The Magazine

Shiites Against Hezbollah

The other struggle in Lebanon.

Nov 13, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 09 • By DAVID SCHENKER
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HEZBOLLAH ROCKETS stopped raining on Israel nearly two months ago, but the Shiite organization's onslaught continues. Today, instead of directly attacking Israel, the Party of God is targeting Lebanese intellectuals and politicians who have the temerity to question Hezbollah's hegemony over local Shiite politics.

There's no debating that Hezbollah is a popular organization in Lebanon and particularly among Shiites. Not only does the organization provide health, welfare, and education services to its constituents, its military prowess is a source of honor and pride for the community.

But not all Shiites support Hezbollah. Some have been voicing their opposition to the "resistance" agenda, and not surprisingly, Hezbollah is attempting to strong-arm these dissidents into line. The intimidation has not yet degenerated into violence, but, given Hezbollah's track record (the terrorist organization is, with Syria, a leading suspect in several political assassinations in Lebanon since 2005), it is certainly wont to.

Hezbollah's quest for hegemony--and its efforts to enforce party-line discipline over all the Shiites in Lebanon--predates the summer war with Israel. Eleven months ago, in December 2005, Hezbollah and Amal ministers bolted from the government cabinet to protest consideration of an international tribunal to prosecute the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Closely allied with Syria, the lead murder suspect, Hezbollah opposed the notion of an impartial tribunal.

The ministers' departure brought government business to a standstill, but set in motion even more Hezbollah mischief. Worried that the government might appoint non-Hezbollahis to the apportioned Shiite cabinet seats, cleric Afif Nabulsi issued a fatwa "forbidding any Shia to enter into the cabinet." This ominous "warning" set off a tempest among the Lebanese intelligentsia. Adonis, aka Ali Ahmed Said, Lebanon's most prominent man of letters (who happens to be a Sunni), described the fatwa as an "act of aggression." The most aggrieved party, however, were clearly the Shiites themselves. So incensed was one Shiite lawyer, Mohammed Mattar, that he brought a class action lawsuit against Sheikh Nabulsi.

Mattar's lawsuit, filed in January 2006, was joined by five prominent Shiites--some of whom had the legitimacy of being direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad--and three Christians. Over fifty intellectuals, including Sunnis, joined a follow-up case. For the plaintiffs, the action was a clear case of church-state separation: Hezbollah, via Sheikh Nabulsi's threatening fatwa, had deprived Shiite Lebanese of their constitutional right to participate in public life. Mattar et al were not looking for damages or jail time, but rather, for a well-reasoned and widely promulgated court ruling preventing further Hezbollah encroachment on Shiite political expression.

It is open to question whether the judge--a young Sunni hailing from the Hezbollah stronghold of Bekaa--can be counted on for an impartial ruling. Reaction to the case, which has been well covered in the media, has been fierce. Hezbollah has launched a countersuit. Meanwhile, pro-Hezbollah weblogs in Lebanon have savaged Mattar, alternately describing him as a CIA agent, a Mossad agent, and an employee of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

More recently, in the aftermath of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, perhaps the highest profile Shiite refusenik in Hezbollah's sights is Mona Fayyad, a professor of philosophy at The Lebanese University. On August 8, Fayyad penned an acerbic op-ed in Lebanon's paper of record, An-Nahar, assailing Hezbollah's political and intellectual dominance over her confession. In her widely translated article, "To Be a Shiite Now," Fayyad questioned the imposition of Hezbollah's ideology--and the consequences of Hezbollah's authority--over Shiites and Lebanon.

For Fayyad, to be a Shiite means that "you do not question the meaning of resistance." Instead, you defer to the leader of the resistance, General Hassan Nasrallah, in "his role as a loyal hero to the cause of the Arab nation." As a Shiite, "you can only thank Hezbollah for its heroism and sacrifice--it is not your role to contribute to 'weakening' it. . . . That means never to question whether pride takes precedence over the lives of others." You are simply obligated, she quips, to "incapacitate your mind and leave it to [Iranian Supreme Leader] Sayyid Khamenei to guide you." Finally, "if you are a Shiite and you dare write such writings and think such thinking, then you must be a foreign agent and a traitor. . . . You must be with the Zionist and Israeli projects."