Across the Bay

Thursday, March 27, 2008

True Believers

Read the following excellent pieces by Michael Young on the issue of Islamists, including Hezbollah.

The first, a post at Reason's Hit & Run blog, trashes an idiotic piece by the Islamist-hugger Alastair Crooke.

The second, Michael's weekly Daily Star column, focuses a little more on Hezbollah, and is really well worth the read:

Why is the topic important? Because over the years academics, analysts, journalists, and others, particularly the Westerners among them, who write about militant Islamist groups, have tended to project their own liberal attitudes and desires onto such groups, misinterpreting their intentions and largely ignoring what these groups say about themselves. Inasmuch as most such observers cannot really fathom the totalitarian strain in the aims and language of armed Islamists, totalitarian in the sense of pursuing a total idea, total in its purity, they cannot accept that the total idea can also be apocalyptic. Where Nasrallah and the leaders of Hamas will repeat that Israel's elimination is a quasi-religious duty, the sympathetic Westernized observer, for whom the concept of elimination is intolerable, will think much more benignly in terms of well-intentioned "bargaining." Hamas and Hizbullah are pragmatic, they will argue, so that their statements and deeds are only leverage to achieve specific political ends that, once attained, will allow a return to harmonious equilibrium.

This argument, so tirelessly made, is tiresomely irrelevant. No one has seriously suggested that Hizbullah or Hamas are not pragmatic. But one can be pragmatic in the means and not in the ends. If anything, pragmatism is obligatory in the pursuit of an absolute idea. And what characterizes those pursuing the absolute idea? In his essay "Terror and Liberalism", Paul Berman provides a partial answer, writing how French author Albert Camus noticed that out of the French Revolution and the 19th century had grown a modern impulse to rebel. That impulse, Berman wrote, "mutated into a cult of death. And the ideal was always the same. It was not skepticism and doubt. It was the ideal of submission ... it was the ideal of the one, instead of the many. The ideal of something godlike. The total state, the total doctrine, the total movement."
Their motivating force is submission to the pursuit of the just idea, and this goes to the very heart of Islam itself, indeed denotes its very meaning, which is based on the embrace of total submission to God. Nasrallah may rarely employ religious terminology, but everything about the way he structures his thoughts, contentions, or vows reflects a deeply religious mindset.

One thing eternally confusing outside observers is that Hamas and Hizbullah are what have come to be described as "nationalist Islamists." Because nationalism started essentially as a Western notion, because its reference point is something reassuringly tangible like territory, not Armageddon, the Westernized writer will see something of himself or herself in such Islamists groups, and will resort to the terminology of modern nationalism to describe their actions. Hizbullah liberated South Lebanon, Hamas is trying to do the same in Palestine; their goals are no different than those of courageous patriots everywhere who have fought against foreign occupation.
But what the observers won't grasp is that nationalism does not necessarily disqualify religion; time and again the two have advanced hand in hand, even in unlikely settings.
For outside observers to ignore or reinterpret their words in order to justify a personal weakness for these groups' revolutionary seductions is both self-centered and analytically useless.

For older, related pieces by Young, see here on Hezbollah and the Left, and here, for a review of a book on Nasrallah's speeches.

Still on the subject of Hezbollah, check out this sharp piece by Elie Fawaz about Hezbollah's current dilemmas and constraints:

This war consummated the divorce between Hezbollah and the majority of Lebanese. Since then, domestic tensions in Lebanon have gradually risen to the brink of an explosion. Violence has erupted in the streets of Beirut between Hezbollah's opponents and its supporters. As a result, the image and aura of Nasrallah, which he tried to forge for himself and his party along inter-communal lines, has become a thing of the past.

Today the Party of God is out of options. By trying to avenge the murder of the party's military commander, Nasrallah would bring disaster upon Lebanon and the Shiite community. He cannot deliver on his vow to wage an open war and will have to backtrack on his threats.

You could see these dilemmas in Nasrallah's pathetic speech the other day where he tried to pull some bogus poll done by the Hezbollah shop called The Beirut Center for Research and Information, which is run by Hezbollah card-carrying member Abdo Saad, who happens to be the father of Hezbollah flack Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. That place churns up tailor-made polls to be used for disinformation and to be disseminated by said flack Saad-Ghorayeb who still gets quoted in the media as an "expert."

Speaking of Hezbollah flackery, revisit my rundown on bad Hezbollah scholarship here.