Banking on war: An unsustainable vision for Hizballah's youth

Banking on war: An unsustainable vision for Hizballah's youth
Comment: A young, and increasingly educated population is unlikely to find Hizballah's policy of banking on war an attractive prospect, writes Mona Alami.
5 min read
16 Feb, 2017
Youth unemployment in Lebanon rests at about 35 percent, says the ILO [AFP]

Hizballah's ability to minimise the fallout of the Syrian war on its constituency, is the product of a multifaceted strategy.

This has included the stabilisation of the security and political scene in Lebanon, but a core component of Hizballah's success was hedged on people's compliance with its "resistance society", for which jihad - both moral and military - is a duty.

Yet, this concept, based partially on a never ending conflict with an elusive enemy, and honed for years by the Lebanese organisation - will clash, as time goes by, with the aspirations and interests of a vibrant and increasingly educated youthful Shia population.

In Hizballah's view, the idea of a "resistance society" is the responsibility of every Lebanese Shia. According to a paper by researchers Mona Harb and Reinoud Leenders, the resistance society, or "mujtamaa muqawim" permeates every dimension of society. "This society serves to disseminate the concept of spiritual jihad, which is complementary to military jihad," explain Harb and Leenders.

One account of this came in an interview carried out last year with a Hizballah fighter. "In our religious course we are taught about Jihad, not just military jihad but spiritual jihad or jihad al-nafs [struggle against the self] which is the duty of every Muslim," the young fighter had said at the time.

Resistance is thus a societal project encompassing the military, ideological, cultural, political and media dimensions.

Core elements of the "resistance society" are education and loyalty to the party ensured through Hizballah-organised system of health and social-service organisations, which primarily benefit Lebanon's Shias.

Yet war has conversely provided an opportunity for thousands of unemployed Shias

Hizballah operates a number of primary and secondary schools at fees that are far lower than those of most other private schools, according to a report by MEPC. "Hizballah's schools serve approximately 14,000 students. Hizballah provides low-income students with scholarships, financial assistance and books, buying in bulk and selling at reduced prices," says the MEPC report.

Hizballah has also built allegiance though an efficient management of social services including organisations such as the Jihad Construction Foundation, the Martyrs' Foundation, the Foundation for the Wounded and the Khomeini Support Committee Hizballah health unit, according to the report.

In terms of infrastructure, the Jihad Construction Foundation, Jihad El-Binaa rebuilt 239 buildings out of the 270 buildings destroyed in Dahieh during the 2006 war with Israel. Hizballah's Islamic Health Unit operates three hospitals, 12 health centres, 20 infirmaries, 20 dental clinics and 10 defense departments.

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These organisations not only provide essential services to a large portion of the population, marginalised by the corrupt Lebanese state, but allow the party to reinforce its ideology by marking the public space with messages of "resistance" and  martyrdom.

"Hizballah's religious doctrine and ideology is implemented and integrated into the institutions, from boy scouts, to various charities, to book fairs and publishing houses and so on, these are all part of redefining the structure of society," explains Tony Badran.

In its recent past, Lebanese society has dealt with three wars (1996, 2006 and the Syrian civil war). The latter conflict has required the deployment of 7,000 - 9,000 Hizballah fighters.

According to anti-Hizballah activist Lokman Slim, some 2,500 Lebanese Shias were killed in the neighbouring war, and over 7,000 were injured, leaving many handicapped.

Yet war has conversely provided an opportunity for thousands of unemployed Shias. "There is an underlying  war economy which is profiting Lebanese Shias, I believe that over 50,000 young Shias are involved indirectly in a support role in the war by manning fortification roads, supplying military forces, among other activities," says Slim.

'I support Hizballah and I believe they protect us against terrorism and Israel, but I also want to live a normal life... I want something better for my kids' - Hassan

According to a source close to Hizballah, the war in Syria has seen members of the militant group benefit from profitable contracts with the Syrian regime.

The economic factor here is one among many others that could explain Hizballah's ability to quell dissent, particularly among the poorer population. 

Youth unemployment in Lebanon rests at about 35 percent, according to a report by the International Labor Organization. Lebanon's highest poverty levels are in the North and the Bekaa, which is known as one of Hizballah's bastions, where over a quarter of the population live on less than US$4 a day.

Banking on war is not a sustainable long-term policy for Hizballah. Young Shias - like other Lebanese communities - are largely disaffected by a disconnected ruling class.  According to Information International, about 34 percent of Lebanese people were looking to leave Lebanon in 2015.

Hassan, a Hizballah supporter who does not belong to the party admits he, and his family members are actively looking to emigrate. "I support Hizballah and I believe they protect us against terrorism and Israel, but I also want to live a normal life, without worrying about finances and the possibility of war all the time. I want something better for my kids".

Mona Alami a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic council covering Middle East politics with a special interest in radical organizations. Follow her on Twitter: @monaalami

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.