Saturday, September 23, 2006

Two readings of the Nasrullah speech

Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV, on its website, summarizes Nasrullah's speech in point form as follows:

Nasrullah...gave a comprehensive speech taking up all of the topics and political issues in Lebanon and the region.

He said there is a political split in the nation, not a sectarian split.

The natural approach to alleviating this would be formation of a government of national unity

What we want is a nation that is strong, just, clean, and future-oriented, that will reject any foreign dictation

Any discourse in Lebanon that talks about splits, or about federalism, or about cantonization, is an Israeli discourse

The arms of the resistance are not internal, but are Lebanese, for the defence of Lebanon and its independence

Any bet on the ending of the resistance via pressure, or intimidation, or blockading, is a losing bet

Different national media found quite different messages in this. For instance, the NYT reporter said it was a speech "steeped in defiance: at the United States, Israel, Arab heads of state, and those political forces in Lebanon aiming to clip Hezbullah's political and military power".

The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman, no enemy of the United States, heard a completely different speech. Its page one headline on the speech said: "Nasrullah attacks calls for federalism in Lebanon." And inside the newspaper, over its more-detailed piece, the newspaper said: "Nasrullah in his first public appearance since the war: [It would be] A losing bet [to bet] on fitna [meaning complete turmoil] between the Lebanese army and Hizbullah."

(The parts of the speech that Azzaman was referring to were those passages where Nasrullah said the split in Lebanon is political, not sectarian; and where he said the weapons of the resistance are Lebanese, not internal).

To the Iraqi readership, the main point was preservation of national unity in parallel with defence against external threats. The Israeli war was an attempt to split the nation, and, said Nasrullah, it failed. To the Iraqi readership, part of the "national victory" was summed up in the front-page headline about "rejection of federalism".

This is interesting for a number of reasons: First of all, "federalism" has taken on a negative connotation, reflected in Nasrullah's reference to "discourse about splits, or federalism, or
cantonization". In other words, "federalism" seems to mean "sectarian splits", or being on the losing side of a divide and conquer campaign. And there is the referrence to what from an Iraqi standpoint could be a major pitfall: Hizbullah tangling with the Lebanese army, leading to an Iraqi-style internal disintegration.

It seems "federalism" isn't just a neutral political-science term any more in the Middle East. To Hizbullah it means national disintegration and defeat. And if the major newspaper Azzaman is any indication, that meaning has resonance in Iraq too.


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