Hezbollah: Terrorism and Change

Terrorism has seemingly been the biggest buzzword of the past decade and a half, and to some, rightfully so. After 9/11 the idea of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil sent the country into a frenzy to increase security against U.S.-determined terrorist organizations. The Patriot Act, the “War on Terror”, and upgraded airport security were just a few of the immediate fallouts from the attack. Ordinary Muslim and Arab members of U.S. society became suspected terrorists overnight. It did not matter that President Bush made public statements distinguishing terrorism from Muslim and Islamic activities (Ewing, 1). Al-Qaeda was the threat and anyone who looked like them was a piece of their terrorist machine. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, especially, set the stage for the mass-fear of terrorism, and also painted the picture that terrorism appears as in western culture. Sadly, this is just one point of view, the one from Americans and other western societies.

This was the very first picture found on Google when “terrorist” was searched. The first non-muslim or middle eastern associated picture was found far down the page (The Atlantic)

In reality, terrorism does not have to and simply does not adhere to the ideas western culture conjured in the past decade or so. In Albert Jongman’s book Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data he addresses the problem of defining terrorism. Terrorism is not just a war tactic. It is not just a political influencer. It is not just about fear. It is not just to ruin the world. Instead it encompasses a range of all these things and more, and that makes it so hard to define. In the same book Jongman lists various definitions of terrorism from the U.S. government, some European governments and academics too. R.D. Duvall and M. Stohl’s definition keeps it succinct, yet open and makes for a good definition to base this case off of. It states, “Terrorism… is action intended to induce sharp fear and through that agency to effect a desired outcome in a conflict situation.” That may seem too broad, too bland, etc. but it remains true to the original idea of terrorism incorporating more than just violence, and it leads to an end of some sort, whatever it may be. It does not have to be Islam or extremist based. The group of people who broke into the federal wildlife building in Oregon just months ago are considered terrorists. They were armed and not ready to leave until the government stops its “tyranny” (CNN). Mass cyber attacks can be considered terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic employed to reach a result, and it is not confined to religious and middle eastern fanatacism.

It is also important to remember why terrorism is such a big deal in western society. From the U.S. perspective terrorism means futile death of innocent lives. And this perspective is most likely true in Europe as well, given the recent string of attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, etc. This, too, is not the only way to view terrorism. While it does mean death and violence to us, it can mean a necessary fight for freedom to another country or population. By this definition the Oregon occupiers, the threat of using military force against another country for political benefit, and even trying to secede from a sovereign power are all acts of terrorism. But many times, they are neglected to be called by that term. Terrorism from this standpoint is death, and western society only cares about terrorism in that context because that is the only part it either can or chooses to see. Terrorism is not for fun, leisure, or senselessness, there is a reason for it to be done. Often it is used as a tactic when a full war would end in a quick defeat because of the differences in military power, so the organization needs to find another way to accomplish its goal – through terrorism.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese-based ‘terrorist’ organization founded on the principles that Lebanon should be free from western influence and power, and the organization appears to embody the definition of terrorism in different ways. They are not an organization that focuses on one thing, and often balances militia warfare with the building of infrastructure. They use fear and violence to sometimes get, and fund the things they need. The same organization is also a political party, and holds seats in the Lebanon government on a regular and steady basis. Terrorism is more than just the violence, and Hezbollah is a hybrid organization that can bridge the gap per se. There is a large contradiction between the U.S. and Israeli perceptions of Hezbollah, and the Lebanese and Arab views, which usually look at Hezbollah as a legitimate political actor (Huesseini 2).

Figure 1. A map of the Near East showing the zones of Hezbollah’s largest influence in Lebanon and abroad.

