Posted by Joshua on Sunday, July 20th, 2008
Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah delivered an important speech on Wednesday, July 16 2008, following the exchange of Lebanese prisoners and the remains of Hizbullah fighters for the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers abducted in 2006. The speech possessed all of the signature Nasrallah ingredients: defiance, magisterial oratory, and, of course, historiography, which is one of the most important elements of his rhetoric. Nasrallah sought to situate Hizbullah within a long line of "resistance" movements and ideologies, even doctrines seemingly antithetical to Hizbullah's identity. He stated:
"Brothers and sisters, from this position, with this crowd of martyrs throughout 30 years, we evoke all the sacrifices of the Lebanese, Palestinian, and Arab Resistance men – Islamists, nationalists, Arabists, and pan-Arab irrespective of any ideological trend they are affiliated with. We are proud of and appreciate all the resistance factions and parties and all the resistance men and martyrs, who joined the arenas of resistance, jihad, and struggle before us. We benefit from their experience, seek inspiration from their sacrifices, and recognize their status in the past, present, and future of the Resistance. In this context too, through what I have said, I would like to stress that the genuine and well-established identity of our region and nation is the identity of resistance, the will of resistance, the culture of resistance, and the rejection of humiliation and occupation, regardless of occupiers, dictators, and tyrants.
Based on this, throughout decades, you can see that the flag did not fall, the Resistance flag does not fall, but it moves from the hand of one group to another, from one faction to another, from one party to another, and from one heading to another."
While the occasion was devoted primarily to the celebration of the prisoners' return, Nasrallah took the opportunity to address some issues that made this a potentially historic speech. (1) He brought up the issue of the so-called "national defense" strategy, and insisted that it be brought to the table, dismissing the idea that Hizbullah is afraid of tackling such a sensitive subject. (2) He declared that the Hizb is prepared to discuss all issues relating to national interests and national unity. This should be read as referring not only to the issue of the resistance's weapons, but to the future of political reform in the country, which will be the necessary quid pro quo for Hizbullah's "normalization". In other words, we are witnessing the transformation of Hizbullah into one of the most powerful forces for political reform in Lebanon (and potentially beyond) since independence. Nasrallah is reinventing the vocabularies of both resistance and nationalism, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
There's an old joke about "accepted wisdom" in the field of economics. Two Nobel Prize winning economists are walking down the street when one of them spots a hundred dollar bill lying in the gutter. He says to his friend: "Is that a hundred dollar bill lying in the gutter?" His friend scoffs as they walk by it, and he says dismissively: "Of course not. If it were, someone would have picked it up already."
Similarly, many will be inclined to dismiss Nasrallah's rhetoric as empty talk. The smart money, in my view, is to take the man at his word, which, as he has already demonstrated on several occasions, is to be trusted. Beyond Nasrallah's personal guarantees, however, there is unescapable logic of demography, population pressures, and economic disparities which can only be ignored for so long before they become a liability for the Shi`a community's own leadership, the mighty Hizbullah not excluded. The end game will have to be political reform, if Lebanon is to survive.
Here is the relevant excerpt from his speech, translated to English for non-Arabic readers (by NOW Lebanon):
"I declare anew – in view of what I raised for discussion – that all our concern is to liberate the rest of our land. We in Hezbollah are open to every discussion on a strategy to liberate the Shebaa Farms, the Kfar Shouba hills, and the part of Al-Ghajar that is still under occupation. Our concern, brothers and sisters, all our concern is to defend our country, land, waters, the sovereignty of our country, and our people and their dignity and security. We in Hezbollah are open to every discussion on a strategy for national defense. We insist on this discussion.
Some people imagine we do not like this discussion or we are evading it. No, now we insist on it. We do not want it to be postponed. How does the saying go: "Let us burst this boil." Let us see this defense strategy which we have been talking about for some years. Let us get somewhere. That is because the threats and dangers to Lebanon have not ended.
We go to this dialogue and discussion in a positive and serious spirit. Our aim is to protect our country. We insist on this discussion, and we insist that everyone participates in protecting this country, and that the State bears the primary responsibility for protecting and defending this country. And thus we end the story of who is monopolizing defense and who is monopolizing resistance, as though it is a feast over which the people are competing. Usually people escape from the fighting, even the believers. Almighty God says: "Fighting is ordained for you, though you dislike it."
It is human nature to prefer to turn to politics, economic activity, cultural activity, and commercial activity, but people do not want to hear about fighting, staying up all night, captivity, wounds, sacrifices, hunger, staying in the valleys and plains. What is this thing which we are monopolizing and for which we are envied? Are we envied because our youth are in prisons, and that we are getting them back? Or are we envied because hundreds of our young have lost the flower of their youth to defend this homeland, and we get back their dead bodies?
No, I say to you today as we celebrate the freedom of the prisoners: We will ask everyone to contribute to protecting and defending this country, and whoever abandons this duty is the traitor. That is a national responsibility which all of us should seek to fulfill. At the same time, and within the context of the national unity government, I would like to affirm that we are ready to cooperate in handling all – and please underline the word "all" twice – files without exception or reservations in a way that will serve the national interest and enhance national unity and Lebanon's strength and impregnability, and enable Lebanon to overcome its crises."
The entire speech is available from YouTube. The excerpt begins at 37:00