Hezbollah and sectarian strife in Syria

Hassan Al Mustafa

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The scene in Syria is becoming more complex day after day, with a higher frequency of violence, killing, displacement, and more participants entering the conflict’s circle. It signals bloody sectarian clashes, amid religious provoking speeches that work on the offender’s demonization, and advocate the imminent danger that threatens the community and its existence. This is what makes the followers get back to the (sectarian) house of obedience, believing that it will save them from the coming flood devastation.

The growing power of fundamentalist groups like “al-Qaeda” and al-Nusra Front” from one side, and the involvement of Hezbollah in military operations on the other side, clearly signal that the Syrian revolution is being pushed to “sectarianism”, so it would look like a “Sunni” movement fighting against the “Shiite” resistance. This is the image that each side is trying to promote, to gain more followers and add legitimacy to their armed operations that basically serve their “ideological” notion. The crisis has worsened instead of being resolved.

Hezbollah’s interference

Hezbollah is seeking to justify its recent military intervention by stating that the party has protected some Shiites in Lebanon and Syria, who were subjected to systematic violations and displacement by extremist armed factions. Takfiri extremist gangs are deliberately executing these abuses; the existence of “al-Qaeda” has become an undeniable reality. However, the negative aspects of this direct intervention is more complicated because it opens the door for anyone in Syria to carry weapons, under the pretext of protecting his community or religious sanctities. This results in increasing the chaos and undermining the concept of a modern state. On another level, this issue is related to alliances and regional axes that use religion and sectarian speeches as a cover to conceal the reality behind the political and economic conflict regarding interests and influence.

Hezbollah has built his glory as a “resistance” group fighting for the liberation of its occupied territory by Israel. This is what got him the legitimacy and credibility, and made the party’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah a “liberational” symbol, with a wide audience in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Hezbollah and the Arab Spring

Arab revolutions erupted in 2011, and Hezbollah favored them, a position that was in line with its principles and convictions. However, as calls for overthrowing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad heightened, Hezbollah became skeptical regarding the revolution, even though it had the same slogans chanted during the previous revolutions. It was the turning point in the party's position regarding the “Arab Spring”, and what made it significantly and rapidly lose its “symbolic capital”!
Hezbollah’s behavior would have been understood if it presented itself as a purely political movement that has no religious aspects or moral system. If Hezbollah’s speech came within a pure political context that abides to pragmatism policy standards, the profit and loss accounts, and the current alliances and axes; it would have had all the right to endorse any position.

Hezbollah’s main problem, like any other religious party, lies in the legal justifications of its political positions. These are behaviors that stem from what Hezbollah considers to be an interest in which a group of people believe, in other words, a judgment that can be right or wrong. This judgment is promoted through searching for intelligent and moral exits that would make the party acceptable and at the same time “sacred”, which will consequently drag the party out of embarrassing mire, and lend it the cover that would protect it from criticism. Therefore, it is important to remove religious characteristics from the speech of any party or group.


The sectarian polarization that is experienced by Arab societies has led to a non-scientific generalization and sorting. Anyone against the Assad regime has been labeled “hostile Sunni”, and anyone supporting the regime “Shiite protester”! This is a superficial and racist division fueled by the nature of the alliances and militant groups. It has exacerbated the political use of religion, the participation of the religious men in everyday politics, and the religious satellite channels that emerged like “fungus” fueling the tension and hatred feelings.

Labeling Shiites as a single deaf block, is a senseless point of view; there are a lot of voices within the community, which have their own independent position that differs from Iran and Hezbollah’s positions; these positions have been made clear either through written articles or media.

Honest stances

Hani Fahs, and Mohammed Hassan al-Amin, were honest in their support of the Syrian Revolution. Saudi cleric Hassan al-Nemr, wrote several times on his personal “Twitter” account that he strongly criticizes Bashar al-Assad and his executions against the people.

Ali Fadlallah, son of late Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, has been outspoken in warning from the Lebanese intervention in Syrian affairs, saying that “the involvement of the Lebanese in the Syrian crisis may lead to tension in Lebanon's relations with the Arab world, in a time when our country is in dire need of stability. He added that when fighters are being sent to Syria, the consequences on Lebanon, on the Lebanese people in general and on their interests should be foreseen...The consequence of intervening in the Syrian conflict is bad on all the Lebanese”.

Many independent writers and intellectuals like Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance Ataollah Mohajerani, Lebanese journalist Ali al-Amin, Saud al-Mawla, Mona Fayyad, Jihad Bazzi and many others have different stances toward the “political Shiism”. Their positions are frank and criticizing those that have a different approach toward the position of Hezbollah and Iran. A large public agrees with these positions but it remains latent and silent, preferring not to take a clear position, for fear that it would be used in the sectarian current conflict, or that it would cause the chain holding the “Community” together, arguing that the unity of the community is not the top priority and warning about what they see as a “systematical campaign to exclude Shiites and weaken them”. In light of the mentioned campaign, an internal criticism should take place within narrow circles narrow!

The Shiite fear of criticism does not hold sufficient reasonable causes, keeping in mind what takfirist fatwas and incitement campaigns cause in matter of apprehension and negative charging in the streets, and keeping in mind the necessity for the greater Sunni public, especially the moderate and rational currents, to take real initiatives that would reassure the Pan Shiite street and relieve it from its concerns, isolation or withdrawal from participating in the society. This cannot happen without brave initiatives, based on the full and flawless citizenship principle, so they can isolate the religious confession from politics fluctuations, and minimize the inconvenience of any existing sectarian clash.

From their side, Hezbollah and Iran have a great responsibility, in avoiding the participation of Shia Arabs in particular, in the midst of political rivalries, and regional conflict axes. Religions should not be loaded with political positions burdens, which may alter and vary depending on the internal and regional changes in Syria's equation.

This is a critical stage in for the overall Middle East region and if wise men do not take brave initiatives that stand wisely and firmly against extremism and the persistence of armed violence, the ideological revolt let by arms, will definitely destroy the region’s future, and throw it in a raging sectarian war that will take the lives of innocent people!
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. He can be found on Twitter: @halmustafa

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