Hezbollah checks all of the boxes in the U.S. view of a terrorist organization. They clearly use violence and inflict fear into those around the world for their own benefit. Among some of the attacks or actions Hezbollah committed are: the U.S. Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut of 1984, a history of suicide bombings in Argentina targeted at Jewish and Israeli interests (Levitt, 2), the kidnapping of westerners in the 1980’s for ransom, and the 1985 skyjacking of an international European flight which was intended to highlight the fate of Lebanese prisoners being held in Israel (Norton 58, 87-88). These, along with other, military actions have shown U.S. and Israeli policy makers that Hezbollah is without a doubt a terrorist organization, and anyone who supports Hezbollah is supporting a terrorist organization. This is only the side the American and Western point of view, the violence and death. This is the side of Hezbollah the world wants to show, and will only show in many cases. The media will condemn them as cold-blooded killers, and an organization funded through front organizations and criminal enterprise (Levitt 6, 8). But these actions are not simply for the act of killing. Hezbollah was founded on the principles of liberating Lebanon and its inhabitants from foreign hegemony. “In Hezbollah’s worldview, compromise and mediation we no answer… Self-help was the only answer. The superpowers were corrupt. They had no answers for Lebanon (Norton 53-54).” These military actions were brought upon by the introduction of Western power in the region. Hezbollah was simply a resistance group formed to push the influence of the west out of Lebanon, and terrorism was a means to accomplish that goal. Still a lot of the violence attributed to Hezbollah is actually what they would say “within the rules of the game”. When the Israeli’s relinquished some of their infiltration in Lebanon Hezbollah was very ambiguous on whether the violence would continue. They would only continue to attack Israeli patrols on the farmland in the disputed area Golan Heights, and said the Israeli withdrawal was not entirely complete and thus was in the right to attack the patrol (Norton, 105). Not all of the military actions could be considered terrorism, but many are, yet they have a reason behind them.

Terrorism is the means to the end. The end in this situation is the removal of western influence and society in Lebanon. This would not stop until Lebanon was free from outside influences, and they continued to fight back, as seen in the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War, through today. In removing imperialistic powers from Lebanon there would be a larger need and opportunity for domestic infrastructure and services. Hezbollah recognized the chance to cement itself into the Lebanese political sphere, even if it went against the party’s original opposition to corrupted systems of the past government. Hezbollah members did eventually run in the 1992 election under the Hezbollah name and won a steady count of parliament seats for several years (See Table 1). Although the Syrian Ceiling (Norton, 117) kept parliament seats to around 10% per year, Hezbollah members won municipal elections in large amounts. They won over 28 small county and local elections and outnumbered their rival Amal 2 to 1 in office (Norton, 119-120). Hezbollah was gaining a lot of political power within Lebanon.


Table 1. Parliamentary Seats held in Lebanon by the different political parties. (Hezbollah: A Short History, 118)


With the amount of power Lebanon possessed in parliament and government, they were able to shift their organization from a simple resistance militia to a political party worthy of praise. Hezbollah was able to create various institutions for Lebanese citizens, not just party supporters, that included, gas stations, a publishing house, a photocopy store, a factory for halal (religiously permissible food), a computer store and more (Norton, 123). They also offer construction companies, schools hospitals, dispensaries, micro-finance initiatives and hospitals available to all populations (Norton, 124). These same social services and institutions employ over several thousand people and offer volunteer positions. After the conclusion of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War, they committed most of their social resources to alleviating the effects of war. Habitat for Hezbollah an article focusing on this case describes, “International organizations participating in the effort attest that Hezbollah is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to do everything from delivering hot meals and medicines to organizing recreational activities for displaced adults and children living in temporary shelters (Cammett).” Within 24 hours of the ceasefire, refugee hotlines were established, and one of Hezbollah’s leaders Hassan Nasrallah pledged to assist anyone whose home or business was destroyed with rebuilding and living costs (Cammett). All of this was a result of a terrorist organization who engaged in potential terroristic acts against the Israeli occupation.

Figure 2. The al-Rasul al-Azam hospital and mosque complex run by Hezbollah in southern Beirut

The change from a pure militia, anti-imperial organization to a political party that has the capacity to benefit its local constituents brings about many ethical questions. Consequentialism is an ethical theory that is often dismissed in philosophy because there is a moral aspect to many of the other ethical frameworks, such as deontology. Abusing certain aspects of humanity, society, or the rules to achieve a greater result in the end is often looked down upon and not as respected in academia, yet almost everyone uses this ethical framework for decisions on a regular basis. At its core, consequentialism ignores morality to an extent. Haines argues in his Consequentialism piece that only results remain. Actions are fleeting moments, while the results will last much, much longer. Ignoring the morality of the action to achieve a moral result can be just as much a victory as anything else. In short, consequentialism states that the ends justify the means.

