If Only They Could See It

Hezbollah supporters are incapable of seeing that Assir’s group is the mirror image of Hezbollah

In many ways, Hezbollah, the well organised military force with strategic thinking and regional reach, is very different from the ragtag band of clumsy and reactive gun holders who support sheikh Ahmad el Assir (and similar, less known figures in Sunni Lebanon).

Just putting the two together in an argument is quickly dismissed as either a sign of amateurism or an act of sectarian provocation, especially by supporters of Hezbollah –many of whom are my friends– who are insulted by the very act of comparing the two. They are quick to note that Hezbollah’s stated objectives is the fighting of an enemy (Israel), while Assir’s outbursts are nakedly sectarian.

Mirror mirror..

I submit to many of the logical arguments for why Hezbollah is different than Al-Assir’s thugs, even if I dispute the assertion that Hezbollah is a force for good in the country.

But “reality” is beside the point.

In Lebanon nowadays, all that matters is perception and base instincts. What is true is that to many in Lebanon, there is absolutely no difference between “bearded Shiaas with guns” and “bearded Sunnis with guns”. The only difference is the one that is on your side.

When my friends, Hezbollah’s supporters, look at Ahmed el Assir and his armed men and feel sick to their stomach with disgust, I hope they realize that this is exactly what many Sunnis feel when they see Hezbollah.

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  • Hasschaya

    This is where the form and the substance must be analyzed.
    They fought different wars. One must think about Tripoli when you mention Al Assir.

  • Toufic renno

    ‎”When my friends, Hezbollah’s supporters, look at Ahmed el Assir and his armed men and feel sick to their stomach with disgust, I hope they realize that this is exactly what many Sunnis feel when they see Hezbollah.”

    Only correction I would make to this statement would be to replace “Sunnis” with “Lebanese”

    • Mustapha

      Good point Toufic..

  • http://twitter.com/Zickart Alae Hatoum (@Zickart)

    Your posts are short but mightier than a thousand words .. good article

  • Ziad B.

    Hi all, i’m kinda new to the Lebanese political scene and actors and to the Al Asir movement and situation. I understand that he blocked a major road in Saida for a while in protest against something Hezbollah did, and that’s bad, but what do his critics have to say on his political rhetoric and stance other than he’s a “bearded Sunni”? From what i have seen and heard so far, he seemed moderate in his requests and surely isn’t more of a fanatic than any hezballah cleric.
    Or am I wrong? I would truly appreciate some objective enlightenment on this new Al Asir phenomenon that has been getting so much media attention lately!

  • gk

    Unfortunately not all Sunni (or Lebanese) agree with you. Nasrallah yesterday said if it not by force, March 14 will not agree to Doha agreement. I think that Hizballah does not understand except force and Al-Assir will be (he is not strong enough yet!) a good match to Hizballah. Have you noticed that the civil war in Lebanon stopped when both sides are almost of equal power? If one is dominating, it will not agree to stop the war. May be I don’t agree with Al-Assir’s ALL points of view but I really want someone to stand up to Hizballah, his black shirts thugs!!!

  • Bronxman

    The unfortunate part for Lebanon is that both sides believe that the use of force is the only way to get their point across.

  • Sandra

    To GK: I didnt know Hezbollah is a HE? Do u think Nasrallah IS Hezbollah perhaps?

  • J

    Dude,

    What is it exactly that I am spinning? I have said that Hezbollah is a regional power, which they are, and you seem to agree with me. My point is that comparing such a major player to a buffoon like Assir is pretty laughable. If you are in a situation where you feel like you need to turn to Assir for protection, then you are in deep trouble, and maybe it is time for some soul searching and re-assement of your strategies.

    You mention Hezbollah’s allegiance to Iran, which I have not tried to deny or “spin” in any way in my post by the way. I think this reinforces the absurdity of this “two sides of the same coin” line of thought: Hezbollah may be an Iranian tool, but it is a formidable “tool”, an entity that nobody can ignore, from the insignificant March 14 local players, all the way up to the rulers of Israel and the United States. Can you make the same claim about Assir? He is a tool, for sure, but a lousy and disposable one.

