[Marxism] Hizballah: A Primer

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Wed Aug 2 11:52:06 MDT 2006

Extraordinarily good on the social, political, and religious character
of Hizballah.   Indispensable. -- Yoshie

Hizballah: A Primer

Lara Deeb

July 31, 2006

(Lara Deeb, a cultural anthropologist, is assistant professor of
women's studies at the University of California-Irvine. She is author
of An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi'i Lebanon.)

Hizballah, the Lebanese Shi'i movement whose militia is fighting the
Israeli army in south Lebanon, has been cast misleadingly in much
media coverage of the ongoing war. Much more than a militia, the
movement is also a political party that is a powerful actor in
Lebanese politics and a provider of important social services. Not a
creature of Iranian and Syrian sponsorship, Hizballah arose to battle
Israel's occupation of south Lebanon from 1982-2000 and, more broadly,
to advocate for Lebanon's historically disenfranchised Shi'i Muslim
community. While it has many political opponents in Lebanon, Hizballah
is very much of Lebanon -- a fact that Israel's military campaign is


In Lebanon, the state-society relationship is "confessional" and
government power and positions are allocated on the basis of religious
background. There are 18 officially recognized ethno-confessional
communities in the country today. The original allocations, determined
in 1943 in an unwritten National Pact between Maronite Christians and
Sunni Muslims at the end of the French mandate, gave the most power to
a Maronite Christian president and a Sunni Muslim prime minister, with
the relatively powerless position of speaker of Parliament going to a
Shi'i Muslim. Other government positions and seats in Parliament were
divided up using a 6:5 ratio of Christians to Muslims. These
arrangements purportedly followed the population ratios in the 1932
census, the last census ever undertaken in the country.

This confessional system was stagnant, failing to take into
consideration demographic changes. As the Shi'i population grew at a
rapid pace in comparison to other groups, the inflexibility of the
system exacerbated Shi'i under-representation in government.
Meanwhile, sect became a means of gaining access to state resources,
as the government shelled out money to establish sect-based welfare
networks and institutions like schools and hospitals. Because the
Shi'a were under-represented in government, they could channel fewer
resources to their community, contributing to disproportionate poverty
among Shi'i Lebanese. This effect was aggravated by the fact that
Shi'i seats in Parliament were usually filled by feudal landowners and
other insulated elites.

Until the 1960s, most of the Shi'i population in Lebanon lived in
rural areas, mainly in the south and in the Bekaa Valley, where living
conditions did not approach the standards of the rest of the nation.
Following a modernization program that established road networks and
introduced cash-crop policies in the countryside, many Shi'i Muslims
migrated to Beirut, settling in a ring of impoverished suburbs around
the capital. The rapid urbanization that came with incorporation into
the capitalist world economy further widened economic disparities
within Lebanon.


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