More than resistance
Hizbullah has emerged from the Lebanese conflict as the major moral force within the region, writes Amr Elchoubaki*
In a recent recording released by Al-Qaeda, Ayman El-Zawahri vowed solidarity with the Lebanese resistance. The world's second most wanted terrorist declared his support for the oppressed and promised to keep fighting the US and Zionism on behalf of all Arabs and Muslims. His words rang hollow. An alliance between a resistance group such as Hizbullah and a terrorist outfit such as Al-Qaeda is out of the question. Al-Qaeda may have blown up transport facilities in Madrid and London but it cannot lend a hand to freedom fighters anywhere. The only thing Al-Qaeda excels at is tarnishing the cause of armed resistance. The Palestinian cause has already suffered from Al-Qaeda's dubious exploits.
Al-Qaeda cannot be Hizbullah's ally but it can be its successor. Al-Qaeda would love a foothold in Lebanon but only once the Lebanese state has lost its grip on power. Only then can terrorist operatives from Al-Qaeda and other outfits infiltrate the country. This is what happened in Iraq. Had Israel been able to score a decisive victory against Hizbullah Lebanon would have turned into the kind of failed state of which Al-Qaeda dreams.
Following 9/11 the US narrowed its perspective on terror. Initially it tried its hand in Afghanistan and then it went all the way in Iraq, with terrible consequences. Europe has also come to embrace the narrow-mindedness espoused by the Bush administration. Anyone carrying arms against an occupier is automatically branded a terrorist and war is seen as the best answer to terror.
The US administration cannot tell the difference between terror and armed resistance. I cannot distinguish between Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda. Hizbullah, Hamas, Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades are all resistance movements. The failure to distinguish these groups from terror outfits such as Al-Qaeda has brought nothing but catastrophe to this region and the "new Middle East" has become bloodier than anything we have experienced before. The battle with terror is an intellectual, security and political one while the battle with the forces of the armed resistance is a political endeavour which can be ended once Israel gives up the land it occupies.
Israel is the world's last colonial outpost and the world's foremost terror state. Israel has committed war crimes against the Lebanese people and its attack on Lebanon, triggered by a military operation in which Hizbullah captured two soldiers, demonstrates infinite arrogance. What Israel wants is to destroy Hizbullah, not because it is a terror group but because it is a symbol of resistance.
The Americans and Israelis confuse terror with resistance and are unwilling to take any political responsibility for their actions. Both want politics to disappear so they can use force and propaganda to achieve their goals. It is a risky tactic. Had they succeeded in destroying Hizbullah they would have given real terrorists a foothold in Lebanon. If the Lebanese state loses its grip on the country terror operations will become a daily reality, as in Iraq.
Hizbullah is more than a fighting force. It is a political and social necessity. Political arrangements for this region have so far been based on repression from outside and capitulation on the part of local regimes which is why the Arab public has latched on to Hizbullah. For them Hizbullah symbolises steadfastness. It is the only group that has said no to Israel and refused to back down. When so-called moderate governments bent over backwards to accommodate the Israelis and the Americans, Hizbullah stood its ground which is why Hizbullah is so popular today.
The Americans don't seem to understand the Arab mood or just how tired the public is of seeing their rulers take their cue from Washington. Arabs are not nostalgic for Saddam, nor are they thrilled to see countries such as Syria resist with words rather than deeds. They are tired of the endless oppression of Baathist-style regimes. What the Arabs want to see is democratic leaders, defiant but aware of the international situation. What the region needs is an injection of Latin American politics, leaders who are neither isolationist nor dictatorial in their outlook but who have backbone.
People may well be tired of what the Americans and Israelis are doing to the region but is there any chance of the Arab world having a democratic -- Islamist or leftist -- government right now? For the moment the chances are slim. We have resistance movements, such as Hizbullah, but we also have repressive governments that hang on to the status quo. Neither seems to offer a way out of the region's dilemma though the resistance movements do at least have moral power. Hizbullah has offered the Arab world a voice that contrasts totally with that of incumbent governments. This moral power has immense potential which the Bush administration cannot, and never will, understand. Both Israel and the US want to manufacture a new elite in this region that will submit to their every demand, just as the current regimes do and this is unacceptable to the Arab public.
The destruction of Hizbullah is no solution. It would have opened the door to terror across the region. Had the war in Lebanon dismantled the state, which it almost did, the situation would have been disastrous not only for Lebanon but the entire region. A cycle of terror would have been unleashed, and the cost for the civilian population would have been enormous. We need to think only of Iraq.
Israel and the US want to change the region but they are averse to the one thing that can change it in a positive manner -- a just and peaceful settlement. Israel is killing Palestinians every day. It is refusing to withdraw from the occupied territories and continues to believe that force and arrogance guarantee security.
Hamas and Hizbullah are part of the social and political fabric of this region and it is necessary to engage them in dialogue. This may involve pressure and compromises, differences and squabbles but it is the only solution to the horror and violence we have just witnessed. Hizbullah is more than an outfit with trained fighters; it is a moral symbol and a political necessity. Hizbullah cannot be silenced by force because it has captured the imagination of the Arab world. But it can be engaged in dialogue and persuaded through argument.
What the region really needs now is for Israel to leave the Arab territories it occupies.
* The writer is a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.