I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately written by March XIV® journalists and analysts, and I’ve come to realise that their attachement to الحقيقة (the truth), is not only as strong as their Opposition® counterpart’s attachement to المقاومة (the resistance), but that it functions in exactly the same way. Underneath a rather abstract political heading lies something quite concrete that is considered as having a kind of sacred quality that cannot be questioned or opposed. In March XIV®’s case it’s the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, in the Opposition®’s case it’s Hezbollah’s weapons. Both sides argue in the same way and try to convince you that their goal is to defend Lebanon from further bloodshed. They obviously stick to principles and refuse any “practical” discussion of the matters at hand. What makes matters worse is that each argument is supported by a large communal mobilisation (that opposes the other side’s communal mobilisation and feeds on it) and that there is no autonomous or independent spaces in which these issues can be discussed (ex: the press or academia). Let’s have a quick look at each sides arguments.
Lebanon’s salvation according to March XIV®
The March XIV® supporters will argue that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will not only establish who killed Rafik Hariri, but will punish the perpetrator(s). They insist that even if its function is punitive, its sanction will set a precedent, it will counter the previous impunity, and will thus fill a preventive function. This argument is supported by three other rhetorical constructs:
- the hagiographical transformations of Rafik Hariri: the public figure eclipses the man, and his actions are revisited and redefined by the virtues he is made to incarnate… and the political principle he is made to embody, that of sovereignty and new “father” of the nation,
- the Beirut Spring/Independence Intifada narrative, the March 14 demonstration brought together Lebanese citizens belonging to all communities (especially Christian, Sunni and Druze) to uphold Lebanon’s Independence and Sovereignty. It’s a sort of “birth/rebirth” of the nation.
- the panmarteon: the common celebration of “greater” and “lessor” political figures who were killed between 1979 and 2006 (such as Kamal Jumblatt, Bachir Gemayel, Hassan Khaled, René Mouawad, Samir Kassir, Georges Haou, Gebran Tueni,)
Lebanon’s salvation according to the Opposition®
The Opposition® supporters will argue that Hezbollah embodies the principle of Resistance. Its weapons were proven crucial in liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation, and are still necessary for the recuperation of areas still under Israeli occupation, and for dissuading Israel from attacking Lebanon. This argument is supported by three underlying rhetorical constructs:
- the strictly defensive function of Hezbollah’s weapons: to counter exterior threats, and the only exterior threat comes from Israel. This defensive function is considered as having a protective and preventive (dissuasive) effect.
- The resistance narrative: Hezbollah not only fights Israel, but it prevented it from annexing Southern Lebanon, eventually liberated the territory occupied by Israel, and still prevents Israel from invading and annexing parts of Lebanon.
- The moral superiority doctrine: Hezbollah is presented as morally superior to other political parties because of the values that it allegedly incarnates: courage, sacrifice and (for some) religious orthodoxy. Its moral superiority means that it doesn’t compromise on its values and that it doesn’t sully itself in politics (patronage, corruption…).
Mistaking the wood in one’s eye for dust
Each side is very quick in attacking the other’s arguments. The March XIV® have always been much more vocal about their criticism of the Opposition®’s arguments. Their militant journalists and second rank politicians usually denounce the danger that these weapons represent (in a democracy). Some critics go further and attack the moral superiority doctrine, or the resistance narrative. Although their criticism is often justified, it often turns into verbal attacks that are not always immune from anti-shiite sentiments (rarely direct and explicit, but at times quite clearly anti-shiite and most of the times considered by Shiites as being attacks on their community symbolised and represented by Hezbollah). The Opposition is less vocal in its criticism of the March XIV® argument. It usually refrains from criticising or deconstructing the three supportive rhetorical constructs (although much can be said about them) and limits itself to denouncing the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. But this rather “non-offensive” strategy is compensated by recurrent threats, accusations of treason and the actual use of force (on May 7th 2008). It is quite obvious that self-criticism is non existent. The Opposition® is always self-righteous, and March XIV pretends to be self-critical, but this is usually cosmetic and turns into a more sophisticated exercice in self-righteousness.