Guide CROSSROADS OF RELIGION AND REVOLUTION

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  2. Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution? - Oxford Scholarship
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  4. Islam and democracy: Tunisia at a crossroads

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Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use for details see www. OSO version 0. University Press Scholarship Online. Sign in. Not registered? Sign up. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Select Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. This will show that in balancing its multifaceted nature Hezbollah displays characteristics of both a radical and a moderate Islamist organisation, as well as employs a mix of dogmatic Islamic, pragmatic political and distinctly nationalist rhetoric.

The situation in Syria has presented the organisation with a significant challenge, yet although its balance of religion and politics has shifted, Hezbollah remains an Islamist organisation at its core with distinct Islamic characteristics. The interplay between religion and politics has been a dominant feature of Lebanon since its creation in under the French mandate [9].

When Lebanon gained independence from France in the Lebanese National Pact laid the foundations for the confessional political system which remains in place today.

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Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution? - Oxford Scholarship

Supposedly representing the demographics of the state, proportional sharing of state offices and political power along confessional lines was based on an outdated national census from [10]. The Lebanese civil war began in with fighting between the politically powerful Maronite Christians and the Palestinian resistance movement, but as the war progressed sectarian divides within the Muslim community became more pronounced [12]. The electoral platform depicts an organisation which has by this point evolved into the existing system and as a result is more balanced, more political, and less ideological than its original self.

While the abolition of the proportional representational system remains an objective, pragmatism wins out and the formation of an Islamic State is not explicitly mentioned. As a result, they enjoyed widespread support both at home and across the region, increasingly seen as a symbol of Pan-Arab resistance [17]. The New Manifesto, published in November , while still emotive, employs much more sophisticated language than the previous documents.

The New Manifesto does not, therefore, imply that their original objectives have been abandoned, but instead that their public focus shifted from religion to pragmatism and politics during this period. Its involvement in the Syrian war has seen the collision of its religious and political objectives, presenting a significant challenge for the organisation.


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Religious language and anti-Israel resistance rhetoric remain prevalent in all its discourse, ramping up again with victory on the horizon in Syria. One of the core characteristics of an Islamist organisation is a foundation in and an ongoing commitment to Islamic ideology. This can be demonstrated in several ways including its structure, its actions, and its rhetoric. Under this criteria, Hezbollah has maintained its Islamic identity in more ways than one, despite its evolution and entrance into mainstream politics.

Having a founding ideology which integrates religion and politics to the highest extent makes it difficult to distinguish which underlying motivation is at play, but a mix of both genuine religious observance and political rationality can in many instances be noted. Wilayat al-Faqih was the ideology and Islamic political system developed by Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The most learned jurist, designated to be himself at the time, holds the office of Ayatollah or Supreme Leader and is custodian of the people in the place of the Twelfth Imam. Hezbollah is governed by a Shura, or consultative council, which is an Islamic form of governance, and it looks to Iran for both religious and political leadership [25].

God save him! The permission or the blessing of the Ayatollah has at times been sought to justify actions taken to further its own political as well as religious goals, such as in their decision to contest the general elections, as well as for their use of suicide bombers and martyrdom [27]. Religion also plays an important role in the recruitment and training process of Hezbollah.

Not only is Hezbollah founded on an Islamic ideology, but it has also maintained its self-perception and public image as an Islamic organisation through its continued use of Islamic rhetoric. The organisation became increasingly pragmatic as they learnt and evolved as a political actor, but although they stopped stating their objectives in overtly religious rhetoric, their Islamic identity remains evident throughout. Whether Hezbollah uses religious or political rhetoric to describe its affiliation with Iran, the reality is that evidence for both motivations exist for their continued cooperation and commitment.

In their Islamic religious structure, Iran represents the authority, but Hezbollah relies on Iran for much more than religious guidance, and the purely pragmatic and political side of their relationship should not be downplayed. Hezbollah has often resorted to religious rhetoric as a means to further its political objectives, as is common amongst Islamist organisations, but regardless of the motivation, Wilayat al-Faqih remains the cornerstone of their religious and political ideology. Through its transformation Hezbollah has softened its stance on this objective, leading many to believe that they have forfeited their identity as an Islamist organisation in favour of becoming a purely political actor.

However, although they no longer present this objective in radical Islamist terms, they continue to display characteristics of a moderate Islamist organisation. Tracing how their rhetoric and actions have changed since sheds light on how and why this objective is no longer at the forefront of their public agenda, as well as demonstrates how, despite this, Hezbollah is still an Islamist organisation against this criterion.

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Formed in the midst of a civil war which was increasingly defined along sectarian lines, there is little surprise that Hezbollah rejected the system which marginalised their community, declaring it unjust and corrupt [33]. The Open Letter makes this clear, portraying them as a group with no interest in entering or reforming the political system. Although appearing to be a core objective of the organisation at the time of its foundation, changing circumstances in Lebanon saw Hezbollah soften its position on the formation of an Islamic state in Lebanon relatively quickly.

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Hezbollah recognised that the social and political reality of Lebanon would not allow for an Islamic republic and that a middle ground would have to be sought within the existing system, which was now more suitable for them to operate in [36]. Although the decision caused divisions in the organisation, blessed by the Ayatollah Hezbollah, they publicly announced their decision to participate in the electoral process on July 4, [37]. This decision marked a significant turning point for Hezbollah as they shifted away from the short-term acquisition of a core religious objective in a bid for more political power.