    And as I have mentioned before, Assir is trying his best to ignite a sectarian war; Hezbollah is most certainly not working towards that, simply because it does not serve their needs.
    Now, I do agree that all sectarian political parties in Lebanon are part of the same problem (Hezbollah included of course), but this is not what I got from this post. The impression I got is that Hezbollah and Assir’s sectarian fanatical followers are pretty much the same at the end of the day: Crazy, overly religious and heavily armed groups dead set on eliminating the Other. I am sorry, but that is absurd. People who look at Hezbollah and fail to see anything beyond that are simply inflicted by the all too common Lebanese sectarian virus.

    • Dude

      J,

      Is HA’s presence as a formidable tool a good thing or a bad thing for Lebanon?

  • Bronxman

    Dude, Hezbullah’s future looks unstable in a post Assad world. How this will impact Lebanon is unknown for the moment.

    • J

      Dude,

      That’s quite a complicated question, isn’t it? ;) I am sorry, but I prefer not to delve too much into this right now, because a) it requires time I do not have, and b) I do not want to highjack this blog post with an unrelated discussion.

      Let me just state the obvious by saying that Hezbollah is an integral part of our complex and dysfunctional Lebanese society (for better or for worse), and friends and foes alike just have to deal with that. It’s an essential Lebanese party with deep roots, large influence and a huge following, so brushing it off as a rogue Iranian militia is not intellectually serious. Assir, on the other hand, is not essential. He is a vulgar sectarian, playing on people’s basest instincts.

      • Dude

        J,
        It is not that complicated at all. And judging from the type of adjectives you have used to describe HA and the ones you used to describe Assir and M-14, you seem to view HA with some legitimacy which is why you refuse to see or accept the parallels Mustapha is making.

        As LebanesePatriot stated, HA is a cancer. It is killing the Lebanese state and preventing it from growth and prosperity. Their shia/Iranian sectarian ideology and practices is giving birth to the Sunni Assirs of Lebanon. What Assir is doing is called “mirroring”, he is basically mirroring HA’s practices and demonstrating that others can pull the same crap they do.

        I am a secularist, so I view all these bearded idiots with funny outfits as talking heads preying on the ignorant masses. They really have no place in a modern society.

  • http://lebpatriot.blogspot.ca/ LebanesePatriot

    Hezbollah is the cancer of Lebanon. And that cancer is spreading well. Without HA there is no divine justification For weapons with thugs like Alawis in the north or PSP in Hamra. That cancer will not cause good.

    And for the ignorant ppl who think that posting posters by HA thugs in Saida is not a provocation, you need help. You’ve been watching Al Manar for long time.

    There is no way we will have a prosperous Lebanon with the existence of the HA cancer.

  • Maverick

    Lebanese Patriot,

    I think you meant SSNP in Hamra. :)

    J,
    “Hezbollah is an integral part of our complex and dysfunctional society”, that’s what this post and most commentators are saying. Since 2000, the “mighty” RESISTANCE(TM) has entrenched itself in the muddy waters of the Lebanese political system and have acted in a way on multiple fronts and multiple occasions to suggest that it is no better than the rest of the political parties/militias.
    The May 7 events with HA “goons” and allies walking brazenly in the streets, shooting and carrying on does not send out a message of an ethical entity that prides itself on its moral base. The size of HA is irrelevant to the nature of its conduct.

    • http://lebpatriot.blogspot.ca/ LebanesePatriot

      @Maverick thanks for the correction :)

  • J

    Ok, we are, as expected, already running in circles and drifting off topic, but a few points from my end to conclude:

    Dude,

    It is not Hezbollah that is killing the Lebanese state. Sectarian polarization is what renders our state dysfunctional and incapable of dealing with its citizens most basic needs. Sectarianism was not invented by Hezbollah as far as I can remember. Hezbollah is one sectarian player among many, which makes it part of the problem, but not the root cause of the problem. Thus, as a self-proclaimed secularist, you should extend your disgust to all parties involved – some of the most virulent sectarians do prefer suits and ties over beards after all. In the past few years, as Hezbollah started taking a more active part in governing, it has shown that its senior members can be as corrupt and venal as Jumblat, Hariri, Berri et al; but then again, Hezbollah did not invent this sorry state of affairs. It is just the newest member in this deplorable club.

