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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On electing God and the resistance

With Lebanon suffering the fallout from the decision to empower Hizbullah politically by allowing it to join the government, you would think others would learn from the Lebanese experience and prevent groups such as Hamas from fielding candidates in the upcoming Palestinian election, or limit the participation in Iraq’s election of groups with links to sectarian militias or the so-called “resistance.” Sadly, that is not the case.

Unfortunately, people vote for what they know, and in the Palestinians' case, they know of two choices: the religious or the corrupt. Hamas, like Hizbullah, is becoming a state within a state, a de facto alternative to whatever the Palestinian Authority is failing to become or to obtain from the Israelis. Today, the Israelis said they will not allow Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem because Hamas, a group that tries to destroy Israel, is participating in the election. While I am no fan of Israeli policies towards Palestinians, I can’t say I blame them. They do not want to give Hamas political authority.

In Iraq, Shias voted in large numbers for candidates from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) party, whose armed militia, Badr, is said to have infiltrated the interior ministry. Some of the Sunni groups who ran also have known links to the Iraqi “resistance”, which is responsible for the killing of many innocent Iraqis.

I think the US administration is finally realizing the damage a fledgling democracy can incur from empowering groups such as the SCIRI. Ambassador Khalizad recently said that “you can’t have someone who is regarded as sectarian as the minister of interior.” Khalizad was referring to the Iraqi interior minister Bayan Jaber Solagh, a Shia hardliner with links to Badr who is accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse of Sunni detainees in secret interior ministry jails.

As far as I know, no electoral law in the region prohibits candidates with links to armed groups from running. What we have now in Lebanon, a religious and armed group engaged in politics for the sole purpose of keeping the country in an endless state of war, is bound to happen in Palestine and Iraq if electoral laws do not bar militants from standing in elections.

Many of these groups also use religion to sway voters. To get Sunnis to vote in Iraq, Sunni Imams described the vote as a religious duty and directed their electorate to vote for groups affiliated with Sunni fighters (and with a flip of a switch, the militant groups heeded the calls of the Imams and ceased violence for a day). In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood campaigned under the slogan “Islam is the solution” and won an unprecedented number of seats in parliament. They would have won more had it not been for voter obstruction by the Egyptian authorities. The secular opposition was too weak to mount a real challenge. In fact, in Egypt and Syria, secularism was hijacked by the ruling party and became synonymous with oppression and corruption.

Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who is falsely considered by Western journalists as a spiritual guide to Hizbullah, has warned against the use of religious authority for electoral purposes. Here’s a relevant quote from the ICG report on Lebanon:
A Fadlallah political adviser told Crisis Group that religiously-inspired instructions are acceptable only when pertaining to the "strategic," not "organizational or tactical" level: “God granted the individual. ... reason. A man of religious learning can advise Muslims, for example, "not to vote for corrupt candidates." But it is still up to the individual himself to decide who is corrupt and who isn't. Hizbullah violated this principle. ... Shiites were made to feel endangered, so they felt compelled to vote. And that's dangerous, as now the Shiites think the resistance's weapons are theirs.”
In a region of military dictatorships, it's hard to convince people not to vote for religious groups or militants riding sympathetic causes. And with dictators bent on destroying the secular opposition, militant religious groups automatically rise in power until they become the only alternative to corruption and injustice. And we all know what some of those groups have given birth to: terrorism.

Giving militant and fundamentalist groups political authority does not strike me as democracy. When these groups reach power, the first thing they will do is cancel the free vote in the name of conformity. Iran here is a good example. After all, nobody should have to give up their Beethoven, Radiohead and Fairuz.

Comments:
I think you'll enjoy reading this.
 
"Hamas, like Hizbullah, is becoming a state within a state, a de facto alternative to whatever the Palestinian Authority is failing to become or to obtain from the Israelis."

Martin Kramer made the same point in his latest post, and said that Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah who try to replace the state's authority by their own cannot be qualified as moderate Islamists and should not be coopted by the government. If an Islamist party wants to join the political process, it has to recognize the sovereignty of the state/people and renounce violence.
 
Fadlallah is growing old... and wise. Unlike Nasrallah, he has grown in a peaceful Lebanon which could explain some of his positions.
 
I'm surprised that non of you guys commented on Sheikh Naboulsi's religous decree forbiding any shiite to participate in the government other than Hizbullah and Amal. I was expecting a comment at least from Kais.
 
Abdul Karim: link?
 
what? who's sheikh naboulsi? how dare he ?
 
Kais,
there is no Palestinian state, so for you to describe Hamas as a State within a State is premature.

Hamas, the MB in Palestine has always been a popular force in Palestinian politics. It is the Palestinaian nationalists that have always tried to exclude them.
It is impossible for them to ignore them now.

For Israel, who protected and promoted Hamas as a counterweight to the PLO ,to now say that they will abandon the peace process because of hamas success in Palestinian elections is unmitigated gall.

Israel is not interested in peace with the Palestinians. It will seize on any excuse to suspend the peace process.

