Across the Bay

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ibrahim Mussawi, or Hezbollah Disinformation 101

Some of you may not know who Ibrahim Mussawi is. Others may have recently heard of him after the controversy surrounding his invitation to lecture in England, and his subsequent barring from entering the UK in March 2009.

Mussawi is essentially the head of disinformation and propaganda for Hezbollah, a.k.a, "media relations officer." He is the editor of the Party's weekly rag, al-Intiqad, and the head of political programs at the organization's TV station, al-Manar.

People like him, and Ali Fayyad for example (as well as Ghaleb Abu Zainab, et al.), are handlers who ensure that the party line is properly disseminated. I gave a rundown of this in a post last year about how Hezbollah ensured that pretty much the entire body of literature relating to its ties to Imad Mughniyeh toed the party line. That was the necessary "nihil obstat" to gain the group's imprimatur and guarantee continued access for the authors.

What this line is, however, is a flat out lie. And Mussawi gives us a perfect example of this in a recent article by David Samuels in TNR:

I ask Mousawi about a quote from Hezbollah's number two, Naim Qassem, in which he talked about submitting Hezbollah's decision to become a political party in 1992 to Iran. He reaches into his bookshelf and tosses me a copy of Qassem's book, translated into English. "Find it," he says. Score one for Mousawi.

This is quite remarkable, if only for its brazenness. The mendacious Mussawi tries to catch Samuels on the fly and imagines that nobody will have the wherewithal to sound him out in his lies. His request was clearly a tactic to throw Samuels off-balance and to change the subject. Samuels had the option of wasting 20 minutes trying to find the quote in the book, or proceed with the interview. Of course, he chose the latter option, but proceeded to show how much of a con artist Mussawi is.

But Samuels hardly made up the quote, which is why Mussawi's trick was so brazen, and so telling. Anyone who's read the book knows it's there. I reproduce it in the original Arabic (followed by my translation), for the record. The quote comes from the fifth chapter entitled, "Participation in the System's Institutions" (al-musharaka fi mu'assasat al-nidham), in the section entitled "Participation in the Parliamentary Elections" (al-musharaka fil-intikhabat al-niyabiyya), pages 257-263 in the edition I have, and pp. 277-283 in the 2008 edition of the book. Perhaps the most relevant quote comes on page 263 (or 283 in the 2008 edition):

ثم جرى استفتاء سماحة الولي الفقيه الإمام الخامنئي (حفظه الله) حول المشروعية بعد تقديم اقتراح اللجنة فأجاز وأيّد، عندها حُسمت المشاركة في الانتخابات النيابية، ودخل المشروع في برنامج وآلية عمل الحزب، فعقد الأمين العام سماحة السيد حسن نصرالله مؤتمراً صحفياً في ٣ تموز ١٩٩٣، أعلن فيه عن قرار حزب الله بالمشاركة في الانتخابات النيابية


Then the legal ruling of the noble Jurisprudent [al-wali al-faqih] Imam Khamenei (may God keep him) was sought on the legality [al-mashrou'iyya] [of participation in elections] after the [Party's] committee presented its proposal, and he granted permission [ajaza] and support, and then the [decision of] participation in the parliamentary elections was settled, and the project was admitted into the Party's program and mechanism. And so, the Secretary General the noble Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah held a press conference on July 3, 199[2] in which he declared Hezbollah's decision to participate in the parliamentary elections... [Emphasis mine.]

Qassem earlier states clearly that, on its own, Hezbollah's own committee "cannot answer the question regarding the legality [of the participation]," since it is "the specialization of the Jurisprudent [al-wali al-faqih]." (p. 258 in my edition).

In other words, Mussawi engaged in deliberate disinformation, and his job is to ensure that Western journalists writing on the subject reflect the Party line, as was the case with Mughniyeh and Hezbollah's "global reach." He failed with Samuels. But he has other venues, such as the so-called "Beirut Exchange Program." And there is no shortage of compliant journalists, "experts," and flacks.

But now you know, whenever you read reports quoting him (or even presenting him as some sort of academic), or books where his "assistance" and "encouragement" are duly noted by the author, that you should always apply due caution. The man's job, after all, is to lie.