    Which points is Mustapha “making” anyway? He himself admits that “reality is beside the point” as far as he is concerned. I appreciate the time he has spent in Photoshop making this image (the common pink background is a nice touch), but a convincing argument (or even half an argument) this does not make. At best, it is a provocative headline, designed to attract a few mouse clicks in a crowded blogosphere, but soon forgotten. At worst, it is a whitewash of a sectarian demagogue with a sick mind (I am taking about Assir obviously, not about Mustapha), willing to take the country down a very dark tunnel to serve his own petty needs.

    Maverick,

    I do not disagree with much of what you say (and I expanded a little on this above). However, it must be said that Hezbollah has gone out of its way in the past few years to appease the Sunni street and avoid confrontation. In fact, the groveling of Hezbollah members in their attempts not to say anything to offend or provoke the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a country that invests large sums of money and political patronage to undermine them) is quite nauseating if you ask me. I do not need to remind you that the events of May 7 did not occur in a vacuum, but were the result of a string of March 14 provocations that Hezbollah eventually deemed an unacceptable threat to its security and existence.

    • Mustapha

      Actually I didn’t do anything to manipulate the photos. They both came with a pink background.. I just put them side by side…

  • romeo

    There are some thought-provoking arguments aroud here. Quite refreshing (and kudos to Mustapha).

    Although I am no fan of the Hezb or any other sectarian group for that matter, we do need to put ourselves in the shoes of the typical Hezb supporter and ask ourselves: why would an apparently sane and intelligent person follow the Hezb?

    Is it because that person wants to liberate Israel? (good luck buddy)

    Or is it because that person feels *insecure* within Lebanon?

    I suspect the latter.

    One has to realize that the typical Hezb supporter has probably felt alienated from the rest of Lebanese society for the longest time.

    Having weapons and acting strong is probably a psychological defense mechanism against the historical and established Lebanese hierarchy i.e. the feudal zaims, the beiks, the sheikhs, and the rest of the half-wits that the Lebanese call “leaders”.

    If no existing leader can take care of my grievances and provide “security” to my family, I would follow a strong, intelligent, and turbaned/bearded man by default.

    To all the Lebanese out there: until you people shed the religious, “holier-than-you” attitude towards your fellow Lebanese, you are doomed to an existence among the crazies of this world.

    Signing off from the beautiful and secular Canada…

    • GK

      The Shite has/had their own zaims and beiks including the speaker of the house Berri who before he got involved in politics owns almost nothing. He was a teacher at a secondary school. It is not the threat but the zest of power!!! They are powerful and will not give up that power easily and without a fight!

      • romeo

        @ GK,

        An average person does not seek power if that person is not threatened.

        You do probably know that historically, Shiites regions and communities were never given the required resources to develop.

        This may have been exacerbated by the thieves and crooks who were leading these communities before Hezbollah came onto the scene e.g. Berri, the Asaad’s, etc.

        There is a famous story of Kamel al Asaad’s father (Ahmed) saying to his Shiite followers: “Why do you need to send your kids to school? I am educating my son Kamel *for you* at the Sorbonne!”

        That said, we (Lebanese) have to resist blaming the victim (the regular Shiite common person) for the sins of a few leaders.

        We should *especially* be aware of our own prejudices.

        Unfortunately, the sectarian and religious feelings of the majority of Lebanese are the source of the deepest held prejudices.

        One has only to look at the size of the crosses hanging on people’s chests (geez…they are heavier than Jesus’ cross!). This behavior reeks of “I am the chosen lamb of god”…”my savior will rescue me while the rest of humanity will burn in hell”…etc.

        Same for religious Muslims. They believe that everyone else is lost somehow, and they feel obligated to drag you into obedience.

        Yet I am optimistic that things will change.

        The Internet has pulled the veil of ignorance almost everywhere in the world.

        It’s only a matter of time before religious intolerance is replaced by universal, humanistic tolerance.

