Nasrallah’s Big Tent: Cause to Worry


My colleague and friend Nir Rosen has been working his way through some of the more interesting sites and scenes in Lebanon — and trailing along with many Nasrallah groupies to get a fix on the Hezbollah leader’s rise and on the evolving shape of Lebanese politics and identity.
Nir Rosen has just published this provocative and provocative essay, “Hizballah, Party of God.”
I have to say that I find myself standing across the aisle on this one. While I think that everything that Rosen writes about Nasrallah’s popularity and big-tent approach to power-building is accurate, I am worried about it — and Rosen is not.

Nasrallah and Hezbollah are key players now in regional dynamics and can’t be wished away. In Condi’s roster of extremists and moderates, Hezbollah is on the extremist tally. Rosen writes about them as if Nasrallah’s enablers and followers are moderates.
I think that Hezbollah can be moderated and brought into legitimate civil society — and that Israeli occupation of disputed territories complicates and blurs the picture.
However, Rosen’s piece doesn’t really address the central issue at hand. Will Nasrallah’s big tent approach to building a power base accomodate Israel in a dependable, long-term peace — particularly if the grievances over disputed territories in Northern Israel are finally resolved?
Establishing popular, competent, representative government in Southern Lebanon is important, and it seems clearer by the day that Hezbollah must be a major part of that equation — but the real issues about an accomodation with Israel can’t be ducked.

— Steve Clemons


11 comments on “Nasrallah’s Big Tent: Cause to Worry

  1. wow power leveling says:

    you’re going to dish dirt on me you’ll need to be original. I have already written a book about my felonious past. I outed myself, so to speak so there is nothing revelatory about these so-called factoids. The book is called News Junkie. It was published last week.


  2. joe m. says:

    oops, sometimes i can’t spell. obviously, i mean “disputed” not “desputed”.


  3. joe m. says:

    I usually like your commentary and usually think it is very interesting, but what is with this “disputed territories in Northern Israel” bull crap? You used the word “disputed” more then once, making it pretty clear that it was not a mistake. There is absolutely no debate about this, and you can look it up if you want, but none of the “territories” are in “Northern Israel”. They are either in Lebanon or Syria, but for sure not Israel. Even if we grant that they are “desputed” (obviously, there is a despute over them), their primary identification is that they are occupied, not disputed. When you call them “disputed territories”, you are giving credibility to the criminals who are disputing and in some way justifying the dispute. It would be like saying that someone 100% guilty of murder disputes whether the crime was murder. Fine, they might dispute it, but they are wrong and the primary identifier is that they are a murderer, not that there is a dispute over the crime.
    On the point of Hizbullah/Nasrallah and Rosen’s essay, I will just say that his essay was very slight on the facts and very heavy on anecdote. I have great respect for Nasrallah and Hizbullah, but i am not so blind to believe that they are secular just because there are women at their rallies who wear tight t-shirts. They are a religious party, they admit this openly and proudly. Their political causes are secular, but their ideology is not at all. His article was a good story, but not a good analysis.
    As for your question, “Will Nasrallah’s big tent approach to building a power base accomodate Israel in a dependable, long-term peace…?” the obvious counter-question is whether Israel’s continued oppression and domination of the region makes peace possible first. In many ways i blame Hizbullah and Nasrallah for the war, but the vast majority of the responsibility lies flat on the back of Israel. And considering how powerful israel is v. the region, they have added responsibility for building the conditions that can lead to a stable peace. Once they show that they are serious, which they have not done at all, then we can next turn to the other players as ask what they are doing to foster peace. In the 60’s and 70’s the Black Panthers were not exactly contributing to a peaceful environment with their harsh rhetoric and shows of force, but they were not the cause of the problems. Had America been a country that treated black people with respect, there would not have been a Black Panther Party. If the USA was a safe and peaceful environment, yet the Panthers were still harming the peace, then I agree we could have put the responsibility primarily on them. Until that time, the blame belings to the power that creates the conditions which leads to groups like the Panthers and Hizbullah to arise. Hizbullah and the Panthers deserve blame for their role, but they are not the cause and do not have the primary responsibility to end the confrontation. Even if they were gone, other people would take their place, with a different name…..


  4. Carroll says:

    “The non-state actors want to become state actors.
    Posted by JS at October 4, 2006 08:12 PM”
    Naturally they do..and why not?
    How many nsa revolutions and movements do you count in history who ended up as goverments?
    The USA would be one.
    No telling what the world would look like with a few more by popular demand rebellions.


  5. JS says:

    The non-state actors want to become state actors.
    Al-Qaeda while not desiring for a grip as a political force as a government, seeks to employ itself as a broad political force, and has mentioned a caliphate and shariah law throughout the Middle East as its goals.
    Hezbollah is seeking to become a state actor, and there is no question Nasrallah dreams of one day becoming a leader on a much larger scale, of perhaps leading Lebanon.
    One thing I was concerned about Rosen’s reporting is that he mentioned a near parity in casualties between Hezbollah and Israel. And talks about how Hezbollah achieved a near blow for blow with the Israeli military. Recent reports and postmortems indicate that while Israel sustained a fairly sizeable hit in military casualties (in part due to an inability to coordinate a well planned and consistent military campaign), damage to Hezbollah has actually turned out to be worse than initially believed.
    Obviously, Hezbollah has obtained a victory in restoring some Arab and Muslim pride and confidence in going at the Israelis, much in the way Sadat did in 1973, even though he fought Israel to a standstill.
    The one thing I think we can take from Rosen’s piece is that the US and perhaps Israel needs to eliminate Hezbollah/Nasrallah’s appeal, particularly by eliminating his cause celebre which has become very difficult since the Israel/Hezbollah war.
    It should be noted however, that there is a significant portion of the country that is disgusted by Hezbollah’s initiation of the crisis and for the damage it caused to large portions of the South.


