Monday, August 20, 2007

Interview of Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem

Source: Al-Ahram, 16-22/08-2007

Hizbullah`s Sheikh Naim Qasim speaks to Omayma Abdel-Latif about the resistance movement one year after the US-backed “Israeli” war on Lebanon.

Sheikh Naim Qasim:

There will be no fresh war in the near future between Hizbullah and “Israel”, according to the Islamic resistance movement`s deputy secretary-general. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from his office in Dahiya, Beirut, Sheikh Naim Qasim said Hizbullah does not expect an imminent “Israeli” attack. He also stressed that the party does not intend to attack “Israeli” targets for the time being.

"From day one, our resistance has been one of self-defence. We do not initiate war against the enemy; rather we respond when we are being attacked," Sheikh Qasim said. Qasim adds that in the belief of Hizbullah, “Israel” did not restore its capacities to wage war on Lebanon. "Any adventure in that direction is likely to implicate ‘Israel’ in a deadlock that is much more complex than the July [2006] war. We therefore believe that ‘Israel’ is incapable of launching an aggressive war during the forthcoming period."

Hizbullah, continued Qasim, remains vigilant and continues its preparations for worst-case scenarios.

When asked if Hizbullah would respond if Iran and Syria -- said to be its two regional allies and backers -- are attacked by the US and/or “Israel”, Qasim responds: "Iran can defend itself and Syria can defend itself if attacked. But the question is what form this aggression will take. This aggression might extend to include other parties in the region, and since we don`t know what form the aggression will take, we cannot rule out any possibility. What we can say is that the region will be extremely in danger."

Regarding Lebanon, Qasim says that the current political conflict can be summed in one theme: refusing a US mandate over Lebanon, or accepting it. "If we, as Lebanese political forces, can reach an understanding over issues of contention we can then stop the US mandate over Lebanon. The problem lies in this," he said.

On Tuesday, Lebanon commemorated one year after the end of the 33-day US- backed “Israeli” war last summer that left 2,023 civilians dead and 3,740 wounded, razing to the ground entire villages and towns in south Lebanon. Lebanon`s Shia population was made to pay the heaviest price during the war. The ostensible goal was to break its support and sympathy for Hizbullah, destroying the resistance movement`s social and political base.

The reverse effect occurred. Qassim says that the party`s popularity in the aftermath of the war was never higher. "Sympathy for the party grew during and after the war, and so too our popularity. We have full support from our constituency." Qassim points out that Hizbullah has been inundated with requests, most from Lebanese youth, to join the resistance.

Qassim dismisses reports of a decline in the movement`s popular standing after its soaring popularity during “Israel’s” war. "The model the resistance presents continues to command the ability to mobilise across the region. By this I mean the cultural and spiritual mobilisation that is achieved by taking the example of the ethos of resistance. This does not necessarily mean interfering in the internal affairs of any country." Hizbullah, he continues, in resisting US hegemonic schemes and the "new Middle East" project, reflects the position embraced by Arab citizens across the Arab world. "Illusions about a decline in Hizbullah`s popularity only exist in the minds of the enemies of the resistance," Qassim says.

"The resistance was able to force change and abort all attempts to establish the new Middle East through the Lebanese gate. It also proved to our partners in power in Lebanon that they should acknowledge that Hizbullah is an effective political force and that only agreement over internal policies through partnership can work -- not by dictating orders." The victory of the resistance, according to Qassim, means the Arab world is no longer easy prey for US- “Israeli” schemes: "One great consequence of the war is the revival of the notion of military and political resistance across the region, and on this basis Hizbullah considers itself victorious."

Hizbullah`s detractors charge that the resistance`s involvement in the Lebanese political scene and its opposition to the Western-backed government of Fouad Al-Siniora has turned traditional political rivalry in Lebanon between Muslim and Christian constituencies into Shia-Sunni tension between Hizbullah on the one hand and Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal (Saad Al-Hariri`s Future Movement) on the other. In response, Qassim explains that the 1989 Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war, has "protected Lebanon`s sects from one another and has been fair to all of them." Any rhetoric about Sunni-Shia rivalry, Qassim continues, "has no foundation because there is a quota for every sect in a manner that cannot be infringed upon. Whatever the Sunnis or the Shias do they have a certain number of seats in parliament that will not be changed. This sectarian-based distribution of power set by Taif cannot be changed by demographic factors."

Some viewed Hizbullah`s fall 2006 civil disobedience campaign as a coup against Taif. Was there any truth to this? "No one in Hizbullah`s leadership made a statement about changing or amending the Taif Agreement," Qassim responds. "Our discourse has always been one of honouring Taif because it is an agreement that Lebanon reached after a period of suffering that lasted for 15 years, and therefore we cannot talk about a new agreement."

