Hezbollah's Evolution from Militants to Politicians
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
We're joined again today by Fawaz Gerges. He's a scholar of Mid-East Studies who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
Yesterday, we learned that Professor Gerges had taken his children to visit their grandparents outside Beirut this summer, and they are all stuck there.
Professor, welcome back. How are things today?
Prof. FAWAZ GERGES (Professor, Sarah Lawrence College): Well, things are the same. The bombing continues. Civilian casualties are accumulating, even though, I think, Israel is becoming more selective in its targets. Israel has been bombing Hezbollah targets all over southern Lebanon, and it also bombed some targets in and around Beirut.
CHADWICK: We wanted to ask about Hezbollah, which touched off this crisis after its soldiers raided Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others.
Hezbollah means The Party of God. This is the group that, more or less, is in charge of things in southern Lebanon.
In what sense is Hezbollah a party as we would understand that word?
Prof. GERGES: Hezbollah was a product and a child of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. And Hezbollah was born after this turmoil, the upheaval that dropped(ph) Lebanese societies in the 1980s. It was very conservative, ultra-conservative.
Initially, when the group was founded, it was ideological. It was militant. It was reactionary. It was paramilitary. And it also was an underground movement. It has transformed itself, yet it still has one leg in the Lebanese political system. In fact, it has two members in the Lebanese cabinet.
CHADWICK: In your most recent book, Journey of the Jihadist, which is about militant Islam, you interview senior Hezbollah leaders who talk about their desire to practice politics. So what happened to that?
Prof. GERGES: Well, Hezbollah really is, is a political party now. Hezbollah has actively engaged and participated in Lebanese politics since 1990.
Yet, at the same time - and this is the irony - it has a paramilitary wing which basically subscribes to a military resistance against the Israeli occupation. And it's this dual - dual purpose, that has really plunged Lebanon into an existential crisis, because the state itself, the Lebanese state, must have a monopoly on the use of force. In fact, Hezbollah is more powerful than the existing sovereign Lebanese state.
CHADWICK: Here's a quote from a big newspaper in Lebanon, the Daily Star. This is from four years ago in an interview with a Hezbollah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the man who's speaking for Hezbollah today. He said then: If they, the Jews, all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.
Prof. GERGES: A very disturbing quote. The rhetoric of Nasrallah and his cohorts, very hostile. I think if you're going to focus on the rhetoric, I think the rhetoric is very volatile. It's very insensitive, and it's very racist. But I think - let me stress this particular point - Hezbollah has come a long way. It has evolved. It has a long way to go. Yet, I think, it has a blinder when it comes to Israel. I think it's obsessed, because I think Hezbollah and other militant groups in the Middle East believe that Israel occupies Arab lands, it imprisons Arabs, it humiliates Arabs and Muslims, and the only way the Arabs can really liberate their land is by using force and violence to meet the Israeli military armada.
So it reflects the particular mindset that is very powerful, very dominant, within Hezbollah and other militant Islamic groups when it comes to Israel. But remember, this is an essentially political conflict. But of course, the political struggle, the political conflict between Arabs and Jews, has taken its toll in terms of politics, in terms of culture, in terms of rhetoric, in terms of sensitivity, and Nasrallah's quote is a case in point.
CHADWICK: Fawaz Gerges teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. He's speaking with us from just outside Beirut, in Lebanon, where he and his family are stranded at the old family compound. Professor, good luck there.
Mr. GERGES: Thank you.
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