In openDemocracy, Fred Halliday on Hizbollah and his 2004 meeting with Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizbollah’s deputy head.
The discussion with Sheikh Naim Qassem was in some ways different from many other interviews I had conducted with middle-eastern political figures over the past years. The sheikh remained calm and succinct throughout the conversation, and avoided long historical excursions of the kind most radical politicians in this region (as elsewhere) regularly indulge in. The British were not blamed for too much.
We began by discussing the history of Hizbollah. In the interview and at much greater length in his book, Sheikh Naim Qassem described the situation in the late 1970s and early 1980s: on the one hand, the “disappearance” and apparent murder of the then Shi’a leader Imam Musa Sadr, while on a visit to Libya, presumably because he had objected to the Libyan attempt to hegemonise the Shi’a community in Lebanon.
With the first Israeli military intervention in 1978 and then with the triumph of the Islamic revolution in Iran in early 1979, a number of radical Shi’a groups were formed, with the aim of promoting the place of the Shi’a in Lebanon, a country where they had been the least favoured religious group – despised by Christians and Sunni Muslims, but abused also by the Palestinians who tried to take over southern Lebanon in the 1970s, creating their own “Fatahland” near the Israeli frontier. At the same time these radicals were inspired by the Iranian revolution’s call for an “Islamic government”, along the lines propounded by Khomeini, and sought initially to replicate this in Lebanon.