In Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, people are growing wary of sectarian figures and leaders who have hindered development of their countries and dragged them into internal conflicts and regional wars.
This is pretty clear in the case of Lebanon. The secretary general of Hezbollah Hasan Nasrallah is fast losing appeal among Lebanese youth. His speeches are only watched by either people who make the programs or those who find them funny. In fact, the catchword ‘Al Sayed’ has now become the butt of many jokes and videos in Lebanon.
The ‘glory’ of 2006
The party still basks in the glory of 2006, when some Lebanese and Arab communities were deceived by the idea that it had resisted, confronted and defeated Israel. Soon a murderer joined the party, who did not find any justification for his deeds except the protection of tombs — a primordial sectarian excuse that is of no significance for the Lebanese people. In fact, funerals of party members became a daily occurrence in the districts.
The party is no longer drawing even the young Shiites in Lebanon to its ranks, who earlier saw in it a model for resistance and its secretary-general as a charismatic leader. That false image has started to come off a tad.
As countries in the region gradually overcome the chaos that sprung in Arab capitals in 2011, with the young becoming more aware of the political realities, the appeal of Hezbollah has started to taper off, and many now view it more as a threat to stability.
The radical Shiite discourse is based on historical events and its obsession with the past constitutes the most problematic part of its narrative. Similarly, Sunni extremism dwells excessively on ideas from the past and seeks to impose them in the present and this is where conflict occurs.
Shiite extremism goes a step further in that it does not just seek to revive history, but also seeks to evoke old emotions and sentimentality associated with them. Sunni extremism is motivated by its excessive adherence to certain beliefs and ideas, but Shiite extremist is impelled by certain interpretations of historical events. The danger here is that it is easier to intellectually counter the radical ideas of Sunni extremism than to address the sentimentality associated with Shiite historical narratives. Events of the past cannot be changed and their imagined nostalgia is difficult to remove from a collective psyche.
The reason for the growth of Shiite extremism in the region is that it is supported by a state, which is established on extremist ideas. However, current developments in the region are increasingly posing a challenge to Iran’s expansionist designs, which includes its attempts at political and socio-cultural transformation.
One can only imagine how a group of young, war-weary Shiite fighters would feel on their return from Al-Hussein and Al-Zahraa missions in Syria, when they watch news on television about the Neom project in Saudi Arabia or Al Nahda projects in Dubai. Their hearts will be filled with rage against Iran and toward the distorted interpretation of history presented to them. These men will think about their children and whether they would also be forced to defend historical shrines and tombs.
This article was first published in Arabic.
Yahya Alameer is a Saudi researcher and writer on society and politics. He tweets @yahyaalameer.