To begin with, let us take a look at the general information about both terrorist outfits. Hezbollah is a Lebanese Islamist Shiite organization and political party, bifurcated into paramilitary and social services wings. One of the proclaimed objectives of Hezbollah is to resist the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. The organization is spearheaded by the Secretary-General. Its current leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has been running the group since 1992. Al-Shabaab is the Somalia-based hard-line militant Islamist outfit, which has been an official affiliate of the world’s number one terrorist organization Al-Qaeda since 2012. It had emerged on the remnants of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, when the Somali Transitional Federal Government under the auspices of the US and adjacent Ethiopia assumed power in the country.
In order to comprehend the ideology of the Hezbollah Party it is necessary to assess the milieu it hails from, reasons behind its appearance, peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of its structure. The Party of Allah is a unique centralized institution based on the Islamic clericalism of the Shiite orientation.
Multiconfessional Lebanese society turned out to be a solid underpinning for establishing an organization of this kind. In any event, it is obvious that Hezbollah would not have endured for a long time without the influence of external factors. These external factors loomed large in the formation of Hezbollah’s ideology.
The Shia community of Lebanon, being one of the poorest stratums of Lebanese society, has experienced “crisis of national identity” factor. This stratum was represented by kin and clans under the rule of authoritarian leaders. The Shia Community had been divided into two parts before Lebanon was established. The first group included big landowners from al-Saad, al-Siran and al-Hebron clans. Landless peasants, who were bereft of any rights and lived in the conditions of grinding poverty, represented the second group. It was the second group that triggered the creation of the new force. According to Jaber (1997), “Born in the grinding poverty of the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah – or “Party of God” – has ties to Iran and exerts influence far beyond Lebanon” (p.112).
Harik (2005) has found “Hezbollah enjoyed a remarkable degree of internal cohesion from its earliest days” (p. 17). By the time Hezbollah was founded, Imam Musa al-Sadr had already taken drastic measures to institutionalize the Shia community. Establishment of the Lebanese National Resistance Front, which harbored the Hezbollah future leader, Hassan Nasrallah, demonstrates this point clearly.
In the early 70-es, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah presided over several eleemosynary corporations and was duly considered the spiritual leader of Hezbollah in the West. In 1978, Imam Musa al-Sadr mysteriously disappeared, opening the way to the Shiite political arena for the new energetic figures, who were unsatisfied with the secular character of the Lebanese National Resistance Front. In the summer of 1982, Conference of the Oppressed took place in Tehran. This conference served as a turning point for the establishment of Hezbollah, whose main priority was a struggle against Israel. It soon got involved into armed conflicts with other political powers and countries (the Syrian military and the aforementioned Lebanese National Resistance Front).
Three years later Imam Khomeini wrote an open letter, which determined the main political objective of “Party of God” – to impose Islamic order for the maintenance of equality. At the same time, the very notion of equality was regarded as a social system premised on the Islamic laws and the Koran instead of democracy. Martyrdom was the main idea reflected in the party’s ideology. The Hezbollah members were obliged to sacrifice everything they had to the party, up to and including their lives. This could be compared to the world outlook and piety of the first Christian martyrs.
The importance of the religious factor in Hezbollah’s structure is unquestionable. Allah and Muhammad are at the top of the party’s hierarchy. It is no wonder that their teachings and commandments loomed large in the formation of bellicose sentiments towards the infidels.
Israel, which had been called “pure evil” since the rule of Musa al-Sadr, was declared the main and official adversary of Hezbollah. The guerilla resistance to Israel assumed new dimensions. Hezbollah began to aim at liberating Palestine and Muslim shrines from the Zionist influence.
Nationalistic ideas, that engulfed the region in the 20th century, have not missed Lebanon as well. Their development led to the emergence of Pan-Arabic parties and movements. The fact that other countries compromised the stability of sectarian balance in Lebanon precipitated the establishment of the Shiite party.
Thus, it becomes obvious that “Party of Allah” emerged on the Middle East political arena with a goal of annihilating Israel, because existence of the Jewish state did not dovetail into the project of establishing Islamic justice. Anti-Americanism has supplemented anti-Zionism in the political program of Hezbollah soon. Saad-Gharaeb’s (2002) study found the following:
Hizbu’llah’s purported culpability for the attack on the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983, which killed 63 people, as well as the bombing of the US Marine’s barracks in Beirut in October that same year, which resulted in the deaths of 241, made the movement rise to notoriety. (p. 56)
Due to substantial financial aid from Iran, the Party of Allah has managed to organize such a structure that many analysts call “state within a state”. That is, the organization is self-sufficient and can supply itself with all the necessities single-handedly. This institution is based on certain ideological principles, and though it exists within a state, the latter does not influence its existence and activities. Hezbollah runs Jihad Construction Company, which electrifies, connects to water supply system, and rebuilds houses destroyed by Israel during conflicts. Moreover, the organization founded a plethora of funds that solve the problems of the disabled and wounded as well as families of the killed shahids.
