Across the Bay

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Myth of Incorruptibility

Ferry Biedermann has an article in Salon.com on Syria, Lebanon, and the US. This section on Hizbullah, a veritable credo for people covering Lebanon, is simply nonsense:

In Lebanon, the anti-Israeli, Shiite Islamist Hezbollah movement has been the one of the few parties widely considered to remain free of the taint of the system. It is not known to be corrupt, as many of the other political groupings are said to be, and until recently it did not engage in the political horse-trading that is the Lebanese system of government. This time around that image has been tainted, said Saad-Ghorayeb, who is an expert on Hebzollah. "The party has finally been forced to play by the rules of the Zaïm system," Saad-Ghorayeb said. She is referring to the many political deals Hezbollah was forced to make in an attempt to stave off pressure to disarm following the withdrawal of its Syrian protectors.

Hezbollah is the only Lebanese group that retained its arms after the end of the country's 15-year civil war in 1990 and the Israeli army's withdrawal from the south in 2000. It has been able to do this by marketing itself as the "resistance" to Israel, which gives it the legitimacy to retain its arms and run a state-within-a-state in the south.

But Saad-Ghorayeb said that the party has now become just one of Lebanon's many regional and sectarian political players, which base their strength on a captive bloc vote and use it to skim off income from the state and businesses. In Hezbollah's case, the corruption is not thought to be direct. Rather, it has been tainted by its newfound alliance with the more moderate Shiite Amal movement, which many regard as deeply corrupt.

The part about Zaimism is certainly true. I've said this before, and I think Anthony Shadid referred to it as well not too long ago. But to imply that this is only recent and that it came about begrudgingly and because they hooked up with Amal (and that's recent?)? Puh-lease. This is why Hazem Amin's piece on the Hashish in the Bekaa and the breaking of tribal authority (replacing one traditional set of zaims with another) and the use of Hizbullah's "social services" to buy off Hashish farmers who have been hurt by the state's banning of Hashish farming, etc. is so important (see also his other piece on the south). Not corrupt?! Give me a break... They've been doing this for years. The only place their incorruptibility (and non-sectarianism) exists is in their propaganda, and in the writings of groupie journalists who are infatuated by them, and who see them as some sort of latter day continuation of the workers' movement or something.

But this is why the quotes I pasted in my post below on Hizbullah ("Nervous Hasan") are important. Without the weapons, what exactly differentiates Hizbullah from Amal (beside of course their historical stance on the Islamic state)? That's why when they tell you our image (as an armed "resistance group") matters, they mean it. When they say, we need to attract the young and the former fighters in Amal, they mean it. They want to play it both ways. That's what they've been doing.