The case of Hezbollah even in the view of consequentialism is still not completely clear. The organization was formed as an anti-hegemony, anti-western society resistance group. At that time their single goal was to remove the influence of foreign powers, namely the U.S. and Israel. They did this through military and terrorist actions; these are the means. The removal of these same powers would liberate Lebanon from foreign control and give the Lebanese their land and power back; these are the ends. The question that arises from this situation is, was removing the western powers more beneficial to Lebanon than to let them remain. Some could argue they would be better off with world powers running the country for things like infrastructure, stability, etc. and that would make Hezbollah, in this case, ethically wrong. But there is also the argument stating that the intrusion of the U.S. and Israel led to more instability, and less efficiency in government, in which case Hezbollah would have been ethically correct. The fact that they used terrorist tactics to achieve these ends does not matter in the framework of consequentialism.

Flag with Hezbollah’s symbol. (rand.org)

After running for government seats Hezbollah gained a lot of political power within Lebanon. They were able to create and run all of the social services and institutions that were detailed earlier in this paper because of the shift to a meaningful political actor, and not just a resistance group. Hezbollah became more than just a militia for fighting, and included social welfare benefits for many Shi’ia muslims and inhabitants alike. Terrorism allowed Hezbollah to exist; they would not have formed into an organization without the goal to remove western influence. And in doing so, Hezbollah was able to pivot some of its organization to provide meaningful healthcare, education, employment etc. Does the formation and actions justify the end result of Hezbollah? Plain consequentialism would say yes. But for who?

Haines describes how consequentialists are only concerned with a result that ends in happiness. This brings about a new argument for the ethical justification of Hezbollah’s actions. It can be obvious that many Shi’ia Muslims and Lebanese inhabitants are happier because of the added value from Hezbollah social services and institutions. Women in Lebanon whom do not support Hezbollah are still happier because Hezbollah does not bother them, and allows them to live a freer life (New York Times). But the victims and countries of the victims whom Hezbollah terrorized or killed would not be nearly as happy. This again becomes a problem of perspective. In both perspectives consequentialism can be just or unjust simply by looking at the various stakeholders involved in the results. One receives great services for themselves and their families, while some have to deal with the loss of life and trauma of a terrorist attack. It is a thin line to straddle. Perhaps the U.S. and Israel should not have been in Lebanon and the Middle East on a broader spectrum. Lebanon had a right to its own land. Then again, Israel believes they have a divine right to the land the once occupied, so who is at fault there? These are questions for another time, and another framework it seems.

This is the benefit and drawback of using consequentialist ethics. It offers very simple answers to complicated ethical questions, but can viewed from various angles to support one argument or another. It comes down to a selfish point of view in many cases. Hezbollah is a savior to many, and an enemy to others. Terrorism can be more than just an act of violence for attention, and usually is. Hezbollah used it as a platform to launch itself into a political sphere with real power for change. “… the group must be accepted by the international community as a legitimate Lebanese party,” says Husseini when talking about Hezbollah as a political actor. Unfortunately, the international community would rather condemn Hezbollah rather than accept it because of its identity as a terrorist organization. And until that stigma is either accepted in its own right, or removed from the organization’s agenda, Hezbollah will remain an outsider on the world stage.

Bonus Hezbollah cartoon. (politicalcartoons.com)

Works Cited

Cammett, Melani. “Habitat for Hezbollah.” August 2006. foreignpolicy.com. Online Report. April 2016.

CNN. “Oregon Standoff: What The Armed Group Wants and Why.” 6 January 2016. Website.

Husseini, Rola El. “Hezbollah and the Axis of Refusal: Hamas, Iran and Syria.” Third World Quarterly (2010): 803-815. Online.

Jongman, Albert J. Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, n.d. E-Book.

Levitt, Dr. Matthew. “Hezbollah: Financing Terror Through Criminal Enterprise.” 25 May 2005. Investigativeproject.org. Online Document. April 2016.

New York Times. “Lebanese Women Explain Their Surprising Sympathies for Hezbollah.” New York Times 28 March 2016. Online Newspaper.

Norton, Augustus Richard. Hezbollah: A Short History. Princeton University Press, May 4 2014. E-Book.

 Other Works Referenced

Grass Roots Liberty. “Terrorism: Who Benefits.” Grass Roots Liberty. N.p., 16 Nov. 2015. Web. Apr. 2016.
Israeli Defense Force. “Hezbollah, Army of Terror.” Hezbollah A Profile by the IDF. N.p., 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Waxman, Dov. “Living With Terror, Not Living In Terror: The Impact of Chronic Terrorism on Israeli Society.” Perspectives on Terrorism 5.6 (2011): n. pag. Web. Apr. 2016.

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