(Note: this is from a facebook post, so it might be raw, drafty and ranty. For my more sophisticated posts, keep tuned to my blog)
A video from ‘Sawt Beirut’ (‘Voice of Beirut’) has been doing the rounds. In it Shia militias (judging from their accent, likely Lebanese, although that’s not certain) in Syria launching scud missiles (a scud missile) at the enemy (not Israel), repeating the phrase ‘Oh Ali’ whilst they get fired.
Again, that’s scud missiles, in possession not even of the regime but of militias, that’s how asymmetrical this conflict is.
Time for a rant about Hezbollah.
So while we hated Hezbollah’s political support for Assad, although some attempted to dilute it by asking for ‘understanding’, because ‘Hezbollah would find it difficult to break with their traditional ally’, or that ‘it has to follow Iran’ (in the former this was inexcusable of course, in the latter it was unlikely that Iran would forego its most effective ally in the region and a major enabler of its ‘resistance’ legitimacy for someone it felt less sure about), Hezbollah really burnt its bridges and annihilated any goodwill it had left which it had built over years in the Sunni world, when it started sending fighters into Syria, and then formally invaded. ISIS would never have been as strong had the Syrian rebels not been facing an overwhelmingly sectarian enemy, from Iranian revolutionary Guards to Iraqi militias, culminating with Hezbollah’s invasion in 2013 of Syria to prop up the regime.
While the US might currently appear to be on the side of the Shia powers in Syria (as well as a detente with Iran) – I for one do not subscribe to the view that this ‘alliance’ is a permanent or conspiratorial one (although many do), or that there is a plan to make Iran the ‘new gatekeeper’ of the Middle East. I believe that Iran and Hezbollah are – unlike the ‘reforming’ (read compromising) regime of Assad, and despite my hatred of their policies in Syria – ‘genuine’, in the sense that they do seek anti-imperialist independence and resistance. As do the majority of rising Sunni-dominated political actors, for that matter (and believe me, I have criticisms for sectarianism on that side as well, which I address in other posts). I would be very wary of falling into a false sense of security in this supposed rapprochement between the US and such Shia actors, although that is merely a guess and is dependent on a variety of factors (including whether the Iranian regime and Hezbollah would compromise, i.e. in other words, increasingly ‘sell out’, in any such arrangement), and it could very easily return to a state of the US trying to screw them over again.
Humble advice to our Lebanese brothers and sisters, don’t put sectarian loyalties above all else. I (a Sunni) am against Saudi, ISIS and all the decadent governments, regardless of whether they’re Sunni or Shia. I was and am with the oppressed in Bahrain. The Shia have a history of being persecuted, and so often this now comes with a mentality of dismissing accusations of aggression from ‘their side’ (generically speaking about Shia political actors). Yet this is not a fantasy and the sectarian aggression in Syria by and large did begin from the political actors on that side. So don’t come and talk to me about ‘Saudi, Qatar and ISIS’, the reality is Hezbollah made a conscious sectarian decision to back Assad from the start and proved to be as sectarian as their supposed enemies, who they self-righteously and hypocritically attacked in Bahrain. And in the end they let the words of bigots have value.
The reality is, brethren, as a whole the US doesn’t favour the anti-status quo new Sunni actors, the US doesn’t favour the anti-status quo Shia actors. It might seem to favour one side in a certain situation, but overall its quite happy to take turns oppressing each. And this is the amazing thing, us Muslims know this, we always say ‘oh the West always wants to divide and conquer us Muslims’, and then are seemingly completely blind when they *are* doing it, putting the blame on the ‘oh its the Sunnis, oh its the Shias, they sell out to the West to oppress the other’, no its the *status-quo regimes* which could be Sunni and could be Shia.
And while Hezbollah was seen as trying to transcend that status quo, the initial slightly surprising relative underwhelming-ness (if that’s a word) which you could sense in their reaction towards the Arab Spring, followed by their position in the Syrian crisis has moved them clearly into the status quo camp, for just like Saudi and all the other reactionary states, they sought to repress another one of the revolutions. In other words, these actors have undergone a transformation from radical to conservative, from seeking to change the existing order to trying to preserve it (the only alternative explanation for their actions is that they are seeking to expand their power in the region, which I do not think they have the capacity to do outside Shia-populated areas), and such a transformation can have serious knock-on effects on their wider mentality. For it is possible that along with this will come a downward trajectory, with these actors becoming more and more ‘compromising’ and blunted, and possibly eventually transform into sell-outs as well – maybe not to the same degree, but nonetheless no longer opposed in existential nature to those regimes, which they once placed themselves as alternatives to.
There is also a dangerous arrogance that has become increasingly apparent with the rise of such political-Shia movements, because after years and years of oppression and lack of representation, in the last decade or so these actors have finally been able to come out and posses increasing power and influence, notably Hezbollah in the last 10 years (including of course its resistance against Israel in 2006), Shia-domination of post-invasion Iraq, and also Iran since recovering increasingly from the 80s war. (It reminds me in a sense of the arrogance of the Muslim Brotherhood on finally getting a taste of power in Egypt, once they got elected to parliament after being oppressed for so long. Needless to say, that didn’t end well.)
Yet while there has been a considerable rise in Shia power in *relative* terms this should not be deceptive, for the reality is that such an increase will never go beyond a certain point and will inevitably be confronted, simply because the people in the region are overwhelmingly Sunni and will reject attempts at subjugation (and will have geopolitical backers to do so). To that effect at least half of the territories of countries which were under Shia rule (Iraq and Syria), are no longer under government control. ISIS’s successes are merely a reaction against the sectarian form which this rise in power has taken in Iraq. It’s also worthwhile to remember that Sunni tribes had defeated ISIS in these same areas just a few years ago (the so-called ‘Sunni Awakening’), yet many now see ISIS as preferable to the sectarian alienation they experienced under the Maliki regime.
In short, Shia sect-based intervention to oppress popular movements will be strongly challenged and give rise to radicalisation, and the longer Hezbollah stays in Syria, the worse it will get. Yet to be clear, I do not like using these Sunni-Shia binaries but I do so because they are a reality; that is not say that it is only Shia intervention which has oppressed popular movements, of course it has been Sunni as well (against other Sunnis, such as Gulf opposition to the revolutions in Sunni majority countries, such as in Egypt, as well as against Shias, such as in Bahrain). Now the question is whether this escalates even more into a deeper regional sectarian war. Does anybody want that?
Hezbollah must leave Syria and abandon the Assad ship, and hope that any backlash can be moderated, because they’ve implicated Shias in the region even more by their actions, as ISIS have also done with Sunnis. Of course, them abandoning Assad at this point sounds extremely far-fetched, but otherwise you can be sure that this will only get worse. If anyone think that Hezbollah now has to remain in Syria to militarily ‘destroy’ the problem it created is naive and creates even bigger ones, as can be seen by the ISIS backlash which grew massively after its 2013 invasion.
So to our Lebanese brethren, Hezbollah has a popular base without which it is much weakened, so why is that influence not exerted? Indeed I have been impressed by the positions of certain Shia clerics in Iraq in their opposition to Maliki and pressure for him to resign. So when are we going to see pressure from Hezbollah’s base to leave Syria? (indeed I think I read somewhere that the majority of Hezbollah supporters were against invading it in the first place, although that might have since changed). When are we going to see outrage about the treatment of Syrian refugees there? We are waiting.