Posted by: sean | August 4, 2006

Images from the Dahiyeh

The Times has done a simple interactive graphic of the Southern suburb of Beirut, Haret Hreik, which is where Hizbollah has its offices and which has been the target of many of the Israeli attacks.

It’s good that the Times has decided to put it next to a map of Manhatten (at the same scale). Maybe some people might better be able to imagine what it would be like if New York were being attacked instead of Beirut.

The London Review of Books has several pieces by people in Beirut now. This one reminds me the most of my Beirut, parfticularly the ambivalence about leaving Lebanon. It wouldn’t surprise me if we went to the same café in Hamra:

I am a secular person and I?m democratically inclined. I have never supported Hizbullah, but I do not question its legitimacy as a political force in Lebanon. It would be folly to regard Hizbullah as just another radical Islamist terrorist organisation. It is a mature political organisation with an Islamist ideology. It has learned (very quickly) to coexist with other political agents in the country, as well as other sects. There have been exceptional moments when the country has united willingly and spontaneously (as during the Israeli attacks in 1993 and 1996), but other less spectacular moments have punctuated the lived postwar experience of every single Lebanese, in which sectarian prejudice was easily set aside. When Hariri was assassinated, the country seemed divided into two camps. There was, however, an overwhelming consensus that we would not go back to fighting one another. If Israel plans to annihilate Hizbullah, it will annihilate Lebanon. Hizbullah is an essential element of contemporary Lebanon.

Otherwise, I’m supposed to be going to Ramallah today, which should prove to be an interesting trip.

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Responses

  1. I do not feel that Hizbullah is necessarily a “legitimate political force” in formal democratic terms although I may agree that the organization has been “legitimized” within the country itself, given that they are more an *informal* organization than a *formal* one.

    Hizbullah is really its own animal. I do not believe any organization should have its own independent military wing within the framework of a national political system, especially in a post-war nation such as Lebanon. The very existence of Hizbullah in Lebanon should beg the question: how weak is the formal democratic system within Lebanon in the first place? If such an organization should be allowed to have its own military wing, what has been the organization’s historical relationship with the formal body politic?

    Hizbollah has:

    – a bottom-up political structure
    – formal political power
    – comprehensive grassroots outreach activity (social service provider) within civil society.
    – a disproportionate influence within the international system.

    If anyone can define *what* Hizbullah really is, then I’m all ears. However, to call the organization *legitimate* is pushing the envelope, although I probably won’t disagree that it’s been *legitimized*. The problem, of course, is that Hizbullah is most certainly a kind of *hydra*; chopping off one head means the growth of many other heads. Perhaps Lebanese elites themselves have been aware the entire time.

    -kai-

  2. Contuining, following Max Weber’s influential definition, a state has a ‘monopoly on legitimate violence’. Undeniably, any state owns the monopoloy over the “hard” institutions, including the armed forces, civil service, state bureaucracy, courts, secret agents, police, etc. etc. Any such challenge to such monopolies almost always signify either signify a civil war or a weak state. The hard question of the day, then, is “what has been Lebanon’s status as a state itself since the Civil War?”

    The ontological confusion comes about when we see that Hizbullah’s independent military wing seems to be aiming at a foreign power and not at its own “state”, while the *state* does not do anything about it. Hizbullah is perhaps not a domestic-contentious entity but they crertainly have the ability to stir the hell out of Israel. This is seen when we consider that the Lebanese state has not made significant attempts in absorbing the hard capacities of the Hizbullah militants (military wing) or just downright shooting them down, yet Hizbullah not only has the means, but the license to shoot missles (however pathetic) at foreign civilian populations.

    There is something to learn about a state which does not consider a militant organization with hard power as any kind of threat. Perhaps the lesson is that such organizations should not exist in the first place, especially when they are nothing but trouble.

    What a disorienting situation.

    -kai-

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