Friday, July 14, 2006

Some History, Nasrallah's Speech

I've heard sources on TV networks making statements like, "Iran founded Hizbullah." This is a gross over- simplification, and perhaps even flat wrong. When you look at the history of Shi'ism in the 20th century, a key thing to remember is that all the top clerics trained in a few religious centers, especially Najaf, where they formed personal connections. Hizbullah began as a splinter movement from Amal, another Shi'ite group, primarily over differences about how to deal with the Israeli invasion in 1982. While Iran did provide funding and probably assisted in its founding, it grew out of the Lebanese environment, one in which popular religious figures trained at prestigious foreign centers had displaced local zu'ama landowners as leaders of the Shi'ite community by providing social services and means for defense during the civil war years. Hizbullah is much more than simply an Iranian (or Syrian) puppet that takes orders from Tehran and Damascus, even though those powers have influence due to their financial support. When I examine foreign influences in the present crisis, I want to make clear that I think foreign powers might be a key player, but that Hizbullah also sees itself as standing to gain something.

Another point from recent history is that the Iran-Syria friendship is not new, though it's probably become more important in recent years. Iran and Syria already had a good relationship during the 1980's and 1990's, and perhaps even before, as both were rivals of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Angry Arab has some preliminary comments about Hassan Nasrallah's speech today, which he sees as an attempt to rally Lebanese behind Hizbullah, implicitly defending the group against its critics. His admittedly thin anecdotal evidence suggests it may have worked. His running commentary is also worth reading even if you disagree with his views, though be ready for some graphic photos.

UPDATE: Elijah Zarwan speculates about possible Syrian and Iranian motives. He and an anonymous Syrian friend both agree with my thought that this is partly setting the stage for a Syrian return to Lebanon.

UPDATE: Bedouina also has a good collection of links.


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