Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What is Fanaticism?

Every couple of weeks, I stumble across a statement by a Hizbullah public figure defending the Syrian state, as the latter deals with an ongoing uprising-turned-insurgency. Recently, Hizbullah Minister Muhammad Fneish had the following to say on the issue: "The uprising in Syria resembles other uprisings in the Arab world in terms of popular demands for reform. But the difference is that Syria has always been in confrontation with the Zionist entity."

I must admit that I find Hizbullah's honesty rather refreshing, even though Syria has not always been in 'confrontation with the Zionist entity'. Hizbullah admits that the Syrian people harbour legitimate demands for political reform. Also, on a purely humanitarian level, I would imagine that a party that has fought, killed and died to liberate land and prisoners cannot but sympathise with the men, women and children being killed in Syria. After all, Hizbullah has (rightly) defended the rights of Libyans, Egyptians and Bahrainis among others to protest against their governments, and condemned ensuing state violence against civilians. Further, on a political and strategic level, Hizbullah probably recognises  Syria as a fair-weather friend at best; Baathist Syria has fought Hizbullah in Lebanon, engaged in indirect negotiations with Israel, and been anything but consistent in its hostility towards the Western powers.

Still, power is power, war is war, and a militia like Hizbullah cannot survive without the open supply line of weapons and the strategic depth that Syria provides - especially since it can now count half the Lebanese as enemies in addition to Israel. This is why Hizbullah's defence of the Syrian regime is so matter-of-fact, and can be paraphrased as: "Yes, we don't like them much either, and we're not happy that they're killing their citizens, but they give us weapons and so we're with them till the bloody end."

Leaving aside the questionable morality of prioritising its military autonomy over the suffering of millions of Syrians (call it the tragedy of politics), I feel that Hizbullah has dug itself into a bit of a hole. It is probably unrealistic to expect Hizbullah to condemn the Syrian crackdown publicly, and in any case the party's pro-Syrian statements are aimed not at the likes of me but at its own followers, who must be feeling at least slightly uncomfortable with the conduct of Hizbullah's allies in Syria. Still, to me, it was never preordained that whomever replaced the Baathist state, even if it was a Sunni-dominated state (which it probably would be), would have ditched the Syrian marriage-of-convenience with Hizbullah. If anything, a Syria governed by a state whose every policy was not aimed at protecting the interests of a vulnerable minority would conceivably be even bolder in its opposition towards Israel and support for Hizbullah. Of course, now that Hizbullah has voiced its unwavering support for the Baathist state, and may well be doing its dirty work against Syrian dissidents in Lebanon, the party can forget about receiving any support from Syria if Assad and friends are overthrown.

And so Hizbullah and Syria are stuck with one another, and there will surely be more outrageous statements by the former defending the latter as the death toll in Syria rises. The party of the oppressed defending the oppressors, because it needs weapons to fight the Israelis along with any Lebanese who get any ideas about disarming it. Now that's commitment. Or fanaticism. And perhaps fanaticism is nothing more than a single-minded commitment taken to its logical extreme. What was it that Winston Churchill said about a fanatic? A person who can't change his mind, and won't change the subject.

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