 equivalent. The most striking differences between the two documents that emerged from this comparison relate to the presence of international norms in the more recent manifesto, which again portrays Hezbollah as a legitimate and democratic actor bent on playing by the rules of the political game. In particular, the 2009 document evokes normative concepts such as democratic rule, equality before the law and justice and paints the picture of a Lebanese state, which should be founded upon “the effective exercise of democracy, where the citizen represents a value in and of himself”. In contrast with the 1985 document, the 2009 did not emphasize upon religious values to the extent that it expounded upon international norms. Most importantly, the major difference between the 1985 and 2009 documents stems from the fact that the latter Manifesto expounds upon a vision of a unified Lebanese state and a common Lebanese identity with little regard for ethnic, cultural or religious differences.

The Social Status of Hezbollah and Conflict with Israel

In other words, the conceptual idea of establishing an Islamic state was forced into the background in favor of a social order that recognizes the social and religious differences within the Lebanese state, which signified the maturity and political praxis of Hezbollah as a political organization at the time. The core notions expressed in the 2009 Manifesto hearkens back to Ayatollah Khomeini’s belief in a world defined by the struggle between the oppressors (in the context of the Hezbollah narrative – Israel and its major ally – the United States) and the oppressed (respectively, the Lebanese and Palestinian people as well as any other Arab nations suffering in the same manner).

The resistance struggle against Israel, however, is thus represented not only as a religious and ideological concept founded on jihad (in its original meaning of “holy war”), but also as an objective which can be achieved within the framework of a constitutional democracy and the national defense strategy of the country. From a purely ideological perspective, the 2009 Manifesto also evokes the idea of cultural conflict whereby Hezbollah proposes to “provide an alternative culture to that of the West as pronouncedly defined by the United States” through the formation of a “society of resistance”. This strategy has provided an alternative route of achieving the objectives of Hezbollah not by integrating it into the political structure of the Lebanese state but by embedding the state and its society into Hezbollah’s agenda and conceptual project of what the state and society should look like.

Future Expectations of Dismantling Hezbollah

According to various news outlets, increasing number of states are heading towards the designation of the political and military parts of Hezbollah as a terrorist group. These states include recently, the United Kingdom, Germany, Kosovo and others, while Australia is studying the possibility of doing so as soon as they take the COVID-19 in the country to the save side. A matter that poses threat on Hezbollah assets and expose it to possible international sanctions.  In addition to the severe strike that hit the primary supporter of Hezbollah, Iran has decreased significantly the financial support for the group, where its members moved to inner splits from the organization and that’s proving that the loyalty of such groups doesn’t exceed a matter of financial affiliation and pose a major threat of dismantling the group.

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