Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hamas & Hezbollah: Islamist but also Nationalist

Discussing analogies between Hezbollah and Hamas, Lebanese Daily Star editor Rami Khouri notes an analogy concerning:

the convergence between religion, nationalism, governance and politics. In both Palestine and Lebanon, the prevailing secular political systems proved dysfunctional, corrupt and unable to protect the society against Israeli aggression or domestic strife and criminality. Movements like Hamas and Hizbullah developed in large part to fill the vacuum in efficient governance, security against Israeli attacks, and domestic order. They have achieved mixed results, with success in some areas but also an intensification of warfare and destruction in others.Trying to discredit these movements by accusing them of one primary transgression - ie, they use terrorism, attack civilians, carry arms, cozy up to Syria and Iran, espouse an Islamist agenda - will not discredit or destroy them. This is because of the structural manner in which they fulfill multiple roles that respond to the real needs of their citizens and constituents in the realms of governance, local security, national defense, and basic service delivery - responsibilities that their secular national governments failed to fulfill.The combination of these attributes makes it very hard for Israel to "defeat" Hizbullah and Hamas in their current configuration, regardless of how much death and destruction Israel rains on their societies. These two Islamist-nationalist movements reflect a long list of mostly legitimate grievances that must be addressed if peace and security are ever to reign in this region.

Being both Islamist and nationalist means that both religious and nationalist vacuums in the political system must be filled by other actors in order to remove Hamas and Hezbollah effectively from the system. Depose them and they get replaced...probably by a more extreme version. If the Obama Administration is to avoid being dragged down by the anchor of an endless Palestinian crisis, it will have to digest this message: ceasefires prevent innocent casualties for a while, but actually to resolve anything requires addressing the Palestinian situation on three levels:

  • moral;
  • national;
  • practical.

Bombs obviously aggravate the situation on all three levels. Bush is doing Israel no favors by egging on its militarists with the pretence that, given a little more time, they can solve their problem. The Israeli invasion may well contribute to a solution in the sense of clarifying the problem, for those too obtuse to see the obvious after all these decades. But the process of clarification is also making the problem worse: deepening the moral deficit, aggravating nationalist feelings, and of course creating all that mess to clean up. Hmmm, at least the last may not be a big problem - I hear there are a lot of underemployed bulldozer drivers up north of the Litani...

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