Years ago, it was an ideological powerhouse:
Hezbollah’s power did not come from its weapons alone. Nor was it primarily founded on social services and Iranian money. These were tools to maintain its control and influence, which grew through decades of building a narrative of allegiance. Hezbollah prevailed because it has won the narrative, by linking three pillars of a Lebanese Shiite identity: the resistance, the collective memory of the battle of Karbala and Iran’s Wilayat al-Faqih.But now, people join just to further their careers:
Lebanese Shiites’ identity was gradually rebuilt to link their collective history of Karbala and the Israeli occupation of the South. Kul Youm Karbalaa (Every day is Karbala) became the slogan that defined the daily lives of the Shiites in the South, because it embodied all of these elements: fighting injustice, remembering Karbala and a deep Shiite identity affiliated with Hezbollah’s Wilayat al-Faqih.
As I grew up in the South, I encountered this narrative every day. It changed the way people dressed, the way they socialized and celebrated religious occasions, even the way they celebrated births and mourned deaths. It escalated to fierce rhetoric during conflicts and wars, and went back to social and cultural conduct between conflicts. Although this narrative was imposed on us by the Party of God, people accepted it. They related to its purpose, the vibes of its power and the way it accentuated our communal identity.
People wanted it; they even needed it to survive. The enemy was clear, the history was common and the purpose was well defined.
The dream of many of my relatives, neighbors and friends as we grew up was to join the “resistance” or help it in any way possible. There were more volunteers knocking on Hezbollah’s doors than young men seeking employment. Many wanted to fight for free, and die for free. But Hezbollah paid anyway, because they knew that it was the best way to structure its army and maintain commitment.
“I am just waiting for my contract to expire and then I’m out,” Mahdi (25 years old) told me. He – like all others – sign a two-year contract that specifies the salary (between $500 and $1200) and the package of benefits they receive. The thing is that they have to complete the two years. They cannot just give notice and leave whenever they want to. “And they don’t pay compensation packages to martyrs’ families as they used to,” Mahdi added, saying that each family of a martyr used to receive forty thousand dollars, but that this was halted almost two years ago.
Mahdi’s main complaint is that when he joined Hezbollah he thought he’d come back with a victory that would provide him with an office or technical job and secure his future. “Instead, I feel like I took a job at a company where I am required to give everything, including my life, and there are no guarantees for the future beyond these two years.” And victory? He smiled.
And her conclusion provides insight that the Western media has not caught up to:
In fact, many Hezbollah members and supporters have realized in the past few years that they have become the mercenaries of Waliyat al-Faqih in Iran’s war in the region. They will have to go wherever they are required, be it Lebanon, Syria, Iraq or Yemen. The new rhetoric of sectarian regional war has cost Hezbollah its depth in the Arab world. But most importantly, Hezbollah lost its narrative.But does it matter? If Iran increases the amount it pays Hezbollah to be its mercenary force in other conflicts (and terror attacks),
For more than thirty years, Hezbollah’s narrative was built on a very clear purpose and specific target. The result was liberating land and gaining political power. However, the “resistance” today is a matter of perspective. The narrative is no longer well-defined or evident. The “enemy” fluctuates too often and allies are mostly strategic or temporary. The US is no longer the “great Satan,” and the Putin – the partner in Syria and ally against imperialism – is also coordinating with Israel.
“We are invaders,” says Mustafa, “this is our role now. Yes, I have many questions, but war is too complicated and I have a family to support.”
The “resistance” has gone corporate and the old beliefs of liberation and freedom are now replaced with ambitions for promotion and better status. It is going to be extremely difficult for Hezbollah to come back from this.
On the other hand, the near universal loathing for Hezbollah in the Arab world cannot but hurt the movement and make it even more difficult to attract supporters.
Iran may just be wringing everything it can out of Hezbollah before it implodes.
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