  6. Carroll says:

    I am not worried about it. The “big tent” approach will either change and evolve Hezbollah into a real political force or not. Either way as long as Israel continues it’s agressions Hezbollah will continue in one form or another. The days of discounting the so called “non state actors” are over. They are here to stay by popular demand.


  7. Logan says:

    Prior to the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hizballah was not the active enemy of any country but Israel. U.S. support of the Israeli invasion still has not resulted in any hostile Hizballah actions against the U.S. or its citizens. It doesn’t take a rocket scientest to discern why Israel is the enemy of Hizballah. The fact is, Israel and its supporters want Hizballah to be an enemy of the United States, and now they have succeeded – just as they did in Iraq.


  8. John Measor says:

    Hi Steve,
    I think your point is valid, but based on the perspective of one side in a decidedly multidimensional discussion. From the perspective of a great many people in the region of the Middle East Hizballah indeed is discussed in terms of how they will proceed and work with the power they have so assiduously garnered. However, when questioning extremism in the Levant U.S. policies of ‘democratisation’ and ‘regime change’, Syrian pretensions to a ‘greater Syria’, and longstanding Israeli policy and practice will be seen as decidedly “extremist” or radical. In studying, researching and teaching about the region I can be cognizant and empathize with the concerns and characterizations of all the parties involved, but Nir is simply providing a window into the Levant. Don’t shoot the messenger. How Americans decide to digest that view is up to them.
    It is well nigh time for Americans to come to grips with the longstanding implications of the policies of a great many administrations, from both sides of the Potomac-based aisle, and to listen as much as dictate how political factions in the region should ‘fit in’ to their own experience. We can either believe and practice in self-determination and respect it, or we can continue to deny its salience whenever anyone disagrees with those Potomac-based perches.
    To be concerned about the security and political implications of a growing Hizballah is pertinent and germane to a discussion, but following the events of this summer in Gaza and southern Lebanon to not voice equal concern for the implications of all parties policies seems a bit misguided ~ and more of the same from a Washington perspective.
    All my best,


  9. PUBLIUS says:

    Yes, majority will and democratic process can be a troublesome thing when they produce illiberal majorities or if you are disliked by the majority that emerges. If the House of Saud were not so skillfully repressive, one wonders what similar populist movements might rule Saudi Arabia. One thing is certain: instead of funding fleets of Rolls-Royces for herds of princes and luxury shopping trips in Paris and Geneva for broods of sheikhas, Arab oil wealth would be used as a weapon in Saudi foreign relations against the perceived enemies of the “Umma”.
    What is most troubling is the depth of ignorance of these political and cultural realities in the Middle East among too many in the upper echelons of the Pentagon and the foreign policy formulation establishment of today’s Republican-ruled Washington – in no small measure due to widespread ignorance of and disdain for the languages (Arabic, Farsi AND Hebrew), cultures, religions and history of the region and systemic failures to engage in difficult dialogue with counterparts whom unreasoning prejudice leads one to dismiss as unsavory.
    How often are turbaned Islamic Shia intellectuals or leaders invited to the more potent parlors in Washington? (Khatami’s recent visit to Harvard was one successful exception to the general rule.) Not so often as corrupt princes feeding like lice on the body politic they govern and as credentialed ambassadors enjoying all the perquisites of such high office.
    If Nir Rosen’s analysis is correct, Larry King should do a probing 1-hour interview of Hassan Nasrallah, and he should be invited to visit American business and political leaders as the first phase of a bilateral confidence building campaign. If Nasrallah is not assassinated by the Mossad through the use of missiles we pay for, he may become an even more powerfully influential figure in Middle East politics.
    While Nir Rosen’s outrage at the havoc that was wrought in Lebanon is impossible to miss, we ignore facts at our peril.
    “Then as now, Israel knows what it and America continue to deny: Hizballah is the people, …”
    How many of the several scenes of rubble in Lebanon capped with banners stating “MADE IN THE USA” were broadcast on FAUX NEWS Network?
    Enquiring minds want to know. Now back to your regularly scheduled sex scandal… all the “news that’s fit to print.”


  10. MarkW says:

    Nasrallah and Hezbollah are strong because of Israel’s actions.
    You now ask yourself: who does this suit?
    Answer: Nasrallah and hard-line Israeli politicians.
    The way to moderate Hezbollah is to implement UN SCR 242 as part of the Saudi Peace initiative, thereby de-legitimizing any grievance they may have.
    Arab parts of Southern Lebanon were targeted with hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions after the UN cease fire resolution was agreed.
    It is Israel’s policy to act continually in bad faith so she can claim not to have a partner for peace. There is no evidence that any action, and in particular, the so-called Gaza withdrawal on Israel’s part has shown any opposite sign.


  11. sdemetri says:

    If neither side is an honest broker, I don’t expect any improvements. We, the US, don’t seem to be in a position any more to exert objective moral authority to compel either side to accomodate the other and deal honestly. What a shame. We once had more leverage. Our principal leverage now, and even that is of questionable efficacy, seems to be military threat.


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