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Hezbollah’s Prisoner of Conscience

As the trial of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech continues, his support grows.

12:14 PM, May 18, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
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Last Friday, a Lebanese military tribunal met for the fifth time in the trial of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech, the Hezbollah dissident. The Shia cleric Mchaymech was first kidnapped in the summer of 2010 by Syrian security forces as he tried to cross the Lebanon-Syria border on his way to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was charged with collaborating with Israel, but a little more than a year after he was first detained, during which time he appears to have been tortured, the Syrian judicial system ordered his release.

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Mchaymech was then moved to Lebanon in the custody of the Internal Security Forces, but it is Hezbollah, say his family, friends, and supporters, that is responsible for his arrest and trumped-up charges.

In the early 90s, Mchaymech was part of the Hezbollah leadership, serving as first assistant to the party of God’s original secretary general, Sobhi Tufayli. Within a few years, Mchaymech had become one of Hezbollah’s most vocal critics, turning against the notion of guardianship of the jurist (wilayet al-faqih) that gives supreme political power to the supreme religious authority.  

At the trial last week, according to Lokman Slim, Mchaymech “did a masterly job of recounting his ‘divorce’ from Hezbollah and requested that several senior Hezbollah members be summoned by the court as witnesses.”

For the first time, members of the military tribunal asked Mchaymech to describe his version of the events that led up to his incarceration. Nonetheless, the next session was postponed until October 5. “The absurdly long interval between sessions,” says Slim, “is simply a means to keep the sheikh out of public circulation.”

It is not difficult to see why Hezbollah wants to keep Mchaymech quiet. Says Slim: “It was at first difficult to rally support among the Shia community, considering the taboo nature of the case. But it eventually became a moral obligation for all those fed up with Hezbollah's political blackmail. Rejecting the abuse of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech became a pretext for open protest.”

On the eve of the trial last week, the Committee of the Friends of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech held a panel discussion that focused on the publication of a compilation of his more controversial writings, excerpts of which have been translated into English. The passages below, which attempt to bridge Muslim jurisprudence with modern Western political theory, are all explicit attacks on Hezbollah— its tyranny in not permitting criticism and jailing dissidents, its use of wilayet al-faqih to exert total control of the Shia community, and its monopolization of the Lebanese state.

If a person who is not a Prophet or an Imam wants to serve the people, manage their political affairs and make decisions regarding their fate, but ignores the principles of accountability and diversity of opinion, that person is a tyrant. This is true even if they wear the dress of holiness…Through denial of these principles, this person places himself above the people, demonstrating selfishness, arrogance and tyranny on the one hand, and seizure of the people’s sacred rights on the other. This is why we believe that a State that does not grant freedom to the political and intellectual press and that operates outside its purview is a State devoid of any religious or humane legitimacy. A State that imprisons intellectuals and political dissidents is a State devoid of any religious or humane legitimacy.

*** 

Yes, political authority is imperative in life, but it should be based on legitimacy. Muslims—Sunnis and Shias—should not base their powers on a legitimacy extracted from the Quran and Hadith. Indeed, these sources have remained quiet; they have not revealed anything explicit or specific that elucidates the concept of authority. For every topic about which Allah remains silent and does not reveal His judgment, it is clear that the matter should be referred to reason. The wise have sought to interpret such matters according to their best interests. Moreover, the vast majority of human beings on Earth—believers or non-believers, Muslims or non-Muslims—have reached a similar understanding unanimously, according to law and reason, that no human being has the right to practice political authority in any society unless they have gained the consent and approval of the society through free elections. This political competition for authority should be honest and free, completely removed from all means of coercion, force and restraint. The legitimacy of such authority ends with the term specied by the electoral law. Authority is bound to society and vice-versa through a contract based on the terms and conditions expressed in the constitution.

***

This is the era of the State. Thus, it is unreasonable for a society believing in the concept of the modern State to accept the monopolization of their defense by a single group outside the State’s approval. In other words, it is inappropriate to call a State a State if the choice of war and peace is not in its own hands.

Hezbollah, with its Syrian patrons scrambling for their lives and the Islamic Republic of Iran perhaps at last cornered by the international community, is facing problems on every front. It seems that the most dangerous might be within its own Shia constituency, which as Hassan Mchaymech puts it, has been ill served by this totalitarian organization. 

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