Colonization - Religion & Revolution Multiplayer Part 1

Throughout the s Hezbollah changed its image from an extreme Islamic movement into a legitimate political party in Lebanon, with its key leaders working to present it as trustworthy, responsible, and moderate [38]. In order to engage with a diverse and multi-confessional society, Hezbollah necessarily moved away from its hard-lined rhetoric regarding an Islamic state and focussed on its political agenda over its ideological principles [39]. There was widespread international anticipation that Hezbollah was abandoning its Islamic foundations and with it its history of terrorism.

Yet while their language moderated, the aim to abolish political sectarianism with the ultimate goal of an Islamic state has continued to feature on the sidelines of their public documents. The Islamization of society, through grassroots initiatives, education, social and welfare services, is popular amongst moderate Islamist organisations.

While they are not pursuing a quick Islamic revolution through force, Hezbollah is actively involved in these activities in Lebanon [42]. These later documents are self-consciously political and not ideological because Hezbollah understood that they could profit more from the Lebanese context through a call to common political desires over religious sentiments shared only by some. The electoral platform and the New Manifesto undoubtedly maintain a strong Islamic identity but, as is not uncommon for Islamist organisations, they chose to balance out religious ideology with the political realities facing them [44].

Claiming that Israel still occupies Lebanese territory in the Sheeba Farms and the Gholan Heights, which the international community deem to belong to Syria, has granted Hezbollah continued legitimacy in the eyes of many.


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The destruction of Israel and the reinstatement of a Palestinian state are common causes amongst many Islamist organisations. When the Arab Spring uprisings began in Hezbollah supported the protesters, the oppressed peoples of the region against infidel regimes. Aligning the uprisings with their own ideology, they denigrated the regimes as being pro-US and Israel, and as having abandoned the common Arab cause of liberating the Palestinians [50].

Yet Syria is a key ally to Hezbollah, the third node of the Axis of Resistance, and provides the organisation with significant strategic benefits. The fall of the Assad regime would be a severe political blow for Hezbollah. Although Hezbollah is now deeply involved in the Syrian war, it continues to frame its involvement as confrontation with the west and Israel, on whom they have long blamed any internal discord [53]. Throughout and , before publicly announcing its military support for Assad, Hezbollah attempted to sell stories of victimisation to justify its position, adding the threat of radical Sunnis, takfiris, alongside those of their traditional enemies [54].

As sectarian divides spilled across the border and Hezbollah failed to maintain the illusion of minimal involvement, they have propagated the conspiracy that the war is the work of the west and of Israel, so as to align it with their objectives [55]. Hezbollah relies on its identity as liberator of the oppressed for its continued legitimacy and has been able to skillfully exploit this image in the pursuit of political ends. However, as much as Hezbollah has attempted to couch its support for Assad in familiar rhetoric, the organisation has hit a clear road bump in safeguarding its hybrid identity.

Due to material necessities, it has had to realign its priorities and shift its focus away from direct confrontation with Israel. But our utmost priority remains to stay ready to confront Israel. Transnational Islamist organisations have become increasingly prevalent in the past few decades, with the rise of groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL. While, through its link to Iran and aspirations of a future Pan-Islamic state, Hezbollah shares some characteristics with such groups, it also has a nationalistic, country-specific agenda which many transnational Islamists would reject [58].

According to many definitions Islamism and nationalism are incompatible. Islamists seek an Islamic State which is not dictated by state borders, nationalists seek sovereignty and territorial integrity as a nation-state. Hezbollah, however, portrays a combination of Islamist and nationalistic characteristics, and one identity does not deny it the other.

Instead, Hezbollah is a multifaceted organisation which can use the ambiguity of its identity to its advantage, but which must also balance its national and regional aspirations. As Hezbollah evolved as a political party it shifted from talking about the concept of community in religious terms, the umma, to more political terms [59]. While Hezbollah has largely been able to balance its Islamic and national identities, Syria has been a potential turning point for the organisation as it finds its national and regional agendas to be in direct conflict.

Having historically positioned themselves as the liberators and protectors of both Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, they found themselves sliding deeper into a war which took an irrefutable sectarian turn [63]. There is little doubt over why Hezbollah initially remained quiet on its involvement in the war, aware that it could severely damage its reputation.

But as body bags began returning home it became difficult to maintain the illusion and Hezbollah was faced with the reality — to uphold their fundamental ideology of the unification of all people in Lebanon, or to protect their political and strategic assets through their alliance with Iran and Syria.

Islam and democracy: Tunisia at a crossroads

If Assad fell, and it is unlikely the Syrian army would have been able to make the gains it has without the aid and expertise of Hezbollah, they would lose an important political backer in the region whom it relies on as a conduit for weapons transfers from Iran, a safe haven for training bases, weapons storage and much more [64]. In statements from Hezbollah and key members of the organisation it is clear that they have attempted to maintain consistency, framing their involvement alongside their underlying ideologies and using the familiar rhetoric of resistance against Israel and liberation of the oppressed.

When Hezbollah had to choose between its material interests and its ideological principles it ultimately prioritised the former, adapting its national and regional priorities and severely damaging its anti-sectarian reputation as a consequence [66]. Although their motivations in Syria are premised primarily on their political agenda rather than their religious ideology, Hezbollah has none the less slipped ever further into a sectarian war, choosing to play a greater regional role to protect the interests of the Iranian axis [67].

Based on the criteria outlined in the introduction Hezbollah is an Islamist organisation. It self-identifies as an organisation founded on the principles of Islam, is structured according to the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih , and uses familiar Islamic rhetoric to legitimise its cause [68]. At the very heart of its ideology is a profound abhorrence of the west, expressed particularly against the United States and Israel [69].