As for the voting by Palestinians in Jerusalem , Israel has always opposed their participation because it did want to give any legitimacy to Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. It has absolutly nothing to do with Hamas. On the contrary, Israel's policies have boosted Hamas popularity and undercut their opponents.

The Israel- Ha duelling in the South serves both of them politically.

HA's opponents need to engage the Shia in debate rather than confront them. They can be attracted by development aid , security and services.

Like it or not, religious political movements are the current fashion and we should not dismiss their popularity or exclude them from the democratic and political process. The majority of the Islamists are democratic and peaceful people that are pursuing their beliefs. To suppress them will play into the hands of the Islamic extremists.

The MB in Egypt won 84 of the 120 seats that they contested despite the best efforts of the regime to prevent their supporters from reaching the polls. The strength of the Shia in Lebanon and Iraq is challenging the Sunni in thre arab world. Any attempt to exclude HA will only exacerbate this conflict.

Vox , before your buddy Martin Kramer talks about disarming Hamas and HA, let him convince the Israeli gov't to disarm the Jewish settlers . Have the settlers not hijacked the State and consider themselves above the law?

Issam
 
Issam-

First of all, my post is not about Israel and "Palestine", it's about militant religious movements being given political authority. You dropped the militant part when you defended the "democratic and peaceful" religious movements. Even the non-political ones do not believe in democracy, so I don't know how you can describe them as such. I understand that not all "islamists" are alike, but regardless, as someone who believes in the separation of religion and state, I don't think having them in power is such a good idea.

I didn't want to discuss Hamas, I've only used that example to illustrate my point. But since you brought it up, I didn't say they are a state within a state, I said they were "becoming" that, an alternative to whatever the PA is trying to build. As for Israeli policies in Jerusalem, and what is called the Judaization of the city, you are correct that they have a policy of erasing Palestinian identity and replacing it with an Israeli one, actually, they are systematicaly driving the Palestinians out of the city through physical and economic terror. I know what the settlers there are doing, I've seen it and it's a shame nobody talks about it. Having said that, the PA and Arafat have signed the rights of Jerusalem away in Oslo, if I am not mistaken, by agreeing to deprive Palestinians there from any political rights.

Now, because I believe that Palestinians deserve much better than a group like Hamas, and regardless of who originally promoted and protected it, and who is contributing to their popularity -- all these factors do not justify giving militant extremists the power to rule a struggling people. Palestinian civil society is one of the best in the world, and their civil leaders are better educated than many of their counterparts in Arab countries. These groups, the NGOs and the secular few survive on EU aid. Why not, Issam, instead of accepting Hamas and other fundamentalist groups as de facto and "popular" entities, why not admit that Palestinians have and deserve better representation? Leave Israel aside for a moment, why can't you agree with me that it is for the good of the emerging Palestinian society that religious and militant group are not in power?

And then you say "Hizbullah opponents need to engage the Shia in a debate instead of confronting them." Well, this is one such debate. And part of the debate is confronting people with the truth of what their default representatives are doing. It certainly does not mean that the country should turn a blind eye to Hizbullah's actions.

We need to start questioning and challenging the status quo. You went on a tangent and argued that Israel created Hamas, so tough shit, they need to accept them now. And you forgot that Palestinians, the Shia in Lebanon and Iraq, the Sunnis in Egypt and Iraq-- all of these deserve better than this defeatest attitude my friend.

And fuck Marin Kramer. Who cares man. He could be right, he could be wrong. This is me, a Lebanese guy saying this. This is about us, our future. This is about how we should protect ourselves and win those damn fights with the "enemy" without committing suicide at the same time.
 
Kais, Hamas and Ha are the same phenomena. Their position and stand is reinforced by every act of aggression against Muslims. This is a lesson that they have learned well.

On the other hand, remember that the neocons sent Oliver North to Iran bearing gifts and an alliance. This alliance is still operational when their interests coincide. Iran-contra, Bosnia ,Afghanistan, Iraq,???.

Militant Islam is subverting our civil societies and eroding the legitimacy of our weak and corrupt states. Unfortunately, they are not the only party with this objective. Hamas and Ha are in the position of leadership of their people because of the default, corruption and neglect of the Palestinian authority and the Lebanese State.

We cannot deny them political authority or participation. It was tried and it has failed. They cannot be swept under the carpet or be muscled into submission. Their ideas must be exposed and debated for all to see. There is still a market for ideas in Lebanon.

Participation by Islamic parties in the political process has ameliorated their views. Look at the MB in Egypt. Although, Akef's statement today denying the Holocaust, if true , is not a good sign.

We are in a difficult situation in Lebanon. Political discourse is becoming increasingly polarized . As Lebanese we need to find a Lebanese solution to this crisis and not one cooked up in Paris, NY,Tehran or Damascus. Without this "third way " there is no future for us . This is not a fight that anyone can win with the present status quo. There needs to be some compromise so that we can move on.

Issam
 
Kais, sorry i didn't provide the link. I read it on www.annaharonline.com and www.almustaqbal.com. Thas was a couple od days ago. I'm sure you will find it in last week's archive.
 
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