October 4, 2010


An Interview with Thanassis Cambanis (Qifa Nabki , 10/03/10)

QN: The Western discourse on Hizbullah tends to lump this group in with organizations like Hamas and al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, you argue that “no other group has mastered the formula for radical strength as Hizbullah has done.” Where does Hizbullah fit on the Arab political landscape, and what makes it different from other Islamist groups?

TC: Some of the differences are easy to spot. Hezbollah has governed multitudes of its supporters for nearly 30 years, and it has participated in electoral politics in Lebanon since 1992. More than any other Islamist non-state actor, it has experience providing services and taking part in politics — and learning from its mistakes. Other differences are less easy to delineate, but important. For instance, Hezbollah and Iran share a belief in wilayat al faqih, or the rule of the jurisprudent, the foundational concept of Iran’s clerical regime. But one could argue that Hezbollah has remained closer to the radical basis of the Iranian revolution than Iran’s own clerics.

But you asked about Arab politics and you mention two other bugbears that happen, like Hezbollah, to be listed as terrorist groups by the United States. Al Qaeda is a different kettle of fish — a nihilist group that has virtually no territorial responsibilities and whose ideology diametrically opposes modernity. Hezbollah embraces modernity, capitalism and prosperity. It doesn’t want its followers to recreate medieval times; it wants its followers to grow rich, obtain political power, and use that platform to spread Islam and support the fight against Israel.

Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah has changed its approach to shed the terrorist label it acquired with the suicide bombings and kidnappings of the 1980s. Since the 1990s, Hezbollah’s guerilla operations have studiously focused on military targets. Hezbollah’s indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas in Israel is calibrated in response to what Hezbollah sees as indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas in Lebanon by Israel. Hezbollah doesn’t send suicide bombers after soft civilian targets or plant bombs on buses.

QN: Neither, for that matter, does the Muslim brotherhood. What makes Hizbullah different from the MB?

TC: The most significant thing that differentiates Hezbollah from other Islamist groups is the credibility and thoroughness with which it cultivates the loyalty of its community. It neither buys nor bullies support from its core audience (although it is by no means shy about using brute strength against detractors); it trains, convinces, and inculcates them through a layered web of classes and activities — scouts, primary schools, summer camps, weekend courses for working parents, college and career counseling, and the mosque.

The biggest difference is, of course, just that the MB happens to be a factor in states that don't have consensual government.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 4, 2010 6:20 AM
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