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Lebanese-Canadian novelist Rawi Hage asks: What is to blame for the growth of Hezbollah?

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, Rawi Hage is Lebanese-Canadian author of the fascinating novel De Niro s Game framed in the civil war that destroyed his country. Born in Beirut, he
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 21, 2006
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      Friends,
       
      Rawi Hage is Lebanese-Canadian author of the fascinating novel De Niro's Game
        framed in the civil war that destroyed his country. Born in Beirut, he immigrated to Canada in 1992 and currently lives in Montreal.
       
      Here is his insight into the growth of religious extermism in general and Hezbollah in particular. Rawi Hage warns that this 'winning formula' of playing religion and poltics, is on the rise and the people to blame are the same who are fighting it..
       
      He writes:
      "There is a new emergence of Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism in the world. And the secret to their success is a promotion of adversaries, fear of crime and a demand for order, a dialectical equation, a winning formula that increases numbers and voters. The formula works as such: minus times minus equals a plus (-1 x-1= +1)."
       
      He warns that this winning formual is emerging in Canada as well:
      "I couldn't help but reflect on that winning formula that is slowly and surely beginning to dawn on our Canadian landscape. Yes, here too the minus signs are creeping up on us. And religion is more scientific and rational than we think. Look! Here are the numbers and signs: a conservative, religiously based government, its election based on a fear of crime and disenchantment with corruption. A promise to establish order. Big on military spending and testing it too (Afghanistan to be the next lucky recipient of the game). The formula is magical, scientific and treacherous, and maybe that is why it seems invincible. It is an enchanting, killing formula, and its victims are not just civilians and bridges and economies, but also those clandestine wine drinkers who gather in houses with forbidden fumes and free progressive thoughts. This formula has to be stopped or the Canadian landscape, much like the Plains of Abraham once, and Israel and Lebanon now, will be filled with damaged walls and colourful corpses."
       
      Read and reflect.
       
      Tarek Fatah
      ------------------
      July 21, 2006
       
      The killing formula
      What is to blame for the growth of Hezbollah?
       
      Lebanese-Canadian writer Rawi Hage says it was
      Israeli bombardments and invasions into Lebanon
       
      By RAWI HAGE
       
      A few weeks ago, and before the latest events in Lebanon, I was on the Plateau in Montreal, having dinner at the house of a Lebanese Canadian friend. He is an old lefty, a progressive middle-aged man, who like myself left for the West in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. The dinner was attended by a few of us Lebanese Canadians from all religious denominations.
       
      Since then, a couple of the invitees have gone to Lebanon for a vacation. Like many others, they are now stuck and can't come back home. I imagine some of their employers in Canada have extended their temp contract for another week or so. I can also imagine what they are missing most about being Canadian: the abundance of water under those generous house showers; electricity; and maybe, who knows, a good Quebecois poutine, since it is probably the only food that is not sold in that cosmopolitan city, Beirut.
       
      While my friend was pouring us wine he said something that stayed with me all night: "Twenty years ago," he said, "I thought that I would be living in a world where religion would be irrelevant." He sounded like a French intellectual, and all he needed was a bit of fair skin and an eccentric pair of glasses. It was one of those not uncommon gatherings in our community, where religious denomination is irrelevant, wine is predominant and sexual orientation is a private matter. In short, you wouldn't find a bearded cleric among us, lying on a sofa with a fuming Indian cigarette in his hand.
       
      Since the bombings, journalists have been frantically looking for Canadian Lebs to interview. They seem all of a sudden such a rarity, even in Montreal where they mostly reside. Maybe because there are over 50,000 of them stranded in Lebanon. Lebs are now the hottest item since shawarma was discovered in this country. The journalists' questions, and so far I have been subjected to a few of them, are at times uneducated, repetitive, even irritatingly personal. No one seems to fully explore the religious dimension of the conflict, the historical and class factors that are at play on all sides. It seems to them like a local war between two groups that fight each other, like a tribal feud in a biblical scene. Arabs versus Jews. The Arabs started it and the Israelis retaliated: the media and even Mr. Harper seem to concur.
       
      I will put aside the oppression, malnutrition, poverty and collective punishment to which the Palestinians are constantly subjugated, to concentrate on Hezbollah within the Lebanese context.
       
      In Lebanon, Hezbollah are simultaneously respected and feared. They are respected because they were instrumental in ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanon (though they were not the sole resisters to the occupation of the Israelis. Many leftists' forces were also active in the beginning of the resistance movement). Hezbollah are also respected because they never turned their firearms inward, meaning that they never participated in the Lebanese civil war. And they always delivered what they promised, giving them an air of integrity in a region much plagued by corruption and political failure. They are feared because they are a religious party that advocates the dominance of one sect. As a person of non-Muslim background with a secular, social-democratic political affiliation, I wouldn't want to see Hezbollah as the sole ruling party in Lebanon (nor the old Reform party in Canada, for that matter).
       
