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Religion and Society

Military Victory…or Glorious Death

The flag of Hezbollah in Baalbek, Lebanon [© upyernoz - Flickr]

The second part of the analysis of the founding principles of the Hezbollah movement which for some time has been the uncontested master of the south of the country. At the roots of a radical and total militancy, an idea of the world ‘as a simple bridge that leads on to eternity’

This article was published in Oasis 13. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2019-06-18 15:21:37

The dualism that is at the base of the structure of Shiite thought is also expressed in Hezbollah through a portrayal of the world to come. The Charter of 2009 is unequivocal: ‘O God, you know that none of us seek power or has wishes of vanity. We are dealing only with making law live again; with destroying falsehood; with defending those, amongst your faithful, who are oppressed; with inaugurating justice on your earth; with asking for your approval and drawing near to you. It is for this reason that our martyrs have died and it is for this reason that we engage in and carry on with our work and the jihad. You promised us one of these two rewards: either victory or the honour of meeting you adorned with blood.’[1] Martyrdom understood in these terms inverts the order of earthly values: what may appear as a defeat in earthly life is in reality a glorious victory for eternity.

 

The speeches of the General Secretary of the Party, Hasan Nasrallah, are almost always based upon a dual reading of very recent history. The first period referred to is the era of affronts and failures, beginning with the Nakba (‘catastrophe’) of 1948, the victory of Israel over the coalition of Arab States, which was extended by 1956 and above all by 1967, with the Six-Days War which, with the exception of Sinai and the Gaza Strip, froze the geographical map of the region. It is significant that the Kippur War of 1973 is put in the shade given that from the point of view of Hezbollah it is at the origin of the first great Arab ‘betrayal,’ that committed by Egypt, the first country of the region to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and at the very moment that southern Lebanon was being invaded. The second period referred to has the Lebanon as its protagonist: the Israeli army, which in 1982 pushed its tanks as far as Beirut in order to expel the PLO militants from the country, began its withdrawal in 1985 on the eve of the moment when Hezbollah made itself known about as a structured organisation endowed with a political-religious project. The first victorious deeds of the fighters of the ‘Party of God’ go back to this moment: 1985; then 1993 (operation ‘Responsibility’ according to the name given to it by the Israelis); 1996 (the operation ‘Bunches of Rage,’ which was marked by the bombing of civilians in Cana); 2000 (the unilateral withdrawal from the south of the Lebanon); and 2006 (the war of July and August which was defined as being a ‘divine victory,’ nasr ilâhî).[2]

 

Because of the relationship of the forces in the field, each one of these stages is presented as a heroic success on which was impressed the seal of God. The commemoration of political-religious events in the form of ‘days’ has undergone an exponential growth: the Day of ‘al-Quds’ (Jerusalem), of the ‘Damned of the Earth,’ of the ‘Massacre of Cana’ (1996), of the ‘Martyrdom of Hâdî Nasrallah’ (1997), of ‘Liberation’ (2000), and of the ‘Second Intifada’ (2000). Remembrance of these days is associated with the policy of sites which has sought to organise a ‘Resistance’ tourism. This is a project that envisages the creation of a multi-media space in dâhiya [the southern outskirts of Beirut: editor’s note], a museum inside the prison of Khiyâm (destroyed in 2006), a permanent exhibition located on one side of the ancient site of Baalbek, and panels in the castle of Beaufort which commemorate the ‘taking’ of this strategic place. The final military objective is the destruction of Israel because of the evils that are attributed to that country and because ‘Christian and Muslim holy places’ – the adjective ‘Jewish’ is deliberately omitted with reference to Jerusalem in the Charter of 2009[3] – and ‘Islamic lands’ are wrongly occupied. In the autumn of 2009 Nasrallah announced that thanks to the determination of Hezbollah, to recent events, to demographic changes and to possible major changes in American policy, his generation would have the honour of seeing Israel disappear.

 

 

Looking Forward to the Last Day

The jihad is by nature religious and is located within an eschatological perspective.[4] Imams see the world ‘as a simple bridge that leads on to eternity.’ Thus one must proceed by steps. The efforts involved must take place every day (courtesy, generosity and discipline). Prayer, ‘the best beneficial activity,’ is obligatory and it is also advisable to engage in edifying actions. Piety, which frees a person from the ‘limited passions of the world,’ is a necessary condition but it is not sufficient, like the ‘prescriptions of religious Law.’ Everything is taken into account with the view to the last day and for some people the punishment will be heavy (here the ‘weakness,’ ‘laxity’ and ‘intemperance’ of many Muslims are condemned), and for others light. ‘The mujâhid on the way of God, who abandons the pleasures of life to fight the enemy, cannot be equal, from the point of view of divine justice, to those who remain inactive. He is placed on a higher level in the life of this world and of the world beyond. He has in this life light and purity of heart…and in the world beyond eternal joy. He accedes to paradise in the company of the prophets and the saints.’ ‘Martyrs’ are promised an ‘extraordinary dwelling’ with God. The pleasures of paradise, the reward of those who deserve to go there, (without precise specification for the mujâhid) are of a moral character[5] (‘speaking with God’, ‘accompanying the Prophet’ …) but they are also physical: food, drink, sexual relations with the Hûr al ‘ayn, life in the castles of paradise, and the contemplation of beautiful landscapes.

