Across the Bay

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hezbollah Pits the Shiites Against Lebanon

Once more, while I continue to draft my own lengthy commentary, I strongly recommend you read Michael Young's latest op-ed. There's little more I would add when it comes to commenting on Sunday's riots. Here's Michael's take:

[A] cooler analysis of what took place shows an equally disturbing reality: Sunday was a political disaster for the Shiite opposition parties, Hizbullah and Amal, whose inability to achieve their political ends, but also to retreat from the brink, makes the likelihood of further hostilities much greater.

After the end of the summer 2006 war and the growing confrontation between the parliamentary majority and the opposition, Hizbullah was always careful to place non-Shiites in the forefront of the opposition's actions. While Sunni representatives were anemic, Michel Aoun was, for a time, someone who added credibility to the claim that the opposition was multiconfessional. That argument took a severe beating in the street protests of January 23, 2007, when the Aounists were unable to block roads for very long in Christian areas without assistance from the army. By nightfall, even that endeavor had collapsed as roads inside the Christian heartland and between Beirut and Tripoli were opened.
But then put yourselves in Hizbullah's shoes, and those of the Amal movement. With your Christian partner neutralized, suddenly the opposition looks mainly like a Shiite phenomenon. Worse, it looks like a mainly Shiite phenomenon directed against the Lebanese Army, a presidential election, and, by extension, the Lebanese state itself. This is certainly not where Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, ever wanted to position himself; and it is, in a word, suicidal for Shiites.
Suddenly, Hizbullah finds itself in the uncomfortable position of blocking the election of a man many Christians regard as a potentially strong leader, all because the party won't abandon Aoun, who is on the political decline. And why won't it do so? Because Hizbullah desperately needs the general as an ally in a future government.

Whether Hizbullah's calculations are mainly domestic, or are shaped to a large extent by Syria is irrelevant. The party is, perhaps unintentionally, pushing Shiites into a confrontation with the rest of Lebanese society to protect itself, and nothing could be worse for the community. Hizbullah's inability to achieve any of its political aims in the past 13 months has only increased its sense of frustration, and the prospect of violence. The party is flailing, but March 14 must at all costs help think of creative ways to prevent the Shiites from succumbing to a new "Kerbala complex," a sense that victimhood is the historical lot of their community.

In 1975, the Christians had their own Kerbala complex, one that dictated stubbornness in the defense of Christian prerogatives, which at the time were regarded as an existential red line. In the process they lost their control over the state. Hizbullah has made defense of its weapons an existential red line for the Shiite community. But Kerbala, as one astute analyst has put it, is hardly something the Shiites should want to remember, as it ended in a massacre and defeat. Nor is it something any Lebanese should want the Shiite community to remember, or repeat.

The Christians learned to their detriment during the 1975-1990 conflict that a war against the Sunnis was also in many ways a war against the Arab world. The Christian community never recovered from that disaster. That's a lesson the Shiite community should not have to learn.

Read the whole thing.

And a propos, here's a relevant post I wrote a year ago almost to the day. At the time, I entitled it "The Path to Suicide."

Having proven a complete failure in politics, opting for a deadly "double or nothing," perpetual fuite en avant path all the way to the abyss, Nasrallah seems intent on taking the Shiites, and indeed all of Lebanon, towards that fate.