  • GK

    Your statement: “An average person does not seek power if that person is not threatened” is not correct. Psychologists say that people seek power to control. Below is a link to a website which explains power. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/power_paradox
    The website states that: “studies also show that once people assume positions of power, they’re likely to act more selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and they have a harder time seeing the world from other people’s points of view.” And that how Hizballah behaving!

  • Dude

    Romeo,
    I can buy the argument that the Shia constituency in Lebanon has some legitimate gripes or demands that are specific to their community, any idea what they are? And why aren’t these concerns addressed in a civilized democratic way, instead of blackmailing and bullying the other communities with their divine weapons? The reason I ask is because I have yet to see the present Shia leadership of Amal and Hizbollah articulate any Shia specific concerns or demands in a Lebanese framework. What we have today is Berri trying to maintain his role as a Speaker for life while Nasrallah wants to create a sudo autonomous community, and form a Shia Army that is loyal to the Ayotallahs of Iran in the name of resistance!

    If the Shia community wants development and growth, well a perpetual state of war with a far superior enemy is never going to get them there.

  • romeo

    @GK,

    Great article you’ve got there. However, it discusses a broader definition of power. I admit I used the narrower, traditional definition that involves “domination” and “submission”. And in fact the article supports my view that no intelligent person would wield the Machiavellian type of power without eventually paying the price.

    This was supported by the statement: “detailed studies of “chimpanzee politics” have found that social power among nonhuman primates is based less on sheer strength, coercion, and the unbridled assertion of self-interest, and more on the ability to negotiate conflicts, to enforce group norms, and to allocate resources fairly. More often than not, this research shows, primates who try to wield their power by dominating others and prioritizing their own interests will find themselves challenged and, in time, deposed by subordinates.”

    The chimpanzees have figured it out! The Lebanese leaders have not.

    So an average intelligent Lebanese would quickly learn that dominating another group/sect is counterproductive. And I believe most Lebanese are fairly astute.

    The only reason the average person would *keep a grip* on power and continue to try to dominate is in my opinion a sign of fear.

    And the Shiites had a lot to fear historically (see my post above). Which me brings me to…

    @Dude,

    I am generally clueless about what each sect in Lebanon fears.

    My best guess is that *everyone feels like a minority*. So nobody feels ready to go above the pettiness and small thinking of their own sect.

    When you feel like mouse, you behave like a mouse. And you think cats are everywhere.

    So…it is not up to me or any other individual to speculate what the “Shia constituency” wants.

    However, it is up to everyone of us to take some principled positions:

    1) Stop generalizing and treating each Sect as a homogeneous group. It is easy to dehumanize people that way.

    2) Stop speculating about what the other Sect wants. Instead, be courageous enough (i.e. stop acting like a mouse) to ask for unconditional talks while trusting that the others are not seeking to annihilate you.

    It is not like I am bringing up some revolutionary ideas here folks.

    It has been done before very effectively in Apartheid South Africa with the much uglier problem of racism. All parties there used some competent third party consultants/mediators to talk, and talk, and talk…

    It was long and painful. But it worked.

  • Observer

    The Israelis see it.

    Sunni Gulf Royals are the mirror image of the Shi’ite Iranian Ayatollahs.

    They know that if the Arabs want to get into a Godly debate, they have the upper hand, by about 4000 years.

    The Israeli Jews are AlLL IN with the Muslim and Christian brotherhoods to discuss their rights as the sons of Abraham in the Biblical land of Israel.

  • Observer

    When SHN and Assir shave their beards and get off the religious nonsense they believe gives them legitimacy to protect the state of Lebanon, they’ll get my vote.

    Look at the Maronites. They made a huge modern step. No more beards!

  • http://oussama-hayek.blogspot.com/ OH

    If the pictures above are correct, then there is a difference: Nasrallah is left-handed while Assir is right-handed.

  • Hani

    Oh dear,

    You guys are still standing on the wrong side of history.

    Without Hezbollah, there would have been no Lebanon today. At least, not the Lebanon many of those who oppose Hezbollah think it would be.

