Open Democracy, Karl Marx and Hezbollah


Posted to on August 15, 2006 can best be described as Harry's Place for the cognoscenti. With lavish funding from such sources as the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation and the Rockfeller Fund and editorial guidance by such wretches as Todd Gitlin and Danny Postel, Roger Scruton (the British philosopher who got caught taking surreptitious payoffs from the tobacco industry in exchange for writing pro-smoking articles in the Wall Street Journal), the website maintains a steady drumbeat for the war on terror and against 'Islamofascism' and the Bolivarian revolution, etc. Unlike the spittle-flecked Harry's Place blog, Opendemocracy tries to maintain a certain kind of scholarly detachment, which arguably makes it far more insidious.


One of their recent articles is making the rounds on the Internet. Titled "How the European left supports Lebanon" and written by Hazem Saghieh, the editor of Al-Hayat--a British newspaper hostile to Arab and Muslim radicalism, it has the dubious distinction of invoking Karl Marx in support of a reactionary agenda: "The left's embrace of an Islamist movement supported by Iranian mullahs would have appalled Karl Marx."


To support his left flank, Saghieh begins by saying:


Europe's left-wingers are supporting us Lebanese against Israel and its war crimes. Thanks, that's great: the Lebanese need all the backing they can get in facing the overwhelming technological savagery unleashed on their land and airspace, scorching the earth and not distinguishing civilians from soldiers, babies from adults.


But that's just a warm-up for his real act, which is to cast Hizbollah as a reactionary intrusion into Lebanon's "experiment in coexistence" between rival religions and its parliamentary system unequalled in the Arab world. Saghieh describes Lebanon in the early 1970s as a kind of social democratic paradise:


[F]or all its shortcomings, Lebanon's parliamentary system was without equal in the Arab world. Lebanon had simultaneously gained an unparalleled freedom of expression, with ever-increasing newspapers and magazines, not to mention a flourishing publishing sector producing original and translated work which made Beirut the printing press of the Arab world. Trade unions and political parties also enjoyed considerable liberties: on the eve of the 1975-1976 conflict most left-wing movements, including the Communist Party, were legalised.


In 1972, the year of the last elections before the war, the general-secretary of the Communist Party stood in the parliamentary elections; members were also elected for the Ba'ath Party and the Nasserites (who called for a pan-Arab union in which Lebanon would have been dissolved). The status of women in Lebanon was immeasurably better than in most of the rest of the Arab world.




This social democratic Eden gave way to a Hobbesian struggle between rival religious sects. The cause was an Israeli invasion in 1982 that "degraded Lebanon's inhabitants, destroyed its economy and tore apart the fabric of its sectarian relations." However, Syria and Iran get equal blame in Saghieh's eyes since they intervened to back their own proxies and to exacerbate an already bad situation. Worst of all was Iran's support of Hizbollah, which comes across in Saghieh's words as a kind of enemy of Reason and Civilization as bad as the Taliban:


At its outset, members of the movement in the Beka'a valley, accompanied by Iranian 'Revolutionary Guards', used to spray girls' legs with acid, because their skirts did not cover their knees and their faces were not veiled.


A cursory look into Lexis-Nexis will reveal no such behavior on the part of Hezbollah. Indeed, commentators have frequently noted that Hezbollah *has not* forced strict Islamic codes on the men and women who live under their rule.


In a NY Review of Books article by Adam Schatz titled "In Search of Hezbollah," we learn:


In a country mired in patronage and back-room dealing, Hezbollah is respected for its lack of corruption. Although the party's yellow-and-green flag--depicting a fist brandishing a Kalashnikov, posed against a globe-- still advocates "the Islamic Revolution in Lebanon," Hezbollah has recently said little about an Islamic state, and begun to build alliances across religious lines, particularly at the municipal level and in professional unions. In 1999, for example, Hezbollah members of Lebanon's engineering syndicate formed a coalition with the Phalange Party, a rightist Christian group, and the National Liberal Party, both allies of Israel during the civil war. Another change that is impossible to ignore is the growing prominence of female activists in the party, a development that makes the party progressive by Islamist standards. "One would have to be blind not to notice the changes Hezbollah has undergone," says Joseph Samaha, a secular Christian writer for the daily as-Safir. "Has Hezbollah tried to ban books or impose sharia? Not once. Their electoral program is [an] almost social democratic [one]. So we're confronting a very different kind of Fundamentalist party."




On a more fundamental level, one has to question Saghieh's invocation of Karl Marx, which strikes one as only slightly less disingenuous than Christopher Hitchens's defense of the invasion of Iraq on the basis of Karl Marx's support for Lincoln (what a travesty!).


Although Marx never wrote in great detail about the problems of colonialism and imperialism (a task left to a later generation of Marxists like Lenin), he was alert enough to the problem to champion Irish self-determination. In a letter to Engels dated November 2, 1867 Marx wrote: "I have done my best to bring about this demonstration of the English workers in favour of Fenianism.... I used to think the separation of Ireland from England impossible. I now think it inevitable, although after the separation there may come federation...."


Marx's criterion was based on class. The Irish were victims of national oppression which had a dual character. Their religion and culture was held in second-class status and they were treated as second class citizens. How else would one describe the Shi'ites of Lebanon?


In a July 1 1985 Newsweek article, they were described as follows:


For as long as anyone can remember, the Shiites have been Lebanon's bottom dogs, a downtrodden underclass of poorly educated farmers and villagers virtually without a voice in running Lebanon. Maronite Christians have dominated the government. Sunni Muslims, better placed and better padded, prospered in business and politics, looking down on their Shiite brothers. The Druse, a secretive Islamic splinter, excluded them. Palestinian exiles took over Shiite turf in the south, behaving like an occupying army. Elsewhere the Shiites have been geographically scattered, some living in the slums of Beirut, others in the Bekaa Valley. But their high birthrate has made them the largest single religious group in Lebanon.


Whatever else one might say about Karl Marx, he always took the side of the underdog--despite specious arguments to the contrary by