"In Hizbullah we believe that what is needed is to implement Taif and not to amend it. We were surprised that it was ‘14 (Feb.) March’ (the Hariri-led Western-backed parliamentary majority) that promoted a rhetoric suggesting that it is the opposition that wants to change the balance of power by talking about power-sharing (Al-Muthalatha) between Sunni and Shia and Maronites, instead of the traditional formula of Muslims and Christians. They have made up this problem."

Qassim accuses the Western-backed government of violating the Taif Agreement by continuing to rule despite the fact that a whole sect (the Shias, led by Hizbullah) is now excluded from the power-sharing process. For Qassim, this is part of a larger attempt to stir Sunni-Shia strife in Lebanon. He acknowledged that there were forces working to sow seeds of sedition among Lebanon`s Muslims. "We have confronted those attempts and we have strived to stay away from fitna (strife). Hizbullah`s Secretary-General [Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah] said that even if 1,000 of us are killed we would not respond, in order to stop the strife."

Many question, however, in light of the unprecedented sectarian rhetoric embraced by key Lebanese political forces, what guarantees Hizbullah can provide that Lebanon will not slip into a replay of the 1975 opening of civil strife. Qassim acknowledges that the conditions for Sunni-Shia strife, or Muslim-Christian strife, exist because "there are those who use sectarian language day and night to stir sectarian sentiment, and we know that the Americans are pioneers of `constructive chaos` of which sectarian strife is one form." Qassim insists, however, that there will be no sectarian strife in Lebanon because "there is a strong will on Hizbullah`s part, and on the part of the Lebanese opposition in general, to prevent strife among the Lebanese. We engage in counter- mobilisation."

Qassim further denies that Hariri`s Future Movement fans the flames of fitna: "It does not incite on such action; however, part of its discourse needs to be amended because there cannot be a separation between the rhetoric and practice." Qassim disclosed that meetings take place between figures in the Future Movement and Hizbullah to abort attempts to stir sectarian strife among Sunnis and Shias.

Hizbullah`s position regarding the confrontation between the Lebanese army and the Fatah Al-Islam group in the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp is, according to Qassim, proof that the resistance movement wants to steer clear of attempts to exacerbate any existing Shia-Sunni divide. "Whoever monitors our discourse lately will find that we have avoided getting into a war of words with some takfiri [one in the Muslim faith that accuses another Muslim of disbelieving] groups. Hizbullah`s top priority is to confront “Israel” and to obstruct the US mandate over Lebanon, whereas the priorities of some takfiri groups are different altogether. If we appear to be competing with them via the media we will plunge into strife."

Qassim believes that the US-inspired classification of "moderates" versus "extremists", or rather moderate Sunni regimes versus extremist Shia regimes, "poses a great danger to our region". "The problem has never been one between Sunnis and Shias. The problem has always been with the existence of “Israel” that disrupted the balance in the whole region and made us pay the price of the occupation and the “Israeli” entity. There is no other more important problem. For example, some time ago we witnessed how Iranian-Saudi relations progressed, and relations with Egypt were improving, but US meddling disrupts this progression."

According to Qassim, Hizbullah rejects any form of "mandate", regardless from whence it comes. The Syrian mandate over Lebanon, he said, was the result of an agreement made by the Saudis, the Syrians, the French and the Americans. "There were regional and international conditions that allowed Syria to be in Lebanon. It was an international rather than an internal decision," he said. Now that Syria is out of Lebanon, the US, according to Qassim, wants to lay its hands fully on Lebanon in the service of “Israeli” interests and its regional schemes. "We have got to stop this mandate, but we also don`t want to replace one mandate by another. We want, as Lebanese political forces, to reach an understanding amongst ourselves in order to stop any attempted foreign intervention."

Hizbullah, according to Qassim, understands the US decision to send arms supplies to some Arab countries as an attempt to goad Arab regimes into confronting Iran and Syria. "Iran and Syria are the two countries that stand in the face of US schemes in the region while other countries chose to be part of the US plan." Qassim says that Hizbullah does not believe that any of the Arab states considered part of the "axis of moderates" wants to launch a war against Iran or Syria. The US, he explained, is pushing these regimes to fulfill its own strategic interests.

"We do not fear the arming of Arab countries. I am confident they are not going to use their weapons against other Arab regimes," Qassim said. These countries, he continued, are free to take weapons from the US, but they should not become American political tools causing strife in the Arab world. "We should realise that the real crisis in the region is the “Israeli” occupation. We don`t want to divert attention from this."
Note: the single most interesting book about Hezbollah in English is called "Hizbullah: the Story from Within" was written by Naim Qassem. I strongly reccommend reading this book to anyone wanting to understand the history and nature of Hezbollah.