    Facts:
    - Hezbollah liberated Lebanon from the Israeli occupation.
    - Hezbollah destroyed the “Greater Israel” plan which included Lebanon in its map.
    - Without Hezbollah, Lebanon would have been today fighting for UN recognition like Palestine.
    - Without Hezbollah, Lebanon would have been like the West Bank of Palestine, Israel would cut land and demolish houses all the time and build settlements.
    - Without Hezbollah, you would see Israel bombing any time any place it wants going after very weak resistance movements that would of course emerge if Hezbollah was not there. Yeah, I know you never thought about this ;)
    - Hezbollah, and especially after the 2006 war along with the huge advancements they made regarding numbers, weapons, and intelligence, have made Israel think a million times before invading Lebanon again.
    - Without Hezbollah, and assuming Israel starts a war to invade Lebanon, you wouldn’t find them in Tripoli the next day, because invading Lebanon is no longer a journey anymore. The war would go on and end with Israeli forces literally on the border. Or even behind the Palestinian Galilee ;)

    Isn’t that enough? People, get the wisdom and learn by example.

    Quote: “I submit to many of the logical arguments for why Hezbollah is different than Al-Assir’s thugs, even if I dispute the assertion that Hezbollah is a force for good in the country.”

    and this:

    Quote: “When my friends, Hezbollah’s supporters, look at Ahmed el Assir and his armed men and feel sick to their stomach with disgust, I hope they realize that this is exactly what many Sunnis feel when they see Hezbollah”

    Well, your job is to inform them of what you at least admit. If your fellow countrymen see something that you think is wrong, what do you do? You submit to them or try to convince them otherwise? In addition, many Sunnis support Hezbollah and see the true picture.

    If actually one do listen to a single S. Hassan Nasrallah speech, realizes immediately that you can’t compare el Assir’s ideology with Nasrallah’s. His speeches are all over YouTube if someone wants to see.

    Finally, my hope you all stand on the right side of History and invest your time in making Lebanon more powerful, not look for ways to weaken it or even worse…

    Cheers.

    • Hani

      in the last point: “Without Hezbollah, and assuming”, replace it with “With Hezbollah, and assuming”

  • J

    One clear difference the author seems conveniently oblivious to is the fact that Assir is trying his mighty best to ignite sectarian chaos (as showcased by the events of Sunday – perhaps he thinks he can then rule as a princeling in the tiny fiefdom of Saida), whereas Hezbollah are doing what they can to restrain their supporters from retaliating to Assir’s irresponsible provocations.

    But more generally, and with all due respect, comparing an insignificant sectarian demagogue to one of the major political and military players in the region is pretty flimsy (regardless of what you think of them). People inflamed with sectarian hatred might not see things clearly, but you should try to dig a little deeper and go beyond this base level of reasoning. Otherwise, this post would just be an attempt to get some attention through provocative (and unconvincing) juxtaposition.

    I very rarely agree with anything you write (although sometimes I do), but this post, along with your “artistic suicide bomber” travesty, is among your most deplorable. Perhaps you should concentrate on posts revolving around your childhood memories?

  • Dude

    @j, your analysis and reasoning is completely off base. Actually Mustapha did capture the true sentiment behind the Assir/Hizbollah phenomena. He is correct as they are 2 sides of the same coin.

    You say Hizobollah is a regional power. So what! their allegiance is to Iran, which is the Shia power seat in the region. They are using this power to protect and advance the Iranian interests which the Lebanese Shia, for most part, has adopted as their own. You can spin it every which way you want, but the facts are the facts, especially with Nasrallah never missing an opportunity to remind the public of this fact. In Lebanese politics, as we all have learned over the years, no matter how strong one side becomes, they will never succeed on marginalizing and controlling other segments of Lebanese society. It is simple history and the events on the ground today are no different.
    The Sunni’s in Lebanon initially trusted M-14 and Harriri’s leadership to remove the HA bully. They attempted through peaceful means to neutralize HA’s threat and remove that gun that is pointed to their head; they ended up with the 2006 war and the May-7 events. Furthermore, the Lebanese Army proved to be ineffective or unwilling to protect the Sunni’s during those events. So, what will the citizens d? turn to people like Assir for protection. He is basically filling in the void that was created by the Lebanese Government and the traditional Sunni leadership. As long as we continue to have a monolithic power like HA, that is armed to the teeth doing as they please, the rest of the country will never feel at ease and people like Assir and others will continue to surface