Across the Bay

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kramer on Mughniyeh, Hezbollah

In my post yesterday, I noted the observation made by my friend Abu Kais regarding the sudden u-turn in Hezbollah's public stand, embracing Mughniyeh as a pillar of the organization after having spent years denying any ties to him.

I also pointed out another interesting about face by an American academic who has written on Hezbollah, Judith Palmer Harik. She told NOW Lebanon:

“If they've been careful to keep some distance between themselves as an organization and this man, then they wouldn't do more than mourn him as a kind of Arab or Islamic martyr. We'll see.”
...
“For years, ever since the surfacing of his name, Hezbollah have denied that he was a member of the organization.”

Harik is one to know, because she herself had peddled this nonsense in her book, as the one and only Martin Kramer discusses in his excellent post today:

Another American academic wrote this precious paragraph in her book on Hezbollah:

"For its part, Hezbollah has consistently denied the existence of any relationship with Mughniyeh, direct or indirect. As a matter of record, from the time of the party’s inception, all Hezbollah officials have emphatically denied ever knowing a person by the name of Imad Mughniyeh. The apparent avoidance of this issue is clear in an answer to a recent question about the party’s relationship with Mughniyeh. The response of a Hezbollah senior official was that Mughniyeh had never held a position in their organization, and was, in Deputy Secretary General Naim al-Qassim’s words, ‘only a name’."

So even as Hezbollah immediately claimed Mughniyeh as one of their own after his assassination, Palmer Harik had to stick to her delusional narrative, which as Kramer notes, has been a standard of the mainstream mythology:

Now that Nasrallah’s eulogy has placed Mughniyah officially in the pantheon of Hezbollah’s greatest martyrs (with Abbas al-Musawi and Raghib Harb), this question looks absurd. That it ever arose is a testament to the discipline of Hezbollah in sticking to lies that serve its interests. One of its paramount interests is concealing from scrutiny that apparatus of terror that Mughniyah spent his life building. Hiding the clandestine branch protects it from Hezbollah’s enemies, and makes it easier to sell the movement to useful idiots in the West, who insist that the movement hasn’t done any terror in years, and maybe never did any at all. They produce statements of such mind-boggling gullibility that one can easily imagine Mughniyah chuckling to himself on reading them.

This faulty mainstream mythology, the "mind-boggling gullibility" Kramer describes, was perfectly encapsulated in this graph by Andrew Exum:

For researchers such as myself, Mughniyah was of great interest because he represented a constant figure in Hezbollah throughout its evolution from an Iranian-backed Lebanese militia in the 1980s to a nationalist insurgent group in the 1990s and finally to its current incarnation as the most powerful political party in Lebanon—both in terms of weapons and popular support.

Aside from the confusion in this quote (not to mention the laughable last bit about how the power of Hezbollah as a political party is measured in terms of its weapons! What, no "military wing" cliches?!), it's not accurate.

In reality, as I've long argued on this blog, "Hezbollah has come full circle back to the 80s. In fact, it never stated otherwise. Only western cheerleaders did."

That's the kind of misunderstanding that lies behind categories like "nationalist insurgent group." In fact, as I wrote almost a year ago, "Nasrallah came full circle. He returned to explicit, open, and full-blown Khomeinist rhetoric. Naturally, he never gave this up. It was covered during the 90's in order to win Sunni support by repackaging Hezbollah as an Islamo-Arab nationalist force. It was decidedly uncovered during the summer war. Now, the political discourse in Lebanon commonly refers to Hezbollah in those terms, as it used to during the 80's."

I hasten to explain the function of the "Islamo-Arab nationalist" category (as opposed to "nationalist insurgent") and why it is important. The point of the camouflage of the 90s always was about extending Hezbollah beyond Lebanon, as a model allowing Iran to penetrate and influence the Sunni Arab world; specifically to be able to have a lever against Arab governments (the "people" vs. "states" dichotomy has always been and continues to be integral to Hezbollah's and IRI's discourse). As such, it was always supra- and trans-national. And it was never an "evolution." It was a matter of "concealing," as Kramer put it. That veil started crumbling in 2005 after the Syrian withdrawal (the Syrians were instrumental in fostering and benefiting from Hezbollah's media repackaging of the 90s), and it has now completely fallen apart.

If a year ago Nasrallah came full circle back to the 80s, today, at Mughniyeh's funeral, he cemented that reality. Not only was Iran's Foreign Minister present at the funeral, where he eulogized Mughniyeh (I guess that's evolution "back" to being an "Iranian-backed" militia), but also, as Kramer noted, the very nature of the threat of retaliation itself is an indication of it. The threat itself is based on Hezbollah's "global reach," to quote Kramer again. So much for the "evolution" from "nationalist insurgent" to "political party."

In terms of domestic politics, (and here I'd like to reassure Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum that the March 14 rally today was a huge success despite everything, and went without a single fist-fight breaking out. Lebanon was not "so %$&*ed" after all) what Nasrallah's speech today says about Hezbollah's MoU with Aoun is that it is... well... toilet paper. So much for Aoun's assertions that his MoU has "changed" (maybe he should've used the term "evolved") Hezbollah's scope from wanting the complete destruction of Israel (i.e., something along these lines) and the liberation of Jerusalem (i.e., something along these lines) to being solely concerned with the Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese prisoners in Israel (i.e., kinda like that "nationalist insurgent" thing.)

Right, so much for that. But toilet paper is not without its benefits. For instance, it has helped create an "evolution" in Aoun's political discourse. Witness what, according to his website, he did today. He told Hezbollah that he considered the Mughniyeh assassination an aggression against Syria and Lebanon and an expansion of the stretch of terrorism.

Just what exactly is left of this fantastic MoU?!

And so, to borrow a line from Exum, someone did indeed get "%$&*ed" today in Lebanon.

Addendum: I had linked this Michael Young review of Nasrallah's speeches in the past, but it's quite relevant for this post. I recommend you take a look.

Update: A relevant quote from Young's latest op-ed:

But Lebanon has been split by a cold civil war for over a year now, and as the country commemorates the third anniversary of Rafik Hariri's assassination today, Jumblatt's rhetoric may have, paradoxically, helped stabilize the situation - even if stabilization remains a relative concept.

The assassination in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, whatever its larger implications, may actually bolster this modest stability. Hizbullah's leadership will likely need time to assess where it is, and what Mughniyeh's killing means for the party and its relations with Tehran.