Thirty or forty years from now, a Lebanese child will ask his grandparents what it was like to live during the age of Nasrallah. The myths and symbolism that swirl around the man have already begun to coalesce into a hagiography of sorts; one can only imagine that his shadow will grow longer in the twilight of memory.
Consider the seemingly cosmic congruences at hand, ripe for the picking by a fertile imagination. Nasrallah, he of the portentous name, addresses the stronghold of al-Dahiya (derived from the same root which gives the Arabic word for “sacrifice”), issuing communiques to his flock while in hiding. The allegorical reading of his occultation is impossible to avoid, as is the relevance of Ali b. Abi Talib’s famous dictum, uttered at the Battle of Siffin: baqiyyatu l-sayfi anmaa `adadan (“The persistence of the sword is more productive of numbers…”).
To return to the present… There have been several articles in the mainstream press of late, dealing with the Hizb’s changing image in Lebanon and abroad. Mohanad Hage Ali, writing in The Guardian (“Hezbollah’s Political Evolution“) argues that “political engagement has seen Hezbollah change from a revolutionary party that once believed in establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon, into a political group involved in daily governmental politics, unions, and concerned with its supporters’ demands.” Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times (“Hezbollah savors increasing legitimacy“) reports on an interview with Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem, in which the Hizb’s no. 2 explains: “The more we clarify our image to the people of the West, the more pressure they will put on their governments to stop supporting Israel.”
Everything suggests a shift of strategy by the Hizb towards emphasizing the themes of good governance, national unity, gradual reformism, and fighting corruption, while placing the military resistance on the back burner. In this context, one wonders whether the oft-asked question regarding the price for Hizbullah’s “integration” into Lebanese politics is a stale and irrelevant one, as it seems increasingly as though the Hizb is not waiting for anyone to make them an offer. Take a look at the campaign posters (above and left). The party’s famous Kalashnikov logo has been deliberately faded to contrast it with a bold-faced LEBANON, beneath three scratched-out titles: “your Lebanon,” “our Lebanon,” “their Lebanon.” It’s a strong message, and one which immediately brings to mind Saad al-Hariri’s promise to refuse joining a government of national unity after the elections.
Unlike the other big Lebanese parties, Hizbullah is the only one which seems to be taking the whole notion of an electoral program seriously. March 14th and the FPM have issued vague bullet points (which I suppose are better than PowerPoint presentations, but still…) while the Hizb published a nine-page document (see here for English) detailing all of the issues to which it is committed. What’s more, Nasrallah himself is planning to give a weekly address explaining different parts of the platform, which will be highly worth watching, given that Nasrallah (a.k.a. “the Bill Clinton of the Shiite Crescent“) is one of the most gifted orators of his generation. I can point to no hard numbers, but my sense is that a half hour-long speech by Nasrallah is worth several million dollars worth of silly billboard slogans, as far as winning over new adherents is concerned or at least changing people’s minds about the party.
Then again, maybe the Future Movement’s sectarian and just plain bizarro media counter-strategy (see especially “Christians Celebrate Holy Easter Within Uptight Hezbollah Speeches“) is working, but my sense is that they’re just embarrassing themselves.