In the wake of Israel’s 34-day war with Hizbullah, the 24-year-old Islamic movement has become the most popular political party in the Middle East.
Here’s why that shouldn’t worry us. Over 1 million Lebanese gathered in a vast square in a southern Beirut suburb on September 22 to celebrate their country’s largely successful campaign against Israel.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hizbullah, risked his life by appearing in public after Israeli leaders had sworn to kill him, and spoke to his adoring supporters in Lebanon and around the world.
Many children were given the day off from school, and buses ferried supporters from all over Lebanon for the victory celebration. Lebanon had endured 34 days of war, and not only was the Shiite Hizbullah movement undefeated, it had achieved a near parity of casualties with the Israeli military – a first in the history of Arab-Israeli wars. In an Arab world
whose leaders were dictatorial, mendacious and corrupt, who made false promises and were beholden to the United States, Nasrallah was renowned for his integrity and for maintaining his movement’s defense of Lebanon at all costs. It had made him the most popular leader in the Arab world.
Women, children and men waved the flags of Lebanon and Hizbullah from outside the windows and sang in jubilation as they waited in traffic. Also on display were the flags of Palestine and Palestinian movements, Lebanese Christian movements, the Communist Party, Sunni and Druze movements, as well as secular nationalists. Although many of the celebrants were men with beards or women whose hair was covered, many were not. There were youths in trendy attire, girls in tight jeans with hair exposed and who had turned their Hizbullah T-shirts into stylish form-fitting fashion statements.
Stuck in the crowds with my seven-months-pregnant American wife, we opted for a better view from the balcony of an apartment building above the crowds.
When the singing of Hizbullah songs and the Lebanese and Hizbullah anthems had ended and Nasrallah began his speech, the women on the balcony with us shrieked as though at a rock concert and ran into the living room to confirm on the television screen that it was indeed him. They waved their arms and started to cry, and a frisson of emotion ran through the men in the room.
Nasrallah not only spoke to his natural constituents, the Lebanese Shiites, but he also singled out the inhabitants of Palestine, Syria, Iran, Kuwait and Bahrain. He told his audience that they were sending a political and moral message to the world that Lebanon’s resistance was stronger than ever. Their victory was a victory for every oppressed, aggrieved and free person in the world, he said, and an inspiration for all who rejected subjugation or degradation by the United States. He mocked Arab leaders for not using their oil resources as a strategic weapon, for prohibiting demonstrations, for not supporting the Palestinians and for kowtowing to Condoleezza Rice. He extended his people’s hearts, grief and empathy for the Palestinians who were being bombed and killed daily, and whose homes were being destroyed while the world, and in particular the Arab world, was silent……
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