Several of Al Qaeda's ideologues have issued official statements explaining Hezbollah's actions and telling followers how to respond to them. The gist of their argument is that the Shiites are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world. The ideologues label this effort the "Sassanian-Safavid conspiracy," in reference to the Sassanians, a pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty, and to the Safavids, a Shiite dynasty that ruled Iran and parts of Iraq from 1501 till 1736.Too complicated for this poor cat. But it looks like they may compete with each other to see who can hurt us the most. Not good.
They go on to argue that thanks to the United States (the leader of the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy), Iraq has been handed over to the Shiites, who are now wantonly massacring the country's Sunnis. Syria is already led by a Shiite heretic, President Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country's Sunni majority.
Hezbollah, according to these analyses, seeks to dupe ordinary Muslims into believing that the Shiites are defending Islam's holiest cause, Palestine, in order to cover for the wholesale Shiite alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ultimately, this theory goes, the Shiites will fail in their efforts because the Israelis and Americans will destroy them once their role in the broader Zionist-Crusader conspiracy is accomplished. And then God will assure the success of the Sunni Muslims and the defeat of the Zionists and Crusaders.
In the meantime, no Muslim should be fooled by Hezbollah, whose members have never fought the infidel on any of the real battlefronts, like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir. The proper attitude for Muslims to adopt is to dissociate themselves completely from the Shiites.
This analysis — conspiratorial, bizarre and uncompelling, except to the most diehard radicals — signals an important defeat for Al Qaeda’s public relations campaign. The truth is that Al Qaeda has met a formidable challenge in Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who have made canny choices that appeal to Al Qaeda’s Sunni followers. Al Qaeda’s improbable conspiracy theory does little to counter these advantages.
First, although Sheik Nasrallah wears the black turban and carries the title of “sayyid,” both of which identify him as a Shiite descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he preaches a nonsectarian ideology and does not highlight his group’s Shiite identity. Hezbollah has even established an effective alliance with Hamas, a Sunni and Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Second, Hezbollah’s statements focus on the politics of resistance to occupation and invoke shared Islamic principles about the right to self-defense. Sheik Nasrallah is extremely careful to hew closely to the dictates of Islamic law in his military attacks. These include such principles as advance notice, discrimination in selecting targets and proportionality.
Finally, only Hezbollah has effectively defeated Israel (in Lebanon in 2000) and is now taking it on again, hitting Haifa and other places with large numbers of rockets — a feat that no Arab or Muslim power has accomplished since Israel’s founding in 1948.
These are already serious selling points. And Hezbollah will score a major propaganda victory in the Muslim world if it simply remains standing in Lebanon after the present bout of warfare is over and maintains the relationships it is forging with Hamas and other Sunni Islamist organizations.
What will such a victory mean? Perhaps Hezbollah’s ascendancy among Sunnis will make it possible for Shiites and Sunnis to stop the bloodletting in Iraq — and to focus instead on their “real” enemies, namely the United States and Israel. Rumblings against Israeli actions in Lebanon from both Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq already suggest such an outcome.
That may be good news for Iraqis, but it marks a dangerous turn for the West. And there are darker implications still. Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world — whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The Enemy of My Enemy Is Still My Enemy
From Bernard Haykel's op-ed piece in the New York Times