Hezbollah, which translates to “Party of God” from Arabic, is a major political party and militia group whose origins come from Lebanon. The group first originated as a faction and came about after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah is generally associated with Shiite Muslims and originated in the predominantly Shiite regions of Lebanon, which include the Bekaa Valley, southern Beirut, and southern Lebanon. Current estimates predict that about 1.4 million of Lebanon’s 4 million citizens are Shiites (Norton). Throughout the history of Lebanon, Shiites have traditionally been the weakest religious sect within the nation. The major Shiite party within Lebanon as the Amal movement; the Amal movement was quite moderate and secular. After Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979 and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a group of Lebanese Shiite clerics formed Hezbollah with the intent of driving Israel out of Lebanon and transforming Lebanon in to an Islamic state (“Hezbollah”). Hezbollah has been historically tied very closely to Iran, from which is receives large amounts of both financial and logistical support. Hezbollah’s manpower came largely from disillusioned, more radical younger members of the Amal movement within Lebanon. After its formation, Hezbollah was very involved in Lebanon’s civil war and in various complex and serious attacks against Israel. Hezbollah has since been accused of engaging in several terrorist attacks such as car bombings and kidnappings, predominantly against Westerners. Despite its terrorist activities, Hezbollah was also able to establish “a comprehensive social services network for its supporters” (“Hezbollah”). After the Lebanese civil war, Hezbollah emerged as a major political party within the country.
Hezbollah was able to gain legitimacy and support within the country because of both its military feats and through development and renovation work within the nation. Hezbollah emerged as a champion for the poor and middle class Lebanese Shiite community in a society that had long marginalized them (Cammett). Although Hezbollah’s work has focused on Shiite areas, its work has reached beyond the Shiite community and its broader movement has been acknowledged by both Shiites and non-Shiites alike. As of 2006, “Hezbollah has implemented more than 10,000 projects to promote agricultural development, build homes and businesses, and provide water, sewage, and electricity (Cammett). Despite this work, Hezbollah has many opponents within present-day Lebanon and throughout the rest of the world. The United States and other nations have deemed Hezbollah to be an official terrorist organization, and Hezbollah’s rivals within Lebanon fear that Hezbollah has a covert agenda to convert the country in to an Islamist state despite its outward acceptance and attachment to Lebanon as a pluralist society (Norton). On the other hand, with the increasing threat of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS, in neighboring Syria and other neighboring regions, some supporters of Hezbollah argue that the party’s militias are the driving force behind keeping Lebanon safe and secure from these increasing threats. Given the variety of opinions surrounding Hezbollah within Lebanese society and around the globe, it is unclear how the future of the group will pan out.
Based on my own personal experience both here in Lebanon and back at home in the States, I have been able to see two unique sides of this existing debate regarding Hezbollah. In the US, the only times I really hear about Hezbollah are on the news. The general rhetoric surrounding the group is that it is a dangerous terrorist organization that poses a threat to our freedoms and liberties. I grew up hearing this perspective and it was pretty much the only thing I really knew about Hezbollah. Coming to Lebanon changed that. On one of our first days here we took a trip to a friend’s home (who happens to be Shiite) in the Bekaa, about 30 minutes away from the Syrian border. Naturally, I was concerned about my safety, being so close to a war zone. I voiced my concern to our hosts, and they assured me that we were extremely safe despite where we were given that the area was controlled by Hezbollah. I was a bit taken aback; this was the first time I had heard Hezbollah’s name in a positive context. After doing more research about Hezbollah later on, I became exposed to differing perspectives than the one repeated in my home country; this allowed me to make more sense of my time in the Bekaa. I remember feeling almost thankful for Hezbollah in the moment, which confused me quite a bit. Given what I’ve experienced both at home and here in Lebanon, my outlook on Hezbollah is cloudy. Should the US expend resources to actively target Hezbollah? Truly how crucial is Hezbollah in regards to Lebanon’s safety? Is there potential for Hezbollah’s motives to change in the near future? I guess only time and research will tell what comes out of this cloudiness.
Cammett, Melani. “Habitat for Hezbollah.” Foreign Policy 17 (2006): 1-2.
“Hezbollah”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 01 Aug. 2016 <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hezbollah>.
Norton, Augustus Richard. “The role of Hezbollah in Lebanese domestic politics.” The International Spectator 42.4 (2007): 475-491.