Fairuz vs. Hezbollah: A not so divine victory
Last week, a group of students enrolled at the Lebanese University chose to pay tribute to a colleague of theirs, Mohammad Hamada, who was recently killed in a horrific car accident. They convened outside the Faculty of Engineering, hung up posters of Hamada, and invited his mother to attend as they played some of his favorite Fairuz songs. However, the posthumous commemoration was reportedly put to a halt when male students affiliated with Hezbollah ordered attendees to stop the music, objecting on religious grounds.
Cultivating a reputation of stealth on-campus authoritarianism, Hezbollah’s student representatives, not unlike their Syrian Social Nationalist Party and Amal Movement counterparts, have long meddled with university affairs pertaining to student elections and cultural representations/events.
Although past incidents were granted extensive coverage by local media over the years, few could rival the aforementioned one in terms of the amount of outrage it has triggered. The incident sparked an unprecedented outcry on social media, with commentators intensifying their criticism, in order to effectively condemn the relationship between the Party of God and repressive Islamist regimes in the region – to a point where both political categories become hardly distinguishable. This sort of analogy had been vastly employed in the past by liberal/secularist Lebanese circles, but it seemed as if the particularity of this incident had prompted others, generally more inclined to whitewash Hezbollah’s practices in the name of “anti-imperialism”, to also draw said parallel.
There are currently two narratives being circulated, both of which can more or less lucidly ascribe a sociopolitical connotation to the LU incident. These narratives complement and feed off one another. They also generate profoundly different reactions, and consequently produce distinct forms of fears, even though they are both ultimately guided by Hezbollah’s behavior as a Lebanese political party. While some focused on the symbolic nature of the act itself (banning music on campus), others highlighted the lack of reverence in attacking Fairuz’s music more specifically – a seemingly “blasphemous” act in and of itself.
It’s perhaps too soon for anyone to situate and/or predict the political behavior of Hezbollah in the context of a Michel Aoun presidency, but, as researcher Ziad Dallal puts it, with Aoun’s election being perceived as a “victory” for the March 8 coalition, it is possible that we will witness the full pronunciation of Hezbollah’s fascist character, as expressed by the party’s increasingly defying rhetoric, its extermination campaign in Syria, or its supporters actions. Former supporters of the embarrassingly weakened March 14 coalition – right wing Christians, secular liberals, centrist/pro-establishment Sunnis – have held this belief ever since Aoun, the founder of the Free Patriotic Movement, was first announced as a presidential candidate, over two years ago. Since then, discursive shifts have occurred to better reflect sectarian interests, mostly on behalf of right-wing Christians: Aoun was no longer to be seen as a means through which Hezbollah would achieve the crystallization of its ideology in the country, but as a “strong Christian leader” instead.
What happened at the Lebanese University between Hezbollah and Fairuz?
What is the meaning of Hezbollah's banning of Fairuz at the Lebanese University?
It’s arguably safe to say though that the recent LU incident has reawakened previous fears of sociopolitical domination. The Party of God’s now abandoned goal of establishing an Islamic republic in Lebanon has long jittered the country’s secularists, often to a myopic extent. Witnessing student representatives of the party ban music within the confines of a public university (an ideological state apparatus par excellence) has now led many to affirm that Hezbollah is actively utilizing specific political tactics in order to make its Islamic republic project concrete. Predictably, and as seen countless times over the years, secular liberal circles have resorted to promoting Islamophobic rhetoric as the only viable form of counter-hegemonic discourse in the face of the LU incident.
The incident might surely conjure scenes from the popular animated film Persepolis, such as the one in which a fully-veiled teenage Marjane Satrapi discreetly buys smuggled ABBA CDs on the streets of Khomeinist Teheran – but catastrophism, fear mongering, and bigotry are hardly appropriate discursive strategies to uphold when confronting Hezbollah. It’s not like one can dig up alternative strategies from the traditional Lebanese left’s playbook, either – its proponents often remain silent in the face of such incidents, consequently falling into a knee-deep trap of rationalizing, fetishizing even, Hezbollah’s practices in the same (naïve) vein of Michel Foucault in regards to Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
Add the Fairuz layer to the “Hezbollah bans music on campus” trope, and you get a whole other form of outrage. “Nation” as a construction existentially depends on narratives that map its collective identity as well as its physical boundaries; Lebanese singer Fairuz has not only contributed to, but nearly monopolized, the dissemination of cultural products that serve the aforementioned formation. Hindering on the free flow of Fairuz’s quavering voice is thus perceived as an act of aggression toward a reflector of the nation as a unitary – not multi-sectarian – entity. Hezbollah’s Islamic-Lebanese identity is a product of the party founders’ attempts to reconcile Islamism with nationalism; consequently, when student representatives offend a sacrosanct national icon, Hezbollah’s own party narrative, which claims to uphold patriotism on top of its hierarchy of values, is temporarily tarnished. The negative space this opens up saturates with accusations ranging from Hezbollah being “anti-Lebanese” to calling on authorities to arrest the students for “insulting a national landmark”.
The antagonisms contained within the pool of reactions to the LU incident should be seen as nothing less than discouraging when trying to invoke/imagine popular mobilization against the party’s fascistic actions. It should be evident that the anti-Hezbollah rhetoric that surges in response to the occurrence of these particular incidents are in no material capacity to maintain momentum over a long period. If it does, it will still have to address its desired function as a catalyst for a progressive movement. Displaying total indifference at the sight and consumption of live broadcasts that document Hezbollah’s war crimes in Syria cannot be followed by a sudden jump aboard the condemnation bandwagon simply because a “national icon” like Fairuz has been blasphemed.
There will never be a progressive movement that acts as a firewall to Hezbollah’s influence as long as a false Islamist/secular dichotomy is this movement’s slogan. And certainly not when one deems it sufficient to accuse Hezbollah of being “anti-Lebanese” and allow that accusation to do its own work. And especially not when Hezbollah is regarded as the sole political parasite within our sectarian political system.