As to the practical functioning, policlinics and hospitals provide free-of-charge health care and inexpensive medicines to the party members. Non-partisan categories of population can avail themselves of comparatively cheap medical services too. Clinics under the Hezbollah control are very popular with the Lebanese, as free-of-charge public health care is in short supply in Lebanon.
Furthermore, Hezbollah oversees the Lebanese education. It does not just take care of the specialized religious educational institutions, but it also bankrolls primary, secondary and vocational schools as well as universities. It should be noted that the Party of God`s education expenditures exceed tenfold those of the state.
Great attention is paid to the mass media. Hezbollah owns a TV channel, five newspapers and 4 radio stations. Al-Manar TV channel, that broadcasted all the achievements of Hezbollah in its struggle against Israel, played a crucial role in the formation of the party’s image. It is worth mentioning that in terms of interaction with the press, Hezbollah stands out from the crowd of other terrorist organizations. Al-Shabaab as wells as al-Qaeda have no choice but to take advantage of the internet to disseminate information.
It would have been an inconceivable folly to imply that the party’s interests are limited merely to Lebanon and its struggle against Israel. Time and again, “Party of God” dwells upon regional and international issues. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah’s message to the heads of European and Arab states is clear evidence of the party’s ambitions to attract worldwide attention to its causes in the framework of confrontation with America.
The Party of Allah`s cultural strategy deserves separate attention. Hezbollah Museum, which narrates the party’s history and showcases the spoils of war, opened its doors to visitors on May 25, 2010. It has held two exhibitions ever since. The venue was selected premeditatedly. Mlita, a town in southern Lebanon, symbolizes the Israeli defeat (withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon). According to Cambanis (2010), the Party of Allah has never been simply a military alignment obsessed with victory (p. 36). He speaks about Hezbollah’s first operations, which were aimed at gaining confidence of the potential allies. Both the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the suicide bomber attack on the Israeli military headquarters in Tyre in 1982 were carried out in order to bring pressure to bear upon the community.
Hezbollah has been an ideological organization since its institutionalization, which finally led to the development of the cultural program in 2002. Nowadays the party deals with the bourgeoisie, which could not but inspire it to champion the interests of its adherents. To this end, it spends huge amounts of money on cultural and societal initiatives. The cultural policy gained professional nuance in 2006 after the establishment of the Association of Lebanese Artists. By and large, cultural strategy of Hezbollah is limited to several directions:
- To wage advertisement campaigns that introduce people to the history of the party;
- Development and implementation of memorial projects – museums, tourist camps and exhibitions.
Only one project has been fulfilled so far, while the work on the others is in full swing. It is planned to build another military memorial in the immediate vicinity of Al Khiam detention center.
Thus, the ideology of this kind singles the Party of Allah out from other Islamic structures, because Hezbollah does not merely aspire to wage a war on Israel but undertakes positive steps in terms of creating a better Islamic society.
At the same time, this cultural deviation and social initiatives cannot justify Hezbollah members’ participation in the terrorist attacks and mollify their guilt. The fact that the European Union has not recognized the Party of God as a terrorist organization yet poses an interesting conundrum.
Lewis (2008) found “with a long tradition of trading connections to the Arabian Peninsula, the Somalis were converted to Islam at an early date and remain staunch Muslims (Sunnis, of the Sha’afi School of Law)” (p. 1). Al-Shabaab militants eagerly accepted an idea of embracing Sharia law and proclaimed its imposition, along the enforcement of peace, one of the key objectives of the group. However, they both are eclipsed by the idea of a jihad, which allows the militants to wage a war against unbelievers on the territory of Somalia and beyond its confines. The United States Department of State and a range of Scandinavian countries label al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.
As well as Hezbollah, al-Shabaab abhors Western culture and civilization. It strives to impose Sharia law first on the Somali territory and then on the whole world, unlike its Lebanese counterpart, which merely dreams about decimating the infidels.
In any event, their motivation is probably explained by the soaring inequality, poverty, inefficient management, and venal practices that erode the country.
That is, both these mutinous movements surely have had economic roots. There would have been passionate polemics about Maoist, Communist or pro-Soviet currents a few decades ago. Anyway, the new epoch has come, and the Berlin Wall was toppled long ago. And since nature cannot put up with emptiness, new forms of resistance based on religion evolved.
Al-Shabaab is a unique case in a sense. It has emerged in “a country without a state”, where a few “enlightened” adventurers, affected by external factors, believed in their holy mission of establishing radical Islamic regime.
According to Shuriye (2012), “Al-Shabaab has a loose leadership structure with a number of regional factions and commanders. It is not clear whether there is an individual overall leader, however an individual often named as having that role is Ahmed Abdi Mohamed” (p. 276).
From the above chart, it becomes obvious that a central commander is in charge of the organization. However, after the recent merger of al-Shabaab by a more powerful and rigorous al-Qaeda, he surely became subordinated to the latter’s leadership.