      But who is to blame for the birth of Hezbollah, if there is anyone to be blamed? In 1978, Israel bombed and invaded the south of Lebanon (on many occasions in retaliation for Palestinian operations), and in the process uprooted olive trees and demolished the houses and infrastructure of the Shiite community who predominantly lived in the south. Historically, in Lebanon, the Shiite community was the most underprivileged. Lebanon's sectarian/feudal society left each community to fend for its own. The Shiites of Lebanon were predominantly the farmers and the poor, with the highest illiteracy rate among all religious communities. With every bombardment and Israeli invasion, more farmers from that community moved to the city as they found it impossible to cultivate their land. Not to mention that Israel did reorient some of the rivers in the area, cutting off irrigation sources to the local farmers.
       
      In 1996, the intensive bombardments by the Israelis drove half a million Shiite refugees to the periphery of the capital, Beirut, to add more refugees to one of the most overpopulated places in Lebanon, what is now known as al-Dahia (pronounced Dahieh in the Lebanese slang). Excluded from receiving social assistance from the government or outside aid, the area became a recruiting ground for religious fundamentalists, who offered social assistance, jobs, schools and hospitals. Hence, the birth of Hezbollah. Ever since, Hezbollah has evolved to become a legitimate party in the Lebanese government, having seats in the parliament, its own TV station (watched by Israelis and Arabs alike) and, as we lately have seen, a well-organized armed force.
       
      One should stress and examine the motives that drove Hezbollah to such a unilateral confrontation with Israel. By doing so, the Party of God had achieved an unprecedented coup d'├ętat on the Lebanese state, taking it by surprise and in the process imposing itself as an independent force that, like most religious fundamentalist parties, in the West and East alike, give a priority and allegiance to God over the nation-state. The reactions in Lebanon to Hezbollah's action are not homogeneous. To start with, Lebanon is not an ideologically homogeneous society. The range of reactions varied from total support for Israel's elimination of Hezbollah -- a reaction mostly held by the far right Christian parties -- to apprehension, to solid support.
       
      In the West as much as in the East secularism is in decline. And religious-based parties are on the rise and making a strong comeback.
       
      There is a new emergence of Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism in the world. And the secret to their success is a promotion of adversaries, fear of crime and a demand for order, a dialectical equation, a winning formula that increases numbers and voters.
       
      The formula works as such: minus times minus equals a plus (-1 x-1= +1).
       
      If one is to apply the formula to the current situation in Lebanon, I would say the two parties, Hezbollah and Israel, each being a number with a minus sign, when multiplied against one another produce a positive number for both parties and maybe a number played on all of us.
       
      Hezbollah has asserted its might and relevance on the local and regional scene. Israel also has asserted its position as a democratic state under attack by the notorious terrorists. In the process, the state of Israel may secure a continuous flood of future military and foreign aid, giving it the chance to display and test the might of its weapons in a rare showcase for prospective future clients in the weapons market.
       
      The Lebanese landscape is here again, un champ de battaille, flat and hilled like the Plains of Abraham. The corpses and the defeated walls may not be forgotten, and not for a long time. Where else could Israel have the opportunity to test new and improved merchandise on a live audience, in the process eliminating a potential competitor in the region? Lebanon receives up to 1.5 million tourists a year. A dynamic society, one could well argue it is becoming an emerging competitor for the Israeli tourist industry, among others. One wonders about the logic behind Israel's attacks on clothing factories!
       
      I lived through nine years of the Lebanese civil war. And I could feel what the civilians were going through on both sides of the fence. But I am privileged now. I have the luxury to see things from a distance. And a good dosage of guilt comes with such privilege. I couldn't help but reflect on that winning formula that is slowly and surely beginning to dawn on our Canadian landscape. Yes, here too the minus signs are creeping up on us. And religion is more scientific and rational than we think.
       
      Look! Here are the numbers and signs: a conservative, religiously based government, its election based on a fear of crime and disenchantment with corruption. A promise to establish order. Big on military spending and testing it too (Afghanistan to be the next lucky recipient of the game).
       
      The formula is magical, scientific and treacherous, and maybe that is why it seems invincible. It is an enchanting, killing formula, and its victims are not just civilians and bridges and economies, but also those clandestine wine drinkers who gather in houses with forbidden fumes and free progressive thoughts. This formula has to be stopped or the Canadian landscape, much like the Plains of Abraham once, and Israel and Lebanon now, will be filled with damaged walls and colourful corpses.
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