Saturday, March 07, 2009

Media as a Means for Promoting Unity: Examples from Hizbullah's Al-Manar Television

Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizbullah at a September 2006 rally following the 2006 July War (Harb Tamuz), a war in which the U.S. and its Arab clients were complicit, as they blocked ceasefire efforts at the United Nations, through the then U.S. "sad dog" ambassador, the Neoconservative John Bolton.

Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shi'i political party and paramilitary organization (the political and paramilitary wings have different leaderships, though they all form a single party, unlike, say HAMAS' paramilitary and political leaderships which are divided geographically and even internally) maintains a network of print, television, and radio outlets through which it propagates its message. Presently, this message has been one that emphasizes several main points: (1) Continued resistance against Israel and its frequent violation of Lebanese territory and airspace, which I remember well in 2003 while in Beirut; (2) Support of the Palestinian cause, the struggle against Israeli occupation; (3) Hizbullah's Lebanese and Arab identity, in addition to its Muslim and specifically Shi'i Muslim identity. Below are several examples with brief comments:

A nasheed is an Arabic term for a, generally, religion-oriented song. Please see HERE for details (yes, yes, Mahdi 'azizam, I am linking to Wikipedia). The lyrics to this nasheed are a clever play on words, shifting between "Nasrallah of the Arabs" and "Nasr Arab," or "Victory [of] the Arabs." Notice also how, in sheer contradiction to the idiotic stereotypes in the American media, how women have a prominent role in this video (unveiled to boot). Traditional styles of Arab cultural dress from different regions (Lebanon to the Arab Gulf) are also seen, which supports the message of Arab unity. I believe this video was produced last year for the annual celebration of Israel's unilateral retreat from Lebanon, where it occupied roughly 10% of the country, in the south, from 1982-May 24, 2000.

This nasheed is much more traditional in its vocal and sparse musical style. It is a fantastic example of how Hizbullah, and many Muslim socio-political movements today, mix religious tradition with contemporary politics and issues of concern, as is natural. The lyrics focus on the sacrifice and martyrdom of Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Shi'i Imam, who was killed on the plain of Karbala in Iraq in 680 C.E. by an army sent by the ruling Umayyad caliph (king), Yazid bin Mu'awiya, and his governor in al-Basra, Iraq, 'Ubaydallah bin Ziyad. Husayn and other martyrs and survivors of Karbala, such as his sister Zaynab, are mentioned throughout. This historical event is then combined with lyrics about the glories of Lebanon and the party's resistance struggle against Israel, which began in the 1980s during the Israeli invasion and occupation of a large swaths of Lebanon. The rhythmic beating of the chest is a (Twelver) Shi'i ritual practice performed during 'Ashura, the annual commemoration of the events at Karbala.

This video, unfortunately without subtitles, places the emphasis on Hizbullah's wide base of support among Lebanon's Shi'is, who make up perhaps 40% of the total population. You will see, in addition to the party's yellow flags, the green flag of AMAL, the country's other large Shi'i political party, as well as Lebanese flags, emphasizing Hizbullah's identity as a Lebanese and Arab party. Notice also the shots of the man in white, the shroud of a martyr, with the large Lebanese flag at various famous historical sites throughout the country, including Sidon and Ba'albeck.

Finally, an example from outside of the party, a song, whose name translates to "My Beloved Ones," by popular Lebanese pop singer Julia Boutros (a Christian) produced right after Harb Tamuz. The lyrics are based on a response letter from al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah to Hizbullah paramilitaries in the south during the war. The theme of unity, particularly at the video's end, are clear, Lebanon is One. The proceeds from sales of a special CD and DVD set with the song and its music video (a colleague brought one from Beirut for me in 2007) eventually raised $3 million for Lebanese families who lost their homes and businesses as a result of the Israeli invasion and air assault on their country. Boutros also performed at many benefit concerts that raised money for Lebanese victims and their families.

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