 

 In the Koran the ‘future life’ is not the subject of particular descriptions other than these cited, which overall are rapid references in which re-echo portrayals that have been adopted by most Muslims, both Shiites and Sunnis. However a Lebanese Sunni shaykh, Soubhi el-Saleh, sought to bring together these ‘facts of heaven’ and the ‘facts of hell.’[6] According to testimonies collected amongst Shiites who received this formation, there is no emphasis either on ‘seeing God and His throne’ or on the pleasure that a contemplation of ‘divine beauty’ is to procure. Instead, these teachings lay stress upon the hierarchy of the chosen: clerics have castles; the best of men frequent the prophets and the imams; and the best of women frequent the most distinguished female personalities beginning with Zaynab. It is also made clear that some people can reach this paradise after passing by way of hell, the description of which is equally precise: hear torn out by spiders for women; constant prayer on a carpet of embers for bad believers; skin constantly scaled for those who committed corporeal sins.

 

 The ‘end of the world’ akhir al-zamân – is held to be near. An eschatological analysis is certainly less present in the Lebanon than in Iraq – in particular in the ‘army of the Mahdi’ of shaykh Bâqir al-Sadr – or in Iran (at least in some circles). But its circulation can be very rapid and goes beyond national boundaries. By way of example, in the period 2009-2010 the rumour spread that the nuclear project of the Iranian president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, was a part of the advent of the ‘State of the Mahdi,’ al-dawla al-mahdawiyya. At times some dates are ventured, ‘six years’ or more, but the rule is prudence and scholars prefer to avoid the questions of young people who dare to ask them about this subject. According to the terms traditionally handed down in Shiite circles –but also outside them – the militants of Hezbollah are taught that this period will be characterised by the return of three figures. The first is the Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, who survived his occultation and whose kingdom will last for forty years before his death. The second is ‘Îsà – identified with Jesus – who was born of a virgin but was not crucified. The third is al-Khidr, whose name does not appear in the Koran. According to facts deduced from Muslim Tradition, al-Khidr is identified with ‘absolute science’ (al-‘ilm al-ladhunî). Almost always he is associated with Mûsà-Moses and is presented as the inspirer of this figure who is seen as prophetic. Specialists of the Koran, such as  come Jacqueline Chabbi, link him to the mythological figure of Adonis who symbolises great abundance and science.[7]

 

During the apocalyptic period marked by this return, the three religions deemed ‘of the Book’ will be unified under the aegis of Islam alone and a single government will rule over the whole of mankind submissive to God. An interval of four or five years should separate the death of the Mahdi and the Day of Judgement, yawm al-qiyâma. On that day all men and all women will come together and will carry an angel on each of their shoulders, These angels, to whom Muslim men and women bow their heads at the moment of their daily prayers, have the task of recording all the deeds, words, thoughts and feelings of each person: if one of them runs the risk of forgetting something, the other is there to correct the omission. A written text will bring together all these elements for the final day. Before the divine judgement, each person will know his or her future destiny: heaven, if the angel on the right side hands over the text; hell, if the angel on the left side does this.

 

 A creed outside time does not exist. A creed is made specifically by men and women and is associated with a culture and a commitment; it is located in space. Thus what it involves can have meanings that vary. To circumscribe the possibilities of interpretation, Hezbollah has established an institutional and dogmatic framework. It trains its future militants in its own schools (this does not prevent Shiites from being received who have a different cursus studiorum) and draws up and published its textbooks of doctrinal teaching. It trains it clergy within specific institutions (hawza) and requires, subject to the penalty of the invalidity of prayer, reference to a ‘source of imitation’ (marja‘iyya), limiting, however, this reference to two personalities: ‘Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme Guide, and ‘Alî Sistânî, the highest Shiite authority in Iraq. In doing this, Hezbollah excludes one of the members who took part in its birth, namely shaykh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who died in the summer of 2010. The fact of omitting Fadlallah brings out basic divergences that appeared after the civil war and expresses a connection between politics and religion which is even more relevant because it belongs to an eschatological perspective. But this does not solve all the difficulties, as the divergences between Khamenei and Sistânî can be very significant. If it appears possible to overcome them, this is because these divergences have continued uncommented upon, in particular in the places where militants are trained where what prevails is not an exchange between teachers and students, on the basis of a complex corpus and different personal collective experiences, but a set of truths in which to believe and of deeds to perform.[8]

 

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation

[1] Complete and unedited translation in Dominique Avon and Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian, Le Hezbollah. De la doctrine à l’action: une histoire du «Parti de Dieu» (Seuil, Paris, 2010), pp. 200-201.

[2] Many references can be found on the site: <http://www.almanar.com.lb>.

[3] Dominique Avon and Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian, Le Hezbollah, p. 195.

[4] For a historical perspective see Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian, ‘Maux collectifs dans la pensée de Moussa Sadr,’ in Dominique Avon and Karam Rizk (eds.), De la faute et du salut dans l’histoire des monothéismes, actes de colloques en histoire comparée (Université de Kaslik, Liban, décembre 2005 – Université du Maine, France, novembre 2008) (Karthala, Paris, 2010), pp. 221-233.

[5] Durûs fî usûl al-‘aqîda al-islâmiyya, [‘Lessons on the Principles of Islamic Dogma’] (Jama‘iyya al-ma‘ârif al-islâmiyya al-thaqâfiyya, Beirut, 1999), pp. 176, 182.

[6] Soubhi al-Saleh, La vie future selon le Coran (Vrin, Paris, 1986), p. 42.

[7] Jacqueline Chabbi, [preliminary course for the agrégation in Arabic – year 1989 – Rif. BM0007T01].

[8] Testimony collected in the spring of 2010.

To cite this article


Printed version:
Dominique Avon, “Military Victory…or Glorious Death”, Oasis, year VII, n. 13, July 2011 pp. 48-50.


Online version:
Dominique Avon, “Military Victory…or Glorious Death”, Oasis [online], published on 1st July 2011, URL: https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/hezbollah-jihad-military-victory-or-glorious-death.

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