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Joseph Alagha. The Shifts in Hizbullah's Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology and Political Program.

Joseph Alagha. The Shifts in Hizbullah's Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology and Political Program Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006, 380 pages. Paper, no price indicated.

Hizbullah came into being in Lebanon in 1978, but it started to attract international media attention in 1982, when one of its militants detonated his car in the Israeli military headquarters of Tyre in occupied Lebanon, killing himself as well several dozen Israeli soldiers. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Hizbullah militants consolidated their jihadi reputation by performing the most dating and deadly military operations, including the Beirut Barracks and the United States Embassy Bombing in 1983 which claimed the lives of 350 people. This and other operations had caused Hizbullah to be included in the roster of terrorist organizations of the US State Department. However, Hizbullah's history is not just about hostage taking or suicide bombing. It social networks provides services to the disenfranchised regardless or their religious affiliation in Lebanon. Its Al-Manar satellite TV and Nur satellite radio station reach millions of people in the Middle East. Its military wing which received logistical support from Iran and Syria is the first Arab army to have resisted Tsahal, which, as we know, won resounding victories against the combined armed forces of Jordan, Egypt and Syria in all Arab Israeli wars. Hizbullah is also a political party which was represented in government and parliament in Lebanon. The dissertation of Joseph Alagha attempts to shed light on this complex movement, in particular it explains the shifts in Hizbullah's ideology.

After one solid introductory chapter which surveys the history of Hizbullah to 2005, the author structures his analysis around three main axes: the first addresses the formation of the religious ideology of Hizbullah as a nascent Islamist movement in Lebanon from 1978 to 1984, the second is devoted to the analysis of its political ideology as Hizbullah engaged the Lebanese political system from the mid-1980 to 1990; and the third discusses the political program of Hizbullah from 1991 to 2005, when it became incorporated into mainstream Lebanese politics.

In the discussion of the religious ideology, the author addresses in great detail the doctrines from which Hizbullah drew inspiration, including the fundamentals of the Shiite faith, the theory of the guardianship of the Jurisconsult (wilayat faqih) as elaborated by Imam Khomeyni the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and finally the struggle in the path of god (jihad fi sabilillah).

In the discussion of the political ideology, the author exposes seven main points : Hizbullah's standpoint towards the oppressors and oppressed, its perspective on the Islamic state, its position on the relations with the Lebanese Christians, its perspective on Israel, its viewpoint toward the unity of the Muslims, its stance vis-a-vis the West, and finally its view on jihad and martyrdom.

In the analysis of the political program, Alagha addressed again the abovementioned seven points, and in addition, he discusses Hizbullah jurisprudential stipulations of parliamentary, municipal and governmental work, its socio-economic program, its non governmental organizations and civil institutions, its stance towards Syria and Iran, its role as a nationalist political party, and its dialogue with the Lebanese Christians. The author shows the transformation of Hizbullah's ideology from one period to the other.

A question of paramount policy importance is what made possible the shift of Hizbullah from "extremism" to "moderation," from an exclusively Shiite group to a moderate Islamist organization which endorsed the principles of liberal democracy (170), and which sometimes allies with Christian as was the case for example in the 2005 elections? The author attributes these shifts to two main factors: Hizbullah's ability to provide a modern and liberal reinterpretation of the Islamic jurisprudence, and the political liberalization in the Lebanese political sphere.

Regarding the first factor, Alagha shows that Hizbullah drew notably on the following two maxims of Islamic jurisprudence to justify compromises: the notion that "necessities permit what is forbidden" al-darurat tubih almahdhurat and that "what cannot be accomplished in its whole, cannot be left entirely" man la yudraku kuluhu, la yutraku kulluhu. This liberal interpretation, according to Alagha, builds on the vision of Musa Sadr, the vanished Imam and spiritual father of Hizbullah who "perceived his mission in Lebanon predominantly in secular and integrative terms through a search of the identity of the Shiites and their mobilization for political, social, and economic advancement" (207).

The second factor, according to the author, is the emergence of a pluralist public sphere in Lebanon and increasing openness toward other communities, political parties, and interest groups in Lebanon (208). This is a very important point. Given that authoritarianism has been the rule in the Arab World with the notable Lebanese exception, could it be argued that the criminalization of political opposition accounts at least partly for the radicalization of Islamist movements? If this is the case, could political liberalization lead to the moderation of Islamist movements elsewhere? The author does not explicitly address the comparative implications of his findings for understanding Islamism elsewhere. But, given that the book is 370 pages-long, it is understandable that the author could not have addressed every important question.

Worthy of note however is that the book is not just a monograph on Hizbullah, (many such monographs are already available), it is also a contribution to Middle Eastern Politics, to the relations between Iran and Shiite communities in the world, to the literature on suicide bombing, and to transnational Islam. It breaks many stereotypes concerning the so-call irrationality and fanaticism of Islamist movements. It is clearly written, and well argued. Select chapters could be used for teaching graduate and undergraduate courses on Islamism, Middle Eastern politics, and Shiite doctrine. The first chapter of the book stands on its own as the history of Hizbullah. The book also provides a wealth of useful documents such as a glossary, a chronology of events, releases by Hizbullah officials, and statements of its political program. However, it provides no index and no list of abbreviation. The book shall be useful to academics, as well as policy makers and anybody interested in contemporary social movements in the Middle East.

Ousmane Kane is Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York.
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Author:Kane, Ousmane
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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