Update: The always gracious Barry Rubin picks up on this issue and offers his own unique take. For those of you who don't know, Barry now has his own blog, which you should all bookmark.

Addendum: The below statements by Mussawi (which set up the quote addressed in the post above) are equally remarkable for their blatant, yet hilariously transparent, dishonesty:

The formalities concluded, I ask Mousawi to explain the conditions under which Hezbollah asks Iran for advice. "It has nothing to do with Iran," he says. "These are purely religious questions. In Shia Islam," he continues, in his modest, scholarly way, "we have a concept called the Wilayat Al Faqih, the mandate of the jurisconsult, or Supreme Guide. I wrote my dissertation in England on this subject. The Wilayat Al Faqih is a concept that is central to Islam, but it was crystallized in the thought of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Even when the Ayatollah Khomeini was living in France, he was still the Wali Al Faqih. So you see that this is a purely religious question that has nothing to do with Iran. The followers of the Wali Al Faqih would emulate him wherever he is, and wherever they are."

This is amusing on a number of fronts -- and Mussawi lies on each and every one of them. First, the notion that the consultation of the Jursiprudent is somehow "purely religious" is utterly ridiculous. After all, as noted above, he was consulted on whether Hezbollah's participation in Lebanese parliamentary politics was permissible or not! Moreover, as Naim Qassem writes in his book, as I note in this essay, that "the al-wali al-faqih alone possesses the authority to decide war and peace" (huwa lladhi yamtalik salahiyat qarar al-harb wa as-silm), along with the authority “to make the major political decisions related to the interests of the umma” (ittikhadh al-qararat as-siyasiya al-kubra allati tartabit bi masalih al-umma), pp. 72, 76.

Secondly, the notion that somehow Khomeini's theory is "a concept central to Islam" but that somehow it was only "crystallized in the thought of the Ayatollah Khomeini", is your average boiler plate revisionism (which you can find in Qassem's book as well). If it were so, then how come all the other senior Shiite scholars, e.g., Kho'i, Fadlallah, Sistani, et al., who are superior to Khomeini's successor, the current Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei, rejected Khomeini's thesis?

Moreover, the bit about France and how this has "nothing to do with Iran" is just beyond ridiculous. Yes, it's totally unrelated that the only figure to "crystallize" this theory was an Iranian cleric. It was also mere coincidence that its only application was in Iran. It is equally haphazard that the successor of the first Jurisprudent (Khomeini) is the current Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Ali Khamenei)!

One could go on refuting this nonsense in more detail, but I'll spare you. (And the guy wrote a "PhD dissertation" on this!).

Hussain Abdul Hussain wrote to me commenting on the above quote. I'll conclude with his thoughts:

It does not look as though my friend Ibrahim Moussawi has a full grasp of the thought of Khomeini. Khomeini’s idea is based on what he called the Islamic Government [TB: Khomeini's book is entitled Hokumat-e Islami: Velayat-e Faqih], and when you give your ideology such a name, it hardly stays “purely religious” and rather becomes an issue of how Shiites perceive of themselves as citizens, or not, in the various states they live in around the world.

Even if we go by Moussawi’s definition of the concept of Wilayat Al Faqih, we will get a virtual Shiite state, unrestricted by geography or time. This undermines the idea of citizenship for every Shiite, in whatever state he or she lives in. It is the equivalent of demanding political allegiance of every Catholic in the world, regardless of their national identity, to the Pope in Rome. This undermines the allegiance of these Catholics toward their states and will inevitably bring them into clash with their co-nationals, exactly similar to the conflict that Khomeini has created for the Shiites with their co-nationals in the different countries around the world.

Khomeini’s concept of Wilayat Al Faqih is in contradiction not only with the idea of a nation-state, a product of centuries of human intellect and experiences, but also with whatever international conventions the different nation-states have drafted. Khomeini’s thought belongs to early political thought that renders individuals members of tribes assembled along perceived divine teachings. This kind of thought clearly has no place in the 21st century, and a clash between the followers of Khomeini and the world is apparent. Unfortunately there is no reconciliation between Khomeini’s thinking and world ideologies, and one of them should eventually cave or defeat the other, whether now or in the future.