Al-Shabaab operates in a country where 99 percent of the citizens practice Islam. Meanwhile in Lebanon, Muslims live side by side with Christians. The issue is very ticklish because one tiny spark would suffice to instigate an interreligious civil war. However, it must be an accomplishment of the Lebanese authorities, including Hezbollah, that manage to rule such a nasty possibility out. On the other hand, in Somalia, Christian minority concludes less than 1 percent of population, but still it is constantly prosecuted and harassed by the al-Shabaab members. However, repressions and coercive methods are not applied only to Christians. Sufi Muslims, being a second-largest denomination in Somalia, find themselves exposed to the persecution on the part of al-Shabaab militants as well. It is worth mentioning that the militants usually resort to deliriously abominable measures. Desecration of graves and shrines that takes place on a regular basis demonstrates this point clearly. The ensuing conclusion is that both terrorist organizations cleave to the idea of wiping out the infidels from territories under their control.
Al-Shabaab leaders fall down before the Juggernaut of Islamic triumph. Sometimes, decrees issued by al-Shabaab outrage sanity and common sense. Last summer a central commander ruled that dental fillings made of gold and other precious metals ran counter to the principles of Islam, and convened brigades to extract them from people’s mouths. Actually, there is more to it than meets the eye. Al-Shabaab lives off the remittances from its overseas supporters, and the order of a central commander to “go after gold” was supposed to plug budget holes. The group also prohibited schools to ring the bells, since bell ringing reminds of Christian churches and, thus, is un-Islamic. These events demonstrate the willingness of al-Shabaab to demoralize and radicalize Somali society. Hezbollah, on the other hand, does not run to such extremes very often.
Concerning the tactics of al-Shabaab, it is almost the same like that of Hezbollah. Despite all the benevolent achievements of the latter, both groups could be classified as those with loathsome tactics and unjustified motivations. The fledgling al-Shabaab has relied on conventional guerilla tactics – massacres, suicide bombings, and premeditated assassinations - to repel the Transitional Federal Government and its supporters, Ethiopia and AU peacekeepers. In juxtaposition with Hezbollah, which primarily carries out terrorist attacks against what it perceives as “imperialism and imperialists” as well as the Israelis, Al-Shabaab targets its compatriots very often.
It is widely believed that to wage jihad against the Western interveners and non-Muslims in general is a sacred obligation of both Hezbollah and al-Shabaab. The leaders of these militant outfits constantly call on their stalwarts to discharge this obligation.
Another important moment for the functioning of the radical Somali outfit is al-Qaeda involvement. When it had assimilated al-Shabaab earlier this year, it became obvious that atrocities of al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa would assume new dimensions. Having enlisted al-Qaeda’s support, the group might undermine security of the whole African continent. Violence has already slipped across the borders of Somalia. Taking into consideration these “integration tendencies”, try to imagine what would happen if the Nigerian Boko Haram joined this union. The recent developments in the region have proved that this suggestion is not unsubstantiated. Al-Shabaab has imperceptibly merged with two smaller Somali extremist factions – Hizbul Islam and Somali Islamic party. Not only latest developments confirm the plausibility of this undesirable scenario. 720 volunteers from al-Shabaab organization went to Lebanon in 2010 to assist the Hezbollah militants in their crusade against Israel. Terrorist organizations tend to take concerted actions in furtherance of their principles and objectives. The precedent for reciprocal relationship has been already established. It is now up to the international community to prevent consequent mergers.
As al-Shabaab attempted to take control of southern Somalia, it realized it had to resort to political measures if it wanted to succeed. Before launching a campaign in a particular town, the authorized party representatives convened clan leaders and other prominent residents of the town to inform them that al-Shabaab’s intentions were benign. The movement’s leaders requested all Somali Muslims to fight the so-called semi-autonomies – Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, Azania and others. Mogadishu was liberated from the militants on August 6, 2011. The militants themselves called a retreat from the capital a tactical subterfuge. Meanwhile, Hezbollah has been employing political strategies in its tactics since its infancy.
Al-Shabaab is thought to have helped Somali pirates launch several maritime raids on commercial vessels. Detained pirates confess that they were forced to cooperate with al-Shabaab militants, as southern Somalia (the hotbed of piracy) has been under their control for a long time. Pirates reluctantly share their proceeds, so there is no doubt they went over to al-Shabaab under duress.
In 2010 al-Shabaab arrived at a conclusion it should prohibit national radio stations to broadcast “officious” BBC and VOA (Voice of America) programs, because they diffused Christian ideas and propaganda, incompatible with Islam. As compared to Hezbollah, al-Shabaab used Twitter account to send messages to the world. Its official website used to be an effective tool of sharing the group’s principles and recruiting new volunteers. Hezbollah proved to be far more advanced in this respect, for it has procured much more mass media.
There is no doubt that The Lebanese Hezbollah utilizes more altruistic methods to reach political goals as compared to its Somali counterpart. According to Harik (2005), “One of the greatest dangers faced by parties transforming themselves from radical to mainstream status is the potential animosity and loss of core adherents who place ideological purity and principle above the demand of practical politics” (p. 92). Both rebel organizations are deeply integrated into the internal politics of their respective countries and regions. It is a matter of their adherents to decide